by Mike Cochran
A lecture prepared for the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Emily Fowler Public Library, Denton, Texas.
Denton has had a number of former residents who have gone on to achieve fame and fortune in the greater world. As proud as we are of these actresses, musicians, writers and beauty queens, none of this distinguished class of Denton-raised luminaries have had the physical impact on the face of the community as has architect O’Neil Ford.
Ford, the most prominent architect to have come from Texas was raised in Denton, had life-long connections here, and always credited his experiences here as having been a major influence on his life and later success.
Having achieved celebrity status, many know Ford as just being famous for being famous and are not quite sure on what foundation that fame is based. With architects who innovated, their status is insured by the number of imitators they inspire, but that can also be a curse when their innovations become so commonplace as to achieve cliche status. Any prominent person who becomes a celebrity does become reduced to a series of cliches, a sort of shorthand or gestures, which often serve to sum up vastly more complicated stories. Such is it with O’Neil Ford, that Mexican style brick, carved doors, perforated ceramic lamps have become a short-hand to represent his entire body of work. That is unfortunate for he is much more than that.
Ford has credited Denton with being an important influence on his life and as we look around and see the influence Ford has had on Denton, let us examine this mutually beneficial relationship between O’Neil Ford and his hometown of Denton, Texas.
His Early Days in Sherman
There were many aspect in this larger than life man that appear to have been embellished for effect. Even his name was a bit of a concoction. He was born Otha Neil Ford, from Pink Hill, Texas. Humble beginnings. He hated his first name so as a boy referred to himself as O. Neil Ford. At some point he changed the O. period, to O’ apostrophe which radically changed the effect of his name and imbued it with a certain rakish twist. Thus Otha Neil Ford, the smart country boy with a country boy name was on his way to becoming the distinguished O’Neil Ford... the smartest man in the room. He was creating an effect... and that was his lifelong genius. Creating an effect, a buzz, an excitement for his presence and his projects. He sold himself as well as his designs.
Ford’s father Bert was a railroad man who was born was born in 1878 in Grayson County. In 1900, Bert Ford married Belle Sinclair, who was raised on a farm near Krum. They lived in Pink Hill, Texas a few miles from Sherman and on Dec. 3, 1905 they gave birth to Otha Neil Ford.
While Neil still very young the Ford's moved to Sherman and two more children were born, Lynn in 1908 and Authella in 1909. They had a nice house, a barn, a garden and life was good.
The Sherman schools were greatly influenced by their forward thinking superintendent, Dr. Jay Pyle, who had been influenced by William Morris. His emphasis on art and education in school is credited with nurturing the creativity in the Ford family. Under Pyle’s tutelage the children learned to make things, useful things, with punches, chisels, saws, and by the 6th grade they were learning to use machines at school. The simplicity of the Arts and Crafts movement’s influence, handed down from Morris, to Pyle on to his students was to inform the direction of Ford’s work in later life.
In 1917 Bert Ford was killed in a railroad accident in Oklahoma. The family was left without resources. They did not own their own home in Sherman and had relied on Bert’s salary for their livelihood. A lawsuit to get a settlement from the RR company was thrown out.
Denton had a lot of advantages at that time which made it an attractive choice for a widow with few resources. Mrs. Ford used some of the $5,000 union insurance settlement money to purchase a bungalow at the corner of W. Sycamore and Ave. D, next to NTSC campus. Her intention was to take in boarders and provide meals for students as the teachers college had no dormitories at the time.
Another advantage was that there were two state supported colleges here and she knew that she would never have been able to afford the tuition at Austin College for her three children.
Compared to Sherman, Denton was a quiet little town. Ford recalled, "We liked the cowboy aspect of it though. We liked seeing out to the west. From the house, we could see clear to Justin." According to his sister Authella, their house was the best in the neighborhood and even had indoor plumbing and electricity.
They were an industrious lot and each of the children seemed to pitch in for the common family good. They had a garden where they raised vegetables and even a cow to provide their milk. Neil took the morning milking shift, so he could go out at night, while his brother Lynn milked in the evening. Belle did sewing for the teachers and Neil sold cold drinks to students from a stand on Ave. D. They all picked blackberries at the state farm northwest of town. The children made posters for the college students and were paid to do “Chalk Talk” drawings for professors at the college. This would have been the early version of multi-media teaching aids.
Once, in an early example of neighborhood performance art and showmanship, Neil, Lynn and Authella they announced that they would launch 760 paper airplanes from a tall Liveoak tree in their yard. They had created this squadron of planes from a Sears Catalog, which they carefully dismantled and instructed Authella on how to made finely crafted paper airplanes. Posters announcing the event were created and distributed to all the houses in the neighborhood so that at the appointed time their yard was filled with curious spectators. And so it went, Neil and Lynn climbed into the treehouse and launched the planes as promised and and it was indeed quite a spectacle... But mostly the neighbors complained about the mess. The 760 pages of the Sears Catalogue spread throughout the neighborhood which were much less impressive on the ground.
The children had a solution for this as well. A prize was offered to the neighborhood children who could pick up the most airplanes and in short order they were. As a postscript to this, one shy neighbor quietly asked what the Fords were going to do with all the used airplanes. When told they would be burned the lady asked if she might have them... And would then please deliver them to her outhouse.
All during this period too, Neil and Lynn were taking on a variety of odd jobs, some that gave them exposure to real building materials and to hard work. They worked for some time cleaning used bricks which was hard, back-breaking work, but which Authella credits with giving Neil a knowledge and lifelong appreciation for working with the material. Neil spent a lot of time learning the various building materials and could identify most the available woods by their look and smell.
In the summer of 1923, Neil worked in San Angelo doing construction. His Uncle Jordan, took him on a driving tour of central Texas and he was impressed with the German architecture. This was an important trip for him and he credits this exposure to the simple indigenous styles of the houses in central Texas with the entire focus of his architectural career.
Among his influences in Denton was Mary Marshall, associate professor of Art at CIA. She allowed Neil access to the CIA library and the facilities at the art department. Ford would devour the architecture magazines in the department, which exposed this curious kid to the greater world of “high” ARCHITECTURE.
Ford graduated from Denton High in 1924 and would enter North Texas in the Fall, studying literature and physics. As usual he had numerous jobs to earn money including working as a carpenter and handyman at the college, (he built concrete benches behind the Auditorium Bldg.) and at Dyche's Corner, a hamburger stand at Ave. A and Hickory. At North Texas he was also very active as a cheerleader and he worked on the Yucca staff.
North Texas offered no classes in architecture so he enrolled in International Correspondence School, ICS, a correspondence school that offered courses in architecture. In his words, “neglected all studies except woodworking, drawing, blacksmithing, Shakespeare and spent all other available time on correspondence course.”
His sister writes of his intense dedication to studying architecture though his correspondence course all the while attending classes at North Texas. She recounts his working through the night and she waking him in the morning asleep at his desk. His drawing were beautiful and his papers were usually illustrated with little sketches. She would help him study by calling out the names of products from architectural magazines and he would respond with the name of the companies and their other products. They did this over and over. She wrote, “He was about 16. He really got hooked. I didn’t know what architecture was then. You know, nobody did other than to go out and build a house and that was it. But he actually drew the plans, and he would take his own saw and hammer and build a storage barn or garage. He’d get paid when they used his house plans. There were two or three built around Denton, but most of them have been torn down. He told me that if I told anybody that he designed those houses, he’d shoot me.”
Through life Ford would refer to this degree from a correspondence school and often place an ICS behind his name as if it were a prestigious professional accreditation. He and other ICS grads would often chant this ironic school cheer.
"To hell with Harvard,
To hell with Yale,
We get our learning through the mail."
By 1926 he decided that he could no longer afford to attend North Texas so he set out to pursue his chosen profession in architecture.
Dallas and David Williams
According to Roland Laney, Ford met David Williams while the Denton Presbyterian Church was being constructed in 1924(6) and was hired by him in 1926. There are various versions of how Williams exactly hired Ford. One version has Ford, as a young man going to Williams' office to apply for a job and seeing some unfinished plans for the Denton Presbyterian Church, Ford started making some improvements to them, while Williams was out of the office.
The official version is that Ford had written Williams a letter and never heard back from him. When, two years later, Ford came in looking or a job, Williams said, "Well, where have you been?" He went to work that day.
One story of this period was that Williams had a number of other architects and draftsmen working for him at the time Ford was hired. They viewed Ford as the low man on the totem pole and were very critical of him to the point of being downright mean. Williams saw this and in anger fired them all and said that he and Ford would handle all the work better than they had.
Williams was a worldly, educated man, who had become a well respected architect and who was surrounded by a group of fascinating members of the Dallas intelligentsia. Williams and Ford lived and worked in an office which had formerly been the Dallas Architectural Club and which soon became a well known hang-out. Artists such as Jerry Bywaters, and Alexandre Hogue, and writers like Lon Tinkle were in the Williams circle of friends. Ford was welcomed into this fast and interesting crowd.
One of his dates from this period, John Marie Preston, describes Ford as a flamboyant fellow, who picked her up for their date in a convertible. After opening her door for her, Ford went around and leaped over the driver’s side door and into the driver’s seat. Later he took her back to his studio and she reports seeing a fully drawn elevation of what would become the Little Chapel in the Woods in Denton ten years later.
David Williams was unquestionably Ford’s most important mentor. Williams, like Ford had come to architecture in a roundabout way. He had finished college and then gone to Mexico doing engineering and some design for an oil company. At an early age he made a lot of money investing in Mexico, and then in 1920, sold all of his assets, hopped a freighter from Vera Cruz to Le Havre, France, and spent the next 3 years experiencing the classic continental education... that is, watching, drawing, living for a while in Florence and soaking up the rich European environment.
He observed the regional styles of Europe and noted how they had been replicated ridiculously and imitated poorly in much of the architecture of America. This struck a note with him and when he returned to Texas in 1923 he set up an office in Dallas and tried to put some of these ideas into practice. When Ford came along he found a worthy protege and with Ford they developed many of the concepts and principles of regional architecture for which Ford would come to be known.
Ford reports that in those early days they really didn’t have much work done but as long as Williams’ money held out they had an office... and they discussed architecture. They went on exploratory trips through central Texas, looking at the Mexican architecture in San Antonio, the Alsatian homes in Castroville and the German communities around Fredericksburg. They made drawings and photographs and studied the regional styles of Texas. As they traveled and studied they were trying to formulate a new Texas, a Southwestern regional style. They paid attention to native materials and designing with a respect for climate... all things we take for granted today.
Writing of these forays in the Southwest Review, Ford said,
"We sought and found in these weathered Texas houses a seed of good sense: houses built to live in, built of the best materials available --the most modern materials then available… These houses, with the charm of their fine proportions, are the wealth that our forbears have given us, straight-forward and honest, free from mannerisms and styles."
In his early years with Williams he still maintained close contacts with Denton. His family was still here and his social connections gave him the opportunity for some local work. Not all of it however, was for paying jobs.
Early Architectural Commissions
In 1928 Ford designed the Gazebo at UNT. This structure once held a drinking fountain and was constructed with the assistance of Lynn Ford whose handiwork can be seen in the carved corners of the roof beams and the ornate wrought iron posts. An article at the time notes that much of the material was acquired at Ever’s Hardware.
In 1928 Ford also designed the Art Deco, Open Air Theater on the North Texas campus. This was the scene of many of the Saturday night performances on campus in the 30s and 40s. He was called at the time of the dedication of this structure, the "Unpaid Architect of the College". “Fessor” Floyd Graham directed the band at the opening and 4,000 people were in attendance.
In 1928 Ford designed his most ambitions project thus far. A 130 foot memorial tower for the campus. This structure was to house the offices of the ex-students association and serve as a memorial for all those soldiers that perished in World War I.
The structure was to be constructed of native limestone and have a red tiled roof. There would be a clock on the face of it and the bells would be a special carillon, or musical bell tower. Very popular in Flanders, these musical towers were experiencing a wave of of popularity on college campuses across the US during the 20s and 30s. Young Ford, then 23, was nothing if not bold in his plans to put his name up there with the “big boys”.
Unfortunately for the project, fund raising began at about the time the great depression started. They added a student center to the tower plans and continued the fund raising efforts in vain for several years. I have always thought it was a shame that this was never built because had it been I am convinced that it would have set a tone for the architecture on the campus, and perhaps the community which could have been more beautiful than what we have ended up with.
His next important work in Denton was the Mary Marshall House in 1929. Marshall, an associate professor of Art at the College of Industrial Arts from 1916 until 1930 and then Chairman of the Art Department from 1930 until her retirement in 1948, had been an early influence on Neil while he was still a high school student. Through her efforts Neil was granted permission to use the library at CIA to continue his own studies. It was there that he discovered the Architectural Record and spent hours reading about and studying the works of the great contemporary architects of the day, such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Greene and Greene.
Although there has been some controversy about which exactly is the first home designed by Ford, the Mary Marshall house at 1819 N. Bell is the first, confirmed in a letter from Arch Swank to Gertrude Gibson, a later owner of the house. This beautiful residence was designed by O’Neil Ford when he was just 24 years old. It demonstrates a distinctive style, with distinctive details which set it apart from other, more conventional houses being built at the time.
The house, currently owned by TWU, is solid brick and sports subtle details that show his desire to tweak the design and materials. Trim may have come from the lumber yard, but it was not left alone. The columns on the front porch started out as 4X4s yet have a variation on them that show the hand of a craftsman and is completely unique.
The marks of craftsmanship are in evidence throughout the house. The brick floor in the living room was laid on sand by Ford himself. The sand was stabilized with used crankcase oil which Ford got at a nearby gas station. The front of the house is set with 4-light window sashes, 3 rows of 2, right out of the lumber yard, but in a distinctly untypical arrangement divided by a grid of 1”x8”. Typical materials, but tweaked. A romantic balcony over-looks the living area and the ceiling has exposed beams.
At the same time this was being constructed another house across the street was being remodeled. It was thought that this addition and remodeling was the work of the daughter of the owner, Mary Jane Edwards, herself the first woman architect in Denton. In an interview with her she said that this was the work of Ford while he was working on the Marshall house. It features solid brick living room addition and plank, farmhouse doors.
“Young Turks” wishing to make a name for themselves must start out criticizing the regime they wish to overthrow. In this case it was the architectural establishment. While living in Dallas with Williams and spending countless hours philosophizing on the nature of architecture, Ford was writing, and he was being published in influential regional journals.
In a 1932 article in the Southwest Review, entitled Toward a New Architecture, Ford and co-author Thomas Broad, laid out the argument for a regional modernism and a rejection of the prevailing architectural trend towards imitating inappropriate European styles. Inappropriate for Texas, that is. Traditional architecture in America completely ignored the native brilliance of our regional architecture and built structures that were not necessarily suited for our climate. Ford laments “the snobbish impulse toward imitation which strains our residences into distressing caricatures of older styles.” He eschews the fakery of false styles and false materials made to look like something it is not.
Ford and Swank
In 1932, as the depression made architectural commissions scarce, the Williams - Ford partnership dissolved when David Williams went to work for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. At FERA, Williams was able to find work for many of his old friends, including O’Neil Ford. Ford worked on some projects in Georgia designing and building some New Deal master planned Utopian communities for the rural poor. They finished the project but Ford was fired in 1936. Williams went on the work for the National Youth Administration under Director, Lyndon Johnson and Ford now had friends in high places.
Returning to Dallas, Ford formed a partnership with Arch Swank, a recent graduate of Texas A&M. The first structure designed by Ford and Arch Swank in Denton was the Jack Johnson house at 2280 W. Oak, which was built in 1938. This house had been attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright in a real estate ad. Although altered significantly from the outside, this house has many elements that make it similar to other homes he designed in the period. Large floor to ceiling windows, like the Marshall house and site built interior doors give this house an almost Texas ranch-like feel.
In 1939 there was a flurry of activity here in Denton from the firm of Ford and Swank. The Lillian Parrill House built at the corner of Ave "D" and Chestnut, just down the street from Ford's boyhood home. His small house created such interest that it was featured in an article in Pencil Points Magazine (now Progressive Architecture). The house featured oiled hemlock siding, steel casement windows and cost $6,500 to build. The firm also built custom lighting fixtures for the home which featured several layers of long ellipses of frosted glass, suspended from the ceiling by metal rods. These were destroyed by contractors in remodeling. The Parrill house was moved in 1967 to its present location at 1712 Highland Park Road.
That same year they designed and built the Annie Alford House at 220 Marietta St. This structure features a cantilevered porch floor that extends from the second floor and standing seam tin roofing. Ford and Swank would use these same elements on other grander structures built about the same time. The T.F. Murchison House in San Antonio for example.
Another home that received national attention was the home Ford designed for his sister Authella and her husband Roland Hersh. Built on a shoestring budget, Ford, his sister Authella, and her husband laid the steel for the foundation. Apparently they had not tied the steel properly and with the concrete on the way, Ford, drug in a few bedsprings from a junk pile and used them for the reinforcement under the chimney.
Labeled "Chicken Coop Gothic" by Ford, this simple home was styled by architectural critic S.B. Zisman as, "the first real Texas house of the present movement" in an article in 1940. Zisman goes on to say of Ford, “His work has become an inspiring ideal and source of study for the Texas student of architecture and art. It honors the precedent of native traditions not because the work is old but because it tells how others have met the particular needs of the region. His work is subject neither to the tyranny of the accepted styles nor the tyranny of modernism.”
This house was demolished in 1965 by U.N.T.
However the big job of 1939 and the commission which more than any other put Ford and Swank on the map architecturally, was the Little Chapel in the Woods at the College of Industrial Arts (now TWU). After having camped out on the step of the National Youth Administration (NYA) offices in Ft. Worth, Pres. Hubbard of the CIA had secured some federal funding for improvements on the campus. There was to be an open competition for the design which Ford and Swank entered.
In this competition for the commission, Ford was well connected. He had strong Denton and CIA connections, having designed Mary Marshall’s (Chairman of the CIA Art Department) home a few hundred yards from the campus, and having been a partner and protege of architect David Williams, by 1939 a deputy director of the NYA.
Ford had long been fascinated by the simple designs of native architecture and had himself done drawings of churches in New Mexico which are similar to the little Chapel. The emphasis on native materials and the work with unskilled youth laborers added to the design challenges but also purified the design and process. It had to be simple, and through that simplicity came its beauty.
The stone was quarried in Bridgeport and could brake easily into small sheets. The elegant parabolic arches in the center are both structural and beautiful.
(In 1932 Ford had written about the most beautiful parabolic arches in the world at the Orly Airport designed Freysinnet as dirigible hangers. Ironically, the husband of Ford's biographer, Eugene George, and also a grandson of WC Orr, bombed those same hangers in WWII.)
Students under the direction of Toni LaSelle were commissioned to create the stained glass windows for the chapel, carve the benches, make the light fixtures and other decorations for the elegant structure.
Although there was grumbling from some of the students involved about Ford not always making appointments with them and coming up with the most fantastic excuses for having missed them, the Chapel was a huge success and an enduring legacy. The Chapel cost $28,000 to build.
As this building was being built, it received national attention in articles written in important architectural magazines, thus the small local firm of Ford and Swank, began to have a national profile. There is no doubt that this Chapel project was being used to showcase the National Youth Administration, a favorite program of President Roosevelt and a successful emblem of his New Deal policies.
When the Chapel was dedicated in 1939, Dr. Floyd Poe of the City Temple in Dallas led the convocation, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the ceremony which was broadcast to the region on WFAA radio.
In 1983, The Texas Society of Architects voted this structure one of the 20 most architecturally significant buildings in Texas and Ford remembered it as one of his favorite projects because he enjoyed working with the largely unskilled NYA youths. This project again put Ford on the pages of Pencil Points magazine and influential national publication and helped ensure his reputation as an important architect.
Despite his new prominence, the depression took its toll and private commissions were hard to find. About this time Maury Maverick, Progressive Mayor of San Antonio was visiting Washington and looked in on his old college roommate David Williams, at the NYA. He wanted to do something to revitalize the slums of La Villita and the nasty San Antonio River and get NYA help to do so. Williams remembered how he and O’Neil Ford had spent time in La Villita years before, drawing and photographing the old Mexican houses, and proposed his old friend for a job as consultant on the project.
When he moved to San Antonio in 1939 to work on the restoration of La Violate he met Wanda Graham, married and did not return to Dallas. His formal partnership with Arch Swank ended in 1941 when, with the outbreak of WWII, both Swank and Ford joined the Army where Ford served as a flight instructor in San Antonio.
it would be another 20 years before he received another Denton commission.
In the intervening period, Ford had begun to experiment with innovative engineering techniques... still retaining his basic tenets of regionalism, functionalism and finely crafted details.
In 1959 the First Christian Church hired Ford to design their new sanctuary. The roof was engineered by Felix Candela, a noted Mexican designer, and is a hyperbolic paraboloid, and the ten sections, five on each side, are said to represent the fingers of hands extended upwards in prayer.
In 1963 Ford, with Arch Swank and Roland Laney designed Fairhaven Retirement Home on North Bell. Myrtle Richardson came up with the idea of a retirement home for Denton in 1959 and by 1963 had contacted O’Neil Ford to come up with a design. Ford involved his old partner Arch Swank of Dallas, and they in turn hired local architect Roland Laney to assist with construction management. The structure had to be economical to build, easy to maintain and provide a nice quiet environment for its residents. Each room opened out onto a tranquil courtyard, and was designed so that the rooms were staggered and no one had to look into another residents room while their doors were open.
In 1965 Ford designed several structures for the Selwyn School: The Preston House, Kramer Science Building and in 1966 the Moody Dining Hall. John Marie Preston, Ford's old date from the thirties, was a founder of the Selwyn School and the Preston House is named for her family.
During this active period Ford had developed an appreciation for handmade Mexican brick. He liked the organic quality to it, but Acme Brick did not appreciate this and publicly called on Ford to use their product. Ford in turned challenged Acme to come up with a brick which had the qualities he admired in Mexican brick and their answer was the “El Fordo”... The brick used on the Denton municipal structures among many others.
From 1965 until 1968 Ford and his associates did a significant amount of work for the City of Denton.
As part of a master plan for the Civic Center complex Ford also designed an attractive entrance to the City property at the corner of Locust and McKinney. Ford assumed that he would secure the contract to build the new post office which would harmonize with the rest of the City buildings, and as a focal point, the corner would feature a large round fountain which would encourage pedestrians. As it turned out, an architectural firm with greater political clout secured the contract and as a result we have the ugliest post office in Texas, where flowers might have bloomed.
From 1963 to 1968 O'Neil Ford, working with Roland Laney and others were responsible for the design of five projects for the City ofDenton.
The City Hall
Situated around a tranquil sunken courtyard, the Denton City Hall serves as example for many popular Ford themes. The Lynn Ford carved doors, the ceramic light fixtures by Beau Mood, the redwood lattice-work supported by concrete columns, and the Saltillo tile floors can be found in many other Ford designed buildings. Built in 1967, the city hall was designed to allow for upward expansion of up to four stories. Because of the federal money involved in this project the original drawings show the whole basement of the City Hall as a bomb shelter, complete with men and women’s dorms.
Denton Civic Center
The Civic Center was built in 1966 as a multi-purpose community center. The intricate system of cables and pipes that support the roof are based on the design of the bicycle's hubbed wheel. This prestressed cable-suspension system frees the large interior space from internal supports. Originally designed to have a mesquite floor, Roland Laney reported that they were improperly laid and popped up in a few years. Presumably the caustics were better The carved front doors were built by Lynn Ford.
The Swimming Pool
Designed by Ford, Roland Laney and Carolyn Peterson, in 1965, the popular Denton Municipal Swimming Pool follows many of the stylistic themes of the City Hall. Ford didn't want the pool become another rectangle of concrete surrounded by chain-link fence, so he developed the berm concept to create an amphitheater-like space where swimmers might relax in comfort. This building was destroyed by the City in 1993 and replaced with an inferior structure. (Cliches)
Emily Fowler Public Library
The core of the Emily Fowler Public Library was designed by Wyatt C. Hedrick and completed in 1949. The first major addition to this building was designed by Ford in 1969. To accommodate Ford's plans for the library, Oakland Street was relocated to its present position.
To accompany this plan, Ford also proposed some changes for the creek, including a series of small check dams, like in Central Texas creeks, where children could play, fish and climb steps up to the library. A pity this was never built.
In 1980, Ford's firm designed an addition to the library, which includes the atrium garden area. One feature of note is the stacked tile wall in front of the building. On permanent exhibit in the new section of the library is a wall display of chip-carvings by Lynn Ford from the collection of Authella Ford Hersh. Ford’s old firm, Ford, Powell and Carson designed the later additions to the library.
Denton Municipal Airport
The air terminal was designed by Ford and Roland Laney in 1967. This was not a happy project and had to be redesigned because of cost over runs. It was destroyed for airport terminal expansion.
A reoccurring aspect of Ford's character is revealed through the letter he wrote to the Denton City Manager, Jack Reynolds and Mayor Warren Whitson. In light of what students had said in 1939 about his missing meetings and have fantastic excuses for doing so, many of his letters to our city officials start with some elaborate apology for having missed a meeting.
An airport closed down in Naples, an attack of Amoebic dysentery on the steps of our City Hall on his way into a meeting, Ford seems to have changed little in this aspect. He was a visionary who could fire the imagination and inspire those around him, but could by many accounts, infuriate just as easily.
His vision of modernism, tempered with Texas regionalism has inspired generations of Texas architects. Houses he designed in the 1930s look as if they could have been designed 30 years later... and they were, but by other architects, who took his lead honored his vision. David Williams, speaking of his old colleague said, “my real contribution to architecture is O’Neil Ford.”
A man of his stature has no single influence and there are many contributing influences the have been synthesized into the Ford we celebrate today, but Ford himself believed his pursuit of the creative life was his lifelong fascination with the Denton County Courthouse. “I just used to stand there, wondering how they ever got it up... I was in Denton just the other day and went over to look at the courthouse again and still don’t know how they ever did that blasted, blessed thing.”
His legacy is real. Denton had a profound and lifelong affect on O’Neil Ford, but in turn, Ford has left his mark on this town in an architectural legacy that will grow in importance as time goes by. If we are a wise people and good stewards we will honor that legacy and not squander it in a hell-bent drive for new development.