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Deep in the Heart of Texas

TEXAS: a small word known worldwide that embodies all the attributes of the big state, its myths, legends, and history. That history itself is often indistinguishable from myth, aided by popular culture and media. The second of two towering volumes drawn together by Gerald Moorhead and a team of dedicated authors, Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West conveys both the myth and the reality, the diversity, beauty, and magic of this vast place, its people, and its architecture. “Texas” derives from the Spanish “Tejas,” which in turn derives from the Caddo Indian word “Taysha,” meaning “ally,” or “friend.” And it is certainly a friendly place. Here is an abbreviated regional sampling of sites worth a look, drawn from the newest book in the Buildings of the United States series published by the Society of Architectural Historians and the University of Virginia Press.


East Texas

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

c. 800–c. 1300. 1649 TX 21 W, Alto vicinity

Three low mounds rise in a meadow on the edge of the eastern bluff of the Neches River. The site includes two ceremonial mounds and one burial mound, built more than 1,200 years ago by the Hasinai group of the Caddoan Mississippi Culture. This site, along with the one in Nacogdoches, is the southernmost for this cultural group. The group abandoned the site around 1300, as local resources became depleted and neighboring villages became more independent. Hasinai bands continued to occupy other sites in the area until the late 1830s, when they moved west to the Brazos River to avoid incoming Anglo-American settlers. In 1859 the U.S. government moved them to Indian Territory (present-day Binger, Oklahoma). The Caddo Nation still has a spiritual connection to this land, holding a yearly gathering of tribal members from Oklahoma. The visitors’ center (2014, Bailey Architects), destroyed by an EF-3 tornado on April 13, 2019 in the midst of the annual Caddo Culture Day, was a teaching experience rather than a museum. Daily life in the Hasinai village was explained through interactive exhibits before visitors trekked the site. The center’s multicolored brick walls referred to the layers of colored earth used by the Hasinai to build the mounds, which are now obscured by the protective grass of the meadow. The circular bench at the entrance was the size of a typical round Caddo house, and the shed-roofed canopies recalled the Caddo shelters used for outdoor work. The Texas Historical Commission will rebuild this important site to continue the essential interpretation of the Caddo culture.


Cathedral of Hope Interfaith Peace Chapel

2011, Philip Johnson; Alan Ritchie Architects with Cunningham Architects. 5910 Cedar Springs Rd., Dallas

After its founding in 1970 and decades of worship in rented facilities, the Metropolitan Community Church–Dallas, an LGBT congregation of the United Church of Christ, built on this site in 1993. After attending a conference at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, the minister, Michael Piazza, commissioned a campus master plan in 1995 from Philip Johnson. The John Thomas Bell Wall, a national AIDS memorial, was built in 2000, and the Congregational Life Center (not a Johnson design) was dedicated in 2002. A future cathedral is included in the master plan. The Interfaith Peace Chapel was the last work sketched by Philip Johnson before his death in 2005. The 175-seat chapel is open to all faiths. Battered and curved wall planes define a rising succession of three irregular, interlocking masses, to a crescendo of space and light above the altar. Double-framed walls dampen the sound from the adjacent airport and allow for deeply recessed windows, some hinting at Gothic forms, others biomorphic. Control joints make random lines across the white stucco. While the angularity of the forms may seem crystalline, the gentle curves and bows are more gelatinous in appearance.


North Central Texas

Conrad Hilton Center (Mobley Hotel)

1916; 1986 rehabilitated, Rinaldo Petrini. 309 Conrad Hilton Blvd., Cisco

Henry Mobley bought this site for a hotel from A. J. Olsen, who then became the contractor for Mobley’s hotel. Constructed immediately south of the Texas and Pacific Railway passenger station (not extant), the hotel is a two-story, red brick, U-shaped building without ornament except for stringcourses at the first and second floors and a stepped parapet. A shed-roofed canopy extends most of the length of the main (south) facade. When acquired by Conrad N. Hilton in 1919, the forty-room hotel was prospering from the Eastland County oil boom of 1917. This was Hilton’s first hotel and is where he learned the hospitality business, developing concepts and techniques that led to the Hilton chain’s international success. After he sold the Mobley in 1929, it passed through several owners and uses until it was donated in 1977 to the University of Houston Foundation. In 1979 (the year of Conrad Hilton’s death) the foundation, together with the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston and the Hilton family, designated the Mobley as a memorial museum. The structure was rehabilitated in 1986 to incorporate a museum, public meeting facilities, and offices for the Cisco Chamber of Commerce, with an adjacent park.


Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Passenger Station

1909, Jarvis Hunt. 600 E. Depot St., Brownwood

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway brought passenger service to Brownwood on December 31, 1885. At its peak in the 1940s, fifteen trains a day came through Brownwood. Chicago-based Hunt gave a Spanish Mission flavor to his mid-size stations for the Santa Fe line. Stucco wall finishes, round-arched openings, low-pitched hipped roofs of red tile with deep overhangs, brick stringcourses, and the contrast of brick ornamenting stucco surfaces give the stations a visual lightness not found in an all-brick design. Adjacent to the station and connected by a covered arcade is The Harvey House Restaurant and Hotel of 1911, a frequent complement to Santa Fe stations under contract with the Fred Harvey restaurant chain. Typically a Harvey House facility was integrated into the station, but here it is a separate building. The two-story building is related to the depot’s design, but more clearly Prairie Style and with rectangular windows. The first floor contained the restaurant, coffee shop, tearoom, and kitchen facilities, and hotel rooms were on the second floor.


Panhandle and South Plains

Cadillac Ranch

1974, Ant Farm. I-40, near exit 60 (S. Frontage Rd.), Amarillo

Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michaels of the design collective Ant Farm created Cadillac Ranch for eccentric Amarillo millionaire Stanley Marsh 3. Known as Amarillo’s “Bumper Crop,” ten Cadillacs were planted nose-down and at an angle in a Panhandle wheat field to celebrate Route 66’s golden age from 1949 to 1963. Michaels called Cadillac Ranch the “hood ornament of Route 66.” The fifty-two-degree angle refers to the inclination of the sides of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Originally located in a field closer to town, the installation was moved two miles west in 1997 as Amarillo encroached on the site, although the later field is once again surrounded with development. From the beginning, the cars have attracted graffiti, been repainted, “restored,” and polychromed again. In 2002, the cars were returned to their original colors (briefly) as part of the Hampton Hotel’s national Save-A-Landmark program under the supervision of Michaels. Until his death in 2014, Marsh persisted in annoying staid local sensibilities with his projects and pranks, including painting a field to look like a big pool table (complete with giant balls and a 100-foot cue) and installing fake traffic signs with cryptic messages.


Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café

1936, Joseph Champ Berry; 2003 restored, Phillips Swager Associates, with ArchiTexas. 101 E. 12th St., Shamrock

Shamrock, founded in 1902 as a station on the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railroad, became the junction of two U.S. highways in 1926: U.S. 66 running east to west and U.S. 83 following Main Street north to south. Bebe and John Nunn of Shamrock owned all four corners of this strategic and profitable intersection. Amarillo businessman James M. Tindall offered to erect a new building for them if they would sell the northeast corner to him. The resulting Tower Station is one of the outstanding landmarks of Route 66. Designed in a commercial modernistic style at which Berry was adept, the building combines a service station and a café, each marked by an eye-catching tower. The cast-concrete fluting of the friezes and towers add a dynamic verticality and links the building to Art Deco. Originally leased to Conoco, the station and café were adorned by neon signage (replaced with LED lighting in 2014). The station and café were restored to their original light tan finish with olive green tile accents in 2003. The station is now owned by the City of Shamrock and operates as a visitors’ center, chamber of commerce, and community center. The distinctive forms of the Tower Station were adopted for the 2006 animated film Cars as Ramone’s auto body and paint shop.


West Texas

Judge Roy Bean Museum

1880s. TX 25 at Torres Ave., Langtry

Judge Roy Bean’s original saloon and courthouse, a lightly built, two-room structure of wood with a front porch stands in a courtyard behind a more substantial Texas Department of Transportation Travel Information Center and an extensive desert-plant garden. Bean’s opera house is also on display, a small, hipped-roofed frame structure with a wraparound porch. Bean, a native of Kentucky, fought along with his two brothers in the Mexican-American War of 1846–1848 and later lived (at times either as a lawman or as an outlaw) in northern Mexico, in eastern New Mexico, and in San Antonio. In 1882, when construction of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway was nearing the Pecos River, he operated a tent-saloon near what became the town of Vinegarroon. Crime was so rampant in the camps that the Texas Rangers were called in, and Bean was appointed justice of the peace, so that the Rangers could avoid the 320-mile round trip from Fort Stockton. He held that post, with brief interruptions, until his death in 1903. Bean settled in Langtry (named for a railroad construction foreman, George Langtry, not, as Bean later claimed, for the actress Lillie Langtry), where he became famous for the capriciousness of his legal rulings and skill at self-promotion that has made him part of Texas folklore, including a television series, Judge Roy Bean (1955–1956), and a movie, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972).


Prada Marfa

2005, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, Jörg Böttger; Elmgreen and Dragset, artists. U.S. 90, 2 miles north of Valentine

Standing alone in the vast, open landscape between the Davis Mountains and the Sierra Vieja above Wild Horse Draw, the off-white stucco box might be another remnant of past prosperity, which in a sense it is. The adobe and aluminum window wall structure is a “pop architectural land art project” by Berlin-based artists Elmgreen and Dragset that replicates a fashion display window of women’s shoes (for the right foot only) and purses (without bottoms) made by the Italian luxury brand Prada in their 2005 line. It is built on private land leased by the Ballroom Marfa Foundation, which commissioned the work. The installation has survived vandalism, theft, and attempts by the Texas Department of Transportation to demolish it as a nonconforming advertising billboard. In late 2014, it was reclassified as a single-exhibit museum, a critique of ephemeral fashion. Prada Marfa was built to be biodegradable, but apparently it will be maintained and endure.


VISIT over 1,000 additional places in Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West, available now, along with the companion volume, Buildings of Texas: Central, South, and Gulf Coast.


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