James Riely Gordon (1863-1937)


Gordon, James Riely

Personal Information

Birth/Death:    (1863-1937)
Occupation:    American architect
Location:    San Antonio, TX; Dallas, TX; New York, NY

AIA Affiliation

Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 1930-decease

Biographical Sources

Biographical Directories:
Entry in Henry F. Withey, A.I.A., and Elsie Rathburn Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased) (Los Angeles: New Age Publishing Company, 1956. Facsimile edition, Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970)
Entry in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects (New York: Macmillan, 1982)
Biographical Information:
Contributed by the Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas:
      James Riely Gordon was born in Winchester, Virginia in 1863. At age 11 he moved with his family to San Antonio in 1874. He worked for the Civil Engineering Corps of the International and Great Northern Railway before apprenticing in the architectural office of W.K. Dobson of San Antonio. He gained invaluable experience in the design of public buildings while supervising construction of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in San Antonio (1888-1889). By the mid-1880s he had opened his own office. For a brief period, he established a partnership with D.E. Laub (Gordon and Laub Architects) in San Antonio from 1890 to 1891. By the late 1890s Gordon established the J. Riely Gordon Company in Dallas and shortly thereafter moved to New York City where he entered into a brief practice with Alfred Zucker in 1902. He was later associated briefly with Evarts Tracy and Egerton Swartwout in the firm of Gordon Tracy and Swartwout Architects (circa 1905). He continued to successfully design county courthouses across the eastern seaboard.
      Gordon excelled at the design of public buildings and constructed 16 county courthouses in Texas alone. His most popular structures utilized the Richardsonian Romanesque style that accommodated a natural ventilation system so essential in the hot, Texas climate. His designs for courthouses in Texas include Bexar County (1891-1896); Victoria County (1892); Ellis County (1895); and McLennan County (1901). In addition, he designed numerous residences and commercial buildings and was selected as the architect for the Texas Pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Perhaps influenced by his experiences at the fair in Chicago, he switched to the use of a Renaissance Revival style at the turn of the century. He was also responsible for the design of the territorial capitol for Arizona (circa 1900) and the Mississippi State Capitol (1896 - not built).
      Gordon continued to design public edifices in the Renaissance Revival style after his move to New York. Included among his built designs are the Garrett County Courthouse in Oakland, Maryland (circa 1907); the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, New Jersey (1908-1911); the Cambria County Courthouse in Cambria, Pennsylvania (1914-1924); and the Cortland County Courthouse in Cortland, New York (1922-1923). Perhaps his most interesting and controversial project was a proposed 1913 design for a new New York County Courthouse in the form of a high-rise, classical column or "skyscraper column." In addition, he designed residential and commercial buildings such as the Gramercy Park Apartments (1909), and at least four Elks Clubs in New York and New Jersey.
      Gordon continually sought to improve the professional standards of the new profession of architecture throughout his career. He served as secretary of the Texas State Association of Architects, the first professional organization of architects in the state. After moving to New York, he served as president of the New York Society of Architects for 13 years (1916-1929) and participated in the writing of the New York building codes. He served on Mayor Hylan's Housing committee; Mayor Walker's Committee on Plans and Survey; the Tenement House Committee; the Committee on the Board of Standards and Appeals; and the Committee on the New York City Building Code. In addition, he was named honorary president of the New York Society of Architects; served as vice-president and director of the New York Association of Architects; was an honorary member of both the Long Island Society of Architects and the Brooklyn Society of Architects

Related Records

Archival Holdings

The American Institute of Architects Archives
      Membership file may contain membership application, related correspondence. Contact the AIA Archives at archives@aia.org for further information.
Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas
      James Riely Gordon drawings and papers, ca. 1890-1937
The James Riely Gordon papers comprise over 6,500 drawings, 13 linear feet of archival material and over 1,600 photographs representing over 300 buildings that document both the Texas and New York phases of Gordon's career. The material dates from 1890 to 1937. Although most of the material dates from 1900 to 1937, representing his New York career, the earlier years in Texas (circa 1890 - 1900) are well-represented by watercolor presentation drawings and photographs. The work of one of his later partners, Alfred Zucker, is also represented in the collection by architectural drawings for buildings in New York constructed during the 1890s (see the Alfred Zucker collection).
      The drawings range from elegant presentation watercolors to working drawings, sketches, and shop drawings. There are few working drawings for the Texas years, largely represented in watercolor renderings. The New York years, however, are well documented by the entire range of different types of architectural drawings. Plaster models exist for several projects, such as the New York County and Bergen County courthouses.
      Additional archival materials include correspondence, specifications, letters of reference, photographs, glass negatives, newspaper clippings and plaster models. Gordon was involved in litigation concerning several projects, including the Bergen County Courthouse, the Cambria County Courthouse, and the Elks Club in Hackensack, New Jersey and Newburgh, New York. There is extensive documentation regarding these legal suits. Aspects of his social life and professional achievements are also represented. While the archival material for the Texas years is more scarce, several items are of particular interest: a list of Texas Clients and letters of recommendation from clients around the state. Of particular note are the hand-written minutes of the Texas State Association of Architects (1886-1895), the only such surviving record of the state's first professional organization of architects.
      There are also 34 volumes of clippings from architectural periodicals (primarily American Architect and Building News and Inland Architect) that are bound according to building type. Originally from Alfred Zucker's office, Gordon later attached his name over Zucker's nameplate. These volumes contain numerous illustrations of Gordon's work from Texas.
      The collection contains various artifacts, including a commemorative trowel, desk set, and his drafting triangles. Gordon's office furniture, consisting of a mahogany desk, 4 chairs, and 2 large filing cabinets, are also included in the Gordon materials.
      For more information https://www.lib.utexas.edu/about/locations/alexander-architectural-archives


Meister, Chris. James Riely Gordon: His Courthouses and Other Public Architecture (Texas Tech University Press, 2012)