California has San Simeon. Upstate New York has Boldt Castle. Texas has The Elbert Williams Residence. Whoa! How does the 6,000-square-foot, three-story University Park home on McFarlin manage to rank with the gigantic mansions on the coasts? Simple. Larry Good, FAIA, not only can tell you, he’s written “A House For Texas,” a book published by the Park Cities Historic and Preservation Society.
While some may consider the book an in-depth study of the residence built in 1933, others may claim it’s a love story of the late architect David Reichard Williams (no relation to Elbert) and his brilliant design and legendary talent.
Williams got his start designing what would become known as Greenway Park. There, he designed “organized lots which addressed streets on one side and landscaped greenbelts on the opposite side.” But it was his “pursuit of a new regional architecture” that became his passion. During the 1920’s he and his young apprentice O’Neil Ford, who would become an architectural legend himself, would tour central and south Texas in Williams’ Packard taking photos and drawing sketches.
According to Good, “Williams made it clear that the goal of these tours was not to learn to copy these buildings, but rather to develop an understanding of the values which led to their design.”
It was this learning experience that led Williams to appreciate that “more important than style, the buildings had a strong respect for the climate.”
For instance, in designing the Elbert Williams’ home, the placement of windows, doors and sleeping porches provided cross ventilation and a flow of air in the “pre-air conditioning era.”
Listed by the Texas Society of Architects as one of the 20 Landmarks of Texas Architecture, the Elbert Williams home went on to be “one of only three residential buildings so honored, along with the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin and the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston.
Texas Historical Commission Executive Director Mark Wolfe “encouraged the continued preservation of the house: ‘The Elbert Williams house helped spark a movement (Texas Regionalism) which reinterpreted architectural history, recognized the value of vernacular architecture and incorporated much of its form and materials into 20th century design.’”
The home is currently for sale, but Good warns, “There is no guarantee that it will be preserved. The importance of the house in the state’s architectural history is not understood by most, and a passing glance does not reveal the nuance and detail which makes it special. Therefore, the purpose of this book is to tell the story behind its creation and present the house in photographs in enough detail that more people will celebrate its remarkable design, and ultimately will unite in ensuring the preservation of the most important house built in the state of Texas.”
The book is available with marvelous photos by Charles Davis Smith, FAIA, at the Park Cities Historic and Preservation Society website for $36. Not only do you get the book, but you also get to attend a virtual event — A Conversation With the Author and Photographer — on Thursday, November 5. In addition to being available online for purchase, the book is sold at Interabang. The good news is that if you buy it there you’ll save on shipping costs, but you’ll need to copy the receipt and email it to [email protected] to lock down your spot for the virtual conversation.
* Graphic/photo provided by Park Cities Historic and Preservation Society