O'Neil Ford (1905-1982)


Ford, O'Neil

Personal Information

Birth/Death:    b. 03 December 1905 - d. 20 July 1982
Occupation:    American architect
Location:    Dallas, TX; San Antonio, TX

AIA Affiliation

Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 1945-decease
Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) 1960

Biographical Sources

American Architects Directories:
Biographical listing in 1956 American Architects Directory
Repeat of 1956 biographical listing in 1962 American Architects Directory
Biographical listing in 1970 American Architects Directory

Biographical Directories:
Entry in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects (New York: Macmillan, 1982)
Entry in Pioneers in Preservation: Biographical Sketches of Architects Prominent in the Field Before World War II (Washington, DC: The American Institute of Architects Committee on Historic Resources, 1990)

Biographical Information:
Contributed by the Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas:
      Born in the town of Pink Hill, Otha Neil Ford (1905-1982), attended an elementary school in nearby Sherman with a progressive curriculum influenced by the arts-and-crafts movement. From the first grade on, he learned to draw and to build what he drew. Following his father's death in a railroad accident, Neil became the family breadwinner at age 12. To obtain work, he developed a flair for persuasive showmanship, one of many aspects of the complex Fordian persona that he was to invent as he progressed through his long and extraordinarily influential life.
      The family moved to Denton, where, during his high school years, Neil haunted the libraries at the local colleges. In 1924, he entered what was then North Texas State Teachers College, a block from his home, He did well in manual training and Shakespeare, the subjects that interested him, but was forced to leave college after two years. His only formal professional training was a basic architecture course from the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pa. Ford's lack of university education became part of his mystique.
      In 1926, Ford entered the Dallas office or architect David R. Williams, where he served an apprenticeship. Flamboyant and often outrageous, Williams had "star quality" and, quite naturally, was Ford's first role model and mentor. Williams responded to Neil's abilities as a designer. Working together they produced a number of houses in North Central Texas that were distinguished by the integration of architecture and crafts and the use of native materials. The Hugh Drane residence in Corsicana is a notable example. Williams closed his practice in the early '30s; as deputy administrator of the National Youth Administration from 1936 to 1941, and in influential posts with other federal depression-recovery agencies, he was able to direct commissions to Ford.
      Ford formed his first viable partnership in 1936 with Arch Swank. Significant early jobs for the Dallas office of Ford and Swank were the Little Chapel in the Woods on the campus of Texas Women's University, constructed by National Youth Administration trainees and college art students; and a house on St. Joseph's Island for oilman Sid Richardson.
      Ford's move to San Antonio was precipitated by his work as consulting architect on another NYA project, the restoration of La Villita. He married Wanda Graham in 1940 and settled into the Graham homestead, Willow Way. The house's ambience dramatically influenced what come to be called the Ford style: a mix of worn stone and low-fired bricks, tile floors, and well-crafted wood, united by a lack of pretension.
      In 1946, Ford formed a new partnership with Jerry Rogers that lasted until 1953. Their interest in innovative building systems, such as the Youtz-Slick lift slab process, was put to the test in 1949 when, thanks to William Wurster, another enthusiastic Ford supporter, Ford & Rogers won the commission to design a new campus for Trinity University in San Antonio in association with Bartlett Cocke & Associates. Work at Trinity would span three decades.
      The firm known as O'Neil Ford & Associates was established in 1953 (lasting until 1966), as was Ford's Houston-based partnership with Richard Colley and William Tamminga, which lasted until 1956. From the mid-'50s on, associated architects Ford, Colley & Swank, with planner Samuel B. Zisman, collaborated on a number of projects for Texas Instruments.
      The partnership with Boone Powell and Chris Carson came into being in 1967. Campuses for Skidmore College in New York and the first phase of UT San Antonio (in association with Bartlett Cocke) are examples of the firm's work, as are scores of understated residences including that of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Steves in San Antonio.
      Generations of bright young architects were eager to work for the dynamic Ford. In fact, his best work was done in collaboration with talented young associates who practiced what he preached. And preach he did, tirelessly traveling the lecture circuit. He made himself the grand old man of Texas architecture, simultaneously its eternal naughty boy and its valuable conscience.
      Ford's work was nationally published. Among Ford's honors were his appointment by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to the National Council on the Arts; by David Rockefeller, Jr. in 1975 to the American Council for the Arts in Education; and in 1977 to the advisory panel for federal Foreign Buildings Operations. The first endowed chair in the School of Architecture at UT Austin was named for Ford.
      Until he died in 1982, O'Neil Ford was contentious and ebullient, and he never lost his childlike sense of wonder.
      [Source: George, Mary Carolyn Hollers. 1989. O'Neil Ford. Texas Architect 9 (6): 52-3.]

Related Records

Ford, Powell & Carson (firm)
Partner of Boone Powell and Chris John Carson
Partner of Arch B. Swank

Archival Holdings

The American Institute of Architects Archives
      Membership file contains membership application, Fellowship nomination, and announcements about awards. A memorial article in AIA Journal and a memorial article in Texas Architect included reminiscences from his colleagues.

Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas
      O'Neil Ford collection, 1864-1993
Papers, plans, photographic prints and negatives, slides, exhibit boards, drawings, and sketches reveal the life and career of O'Neil Ford (1905-1982), a prominent architect in the southwestern United States whose work also extended nationally and internationally. The collection demonstrates the origins and practice of Ford's dedication to native architectural forms and hand craftwork, historic preservation, innovative design, and his tireless advocacy of education, particularly in the arts.
      For more information https://www.lib.utexas.edu/about/locations/alexander-architectural-archives