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Written by Texas Highways

Call 940/898-3644 for information about viewing Denton’s Little Chapel-in-the-Woods. (Photo by Kevin Stillman).Residences and businesses designed by O’Neil Ford exist throughout Texas. Some of the most accessible include structures throughout the campus of Trinity University in San Antonio (at US 281 and Mulberry, three miles north of the Alamo), where it’s easy to get a sense of Ford’s affinity for simple lines and parabolic archways. Some campus standouts are Laurie Auditorium, the Parker Chapel, and the Ruth Taylor Theater; the latter boasts Ford’s signature brick buttresses and circular masonry cutouts. See www.trinity.edu.

Also in San Antonio, visit La Villita (www.lavillita.com), which dates to the 1700s and was the site of Mexican General Santa Anna’s cannon line in the Battle of the Alamo. Restoration of La Villita in 1939 brought Ford to San Antonio from Dallas.

One of O’Neil Ford’s most famous structures is the Little Chapel-in the-Woods in Denton (www.twu.edu), a nondenominational place of worship on the campus of Texas Woman’s University.      

—Lori Moffatt

Architect O’Neil Ford championed regional design, craftsmanship, and the simplicity of lasting materials

“Architecture is scale and proportion,” O’Neil Ford liked to say. “The rest is decor.” (Photo courtesy of the Alexander Architectural Archive and Ford Collection)

By Gene Fowler

Exciting, eccentric, and paradoxical, San Antonio and O’Neil Ford were a good match.” So observed art-and-architecture historian Mary Carolyn Hollers George in her 1992 book, O’Neil Ford, Architect. Ford moved to the Alamo City from Dallas in 1939 to restore the historic neighborhood of La Villita, and his architectural footprint in that city—and many others in Texas—remains strong. In 1974, National Council on the Arts officials proclaimed O’Neil Ford (1905-1982) himself a National Historic Landmark.

Ford achieved that distinction partly by creating architecture inspired by the vernacular structures of 19th-Century Texas. “O’Neil’s philosophy was simple,” explains architect and Ford colleague Carolyn Peterson. “He believed in designing buildings to take advantage of the natural setting and orienting them in a way that made the most of shade and breeze.”

“And for all his love of simple, straightforward, native materials,” adds colleague Roy Lowey-Ball, “O’Neil was also a modernist.”

Born Otha Neil Ford in Pink Hill in 1905, Ford moved with his parents, Bert and Belle Ford, to nearby Sherman around 1908; a younger brother and sister soon joined the family. After Bert died in 1917, Belle moved the family to Denton, where she operated a boardinghouse. Otha went to school and worked odd jobs, and he dreamed of becoming an architect, inspired by area barns and the Romanesque Denton County Courthouse. In 1923, a year before his high school graduation, Otha visited Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Piedras Negras, San Antonio, Castroville, and other towns on a camping trek with his uncle. As architectural historian David Dillon observed in his 1999 book, The Architecture of O’Neil Ford—Celebrating Place, the pair viewed “a body of native architecture that few Texas architects had ever seen, much less appreciated.”

Click image to read about O’Neil Ford’s Little Chapel-in-the-Woods in Denton. (Photo by Kevin Stillman)Though Otha managed two years at North Texas State Teachers College—where his name morphed into the jauntier O’Neil—family finances limited his formal architectural education to a course from the International Correspondence Schools.

In 1926, Ford moved to Dallas to work for architect David Williams, who shared his interest in vernacular architecture. Williams’ apartment, dubbed “the Studio,” hosted an art crowd that included painter Jerry Bywaters and other members of “the Dallas Nine.” During their six-year partnership, Williams and Ford made more architectural pilgrimages to the Hill Country and the border. David Dillon wrote that a home Ford designed for Frank Murchison of San Antonio in 1937 was Ford’s “first serious attempt at combining modernism and the Texas vernacular,” exemplified, for instance, in the “wide breezeway adapted from the traditional Texas dogtrot.”

In 1938, Ford and partner Arch Swank achieved recognition with the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, which they modeled after an 1850s church in New Mexi-co. Ford projects were often family affairs: In 1938, he also built a home on San
Jose Island for oilman Sid Richardson, and enlisted his brother to craft furniture from driftwood and his mother to weave upholstery.

Decades later Ford observed that, when Mayor Maury Maverick Sr. brought him to San Antonio to revive La Villita, the project and the city “changed the whole direction of my life.”

In 1940, Ford married dancer Wanda Graham, and her family home, Willow Way, served for a time as his firm’s offices. Ford’s many projects in San Antonio and South Texas—including restoration of San Antonio’s 1749 San Fernando Cathedral and preservation work on the city’s chain of Spanish missions—enlarged the Ford mystique.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Ford’s designs gave the campus of Trinity University its linear, modern look. When the architect showed up an hour late for a meeting with a $600,000 donor for the university’s theater building, the in-sulted philanthropist decided to withdraw the gift—until Ford uncorked a spellbinding monologue about the planned temple of performance. Enchanted, the donor wrote a check for $1.5 million.

In the last decade or so of his life, Ford became such a colorful fixture of the Alamo City cultural scene that the Beauregard Café offered an O’Neil Ford Special, a burger on a wheat bun, served with a Shiner beer. Those who knew him say his sense of humor remained intact even as his celebrity grew. When he received the National Historic Landmark designation in 1974, Ford quipped, “Does this mean I can never be altered?”

The architect died in 1982 following a coronary bypass procedure. The Happy Jazz Band, a River Walk stalwart, played at his funeral. Tributes and honors have continued in the years since, often with a strong shot of honesty about his prickly brilliance. “He was affable, irascible, and he never lacked for words,” says Roy Lowey-Ball. “He was larger-than life, yet he was a humanist through-and through.”  



A Bastrop foundry showcases sculpture and more in its new space


The gallery displays sculptures by Bill Worrell, such as Mystery, Power, Energy, a monumental work cast next door. (Photo courtesy Bill Worrel)For some 30 years, the Deep in the Heart Art Foundry in Bastrop has assisted artists in creating works from bronze plaques to monumental sculptures, all the while building a client list that now includes internationally acclaimed sculptors such as Gil Bruvel, Tom Tischler, Bill Worrell, and Clayburn Moore. Last August, the foundry debuted a 2,400-square-foot gallery that showcases not only its clients’ sculptures but also a broad selection of their two-dimensional works, including  landscapes and portraits. Visitors enjoy spotting limited-edition prints by French sculptor Gil Bruvel with the same fantasy themes as his intricate metal works. Bruvel, who now lives in Wimberley, also creates functional and public art in the same vein.


After viewing the art inside the gallery, visitors can move to the sculpture garden, which features 10 to 15 monumental pieces, including a life-size mermaid, a deer, and a pair of baby elephants. “On Saturday, you can also tour the foundry and see how the sculpture is cast and finished,” says gallery director Jamie Howard. "Tours can last 20 minutes to two hours, depending on how many questions you have.”

Led by Howard or one of her staff, the tours are free and offer a fascinating introduction to casting using the lost-wax method. The gallery offers bronze-pour demonstrations twice a year, during the gallery shows in April and November. Call 512/321-7894; www.fireside-gallery.com.                                                            

—Nola McKey


Sports bars are more than just taps and TVs  

A Texas-size TV screen at High Velocity sports bar in San Antonio guarantees fans great views of the action. (Photo by Sarah Kerver)

By Anthony Head

Although I grew up in indiana, where basketball reigns supreme, I’m now a Texan and a committed football fan. My conversion wasn’t painful because I’ve always liked watch-ing big games at sports bars. With the crowd’s upbeat energy and plenty of beer and food, it’s the next best thing to being there.

On February 6, when Super Bowl XLV comes to Arlington’s Cowboys Stadium, there may be no better sports bar in the state in which to celebrate than nearby Humperdink’s. One of five locations around the Metroplex, it sits within a mile of the stadium. With a 45-foot ceiling overhead, it certainly lives up to its billing as “Arlington’s Tallest Bar.” Humperdink’s isn’t big enough to hold the estimated 150,000 football enthusiasts descending on Arlington in February, but it’s a start.

Sitting at the main bar, I’m joined by Humperdink’s manager, Emanuel Harrison. “This place is going to be crazy the whole week leading up to the game,” he says. “We’re already getting phone calls from fans trying to reserve a stool. We’re planning to open up extra seating areas to maximize as much space as possible.” No matter where fans sit, they won’t miss any action because dozens of televisions hang prominently throughout the space.

With an emphasis on the quality of its cuisine, Humperdink’s is actually more of a sports restaurant than a sports bar. The menu of burgers, steaks, and seafood is built to go with the selection of craft brews from the on-site brewery. My favorite of the bunch, the Big Red IPA, tastes well-rounded and is quite food-friendly; it goes especially well with the turkey melt or any of the other sandwiches offered.

Even though the Cowboys will not make it to the big game, Dallasites will be revved up for the action. “All of Dallas is already super-excited about the Super Bowl,” says Cynthia Hobbs, a bartender at Frankie’s Sports Bar and Grill in the Uptown region. “We’ll be getting people from all over the Metroplex for the game. This place is going to be a madhouse.”

With scores of compact TVs, big-screen TVs, giant-screen TVs, wall-sized TVs, high-def and plasma TVs, Frankie’s makes it hard to miss any of the action. The beer, too, comes in dozens of varieties, many from around the world, with plenty of Texas greats like Shiner Bock and Real Ale Brewing Company’s Fireman’s #4 Blonde Ale.

Frankie’s also demonstrates how sports bars have evolved to become much more than just taps and TVs. The place feels comfortable, like a neighborhood tavern, but with very little beer signage or neon. The granite-topped bar has hooks underneath for purses, and there are several different rooms for dining on upscale versions of bar food, including wings (more than a half-dozen varieties), nachos (with steak strips), and burgers (the half-pound Colt Burger is topped with apple-smoked bacon and Maytag blue cheese).

Hobbs says the raw bar’s popularity proves that sports fans love seafood, too. The Super Bowl Brunch is sure to be a winner: In addition to sandwiches, eggs, and waffles, Frankie’s build-your-own Bloody Mary Bar will be piled high with several mixes, plenty of shrimp, pico de gallo—the works.

In contrast, High Velocity, at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, resembles a gallery space. Colorful Texas-team logos and sports-themed paintings cover the walls, and high ceilings and polished surfaces frame the 250-seat restaurant. It’s also super-charged throughout with high technology; a 12-foot-high by 120-foot-long TV screen dominates the space above the bar.

High Velocity offers 24 beers on tap, including another of my Texas favorites, Rahr & Sons Blonde Lager. Its crisp flavor tastes great with game-day favorites, such as Tex--as-style chili and nachos with barbecue brisket, smoked cheddar, and jalape-ños. High Velocity’s game plan makes use of many fresh, high-quality ingredients to appeal to families as much as football fanatics.

For anyone who thinks the best football food ever invented—pizza—should be left up to the experts, the place to go is Nick’s Place Italian Sports Bar & Pizzeria in Houston. Nick’s features an old-school sports-bar ambience: It’s a bit dark inside, and the place is usually filled with friendly regulars. It’s also loaded with TVs and great beer. Tableside service is typically laid-back, but the staff take their sports seriously and they mean business when it comes to pizza. Mozzarella, parmesan, provolone, and ricotta top the Quattro Formaggi; bacon, beef, ham, pepperoni, and sausage crowd the “I Got Your Meat” pizza; and just about every combination with and without vegetables is available in-between.

Even by sports bar standards, Nick’s is in a league of its own. On February 6, fans can plan on a full day of pre-game shows and seemingly endless game-day analysis, because Nick’s will open at 9 a.m., a full 13 hours before kickoff. You can even have a breakfast pizza with eggs, ham, bacon, cheddar cheese, mushrooms, red onion, and bell pepper.

Whether or not a Texan team will be playing in the Super Bowl this year, when it comes to good food, good bear and good times, Texas sports bars have already won the game.


(Photo courtesy of The Daytripper with Chet Garner)

It’s official. A while back, the Texas Legislature settled the debate over which town deserves the overall crown for best ’cue: Lockhart (designated “Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1999). I made a trip to our smoky capital on a meaty mission—to try every barbecue restaurant in town.

Lighting extravaganzas ring in Hub City holidays

By Nola McKey

More than 15 ranch structures gleam for the holidays at the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)For many Lubbock-area residents, the holidays officially begin when they make the trek to Texas Tech for the university’s annual Carol of Lights, an evening event that has brought the community together for more than a half-century. Thousands of people gather in the Science Quadrangle to hear a carillon concert and chorale groups and sing a carol or two themselves. The finale comes when someone throws a switch, and 25,000 Christmas lights suddenly outline 13 buildings around
Memorial Circle. This year’s event takes place December 3.

For more information, call 806/742-2542; www.orgs.ttu.edu/tturesidencehallassociation (click on”Programs”).

Just north of campus, Candlelight at the Ranch takes place at the National Ranching Heritage Center about a week later (December 10-11, 2010). Luminarias outline the paths to more than 15 historic ranch structures, where volunteers re-create holiday scenes from the past. Call 806/742-0498; www.nrhc.ttu.edu.

During December, light-seekers also head nine miles east of Lubbock for driving tours of Lake Ransom Canyon, where several tiers of extravagantly lit homes surround the lake, which reflects the spectacle. Call 806/829-2470; www.ci.ransomcanyon.tx.us.

Also see: Postcards: Make Waves This Winter


Affordable rooms, fewer people, and abundant wildlife make winter beaching a pleasure

A bottlenose dolphin accompanies a shrimping boat near South Padre Island.  (Photo by Erich Schlegel)

By Lori Moffatt

Last November, when a group of adventuresome friends suggested a Thanksgiving trip to Port Aransas, I jumped at the chance to enjoy a beachfront holiday with long walks in the still-warm surf, leisurely bicycle rides accompanied by squawking gulls, and beachcombing for shells and random sea-tumbled treasures. The five of us rented a house not far from the beach and enjoyed an idyllic three days away from the madding crowds of the city. And one morning, as I sipped hot cocoa and watched the sun emerge red-hot and magical from beyond the edge of the sea, I remembered—as I do each time I return to the Texas coast in the winter—why I love the beach when the days are short and the sun casts its rays gently.

altDaytime temperatures rarely dip lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, for one, which means that it’s still warm enough for a T-shirt during the day and barely de-serving of a jacket in the evening. Birding tends to be rewarding, as many migratory northern species spend these months in Texas’ rich estuaries. And since lodging rates drop during the so-called low season (generally after Labor Day until Spring Break), it’s easy to extend a trip or splurge on an elaborate dinner.

I consulted with friends in some of Texas’ most popular beach communities—Galveston, South Padre Island, Rockport/Fulton, Corpus Christi, and Port Aransas—to discover other reasons to hit the beach this winter.

Galveston Island, with 32 miles of beaches and attractions ranging from historic homes and art galleries to major draws like Moody Gardens and Schlitterbahn, barely slows its pace during the winter, though even here you’ll find deals in cool-weather months. And folks are gearing up for a yearlong celebration in 2011 of the centennial of the island’s elegant Hotel Galvez & Spa, a landmark that heralded the island’s recovery after the disastrous 1900 hurricane.  Events start in December, with a celebration of Gary Cartwright’s new book The Hotel Galvez: Queen of the Gulf, followed by a series of shindigs in 2011 that include a “bathing beauty revue” that puts a contemporary (and tongue-in-cheek) spin on the Galvez’ flapper-era “Pageants of Pulchritude.”

South Padre Island, the 34-mile-long sliver of paradise at Texas’ southern tip, embraces eco-tourism year round. But nature tourists especially love the island in the winter, when the absence of crowds affords a more tranquil experience. Birding and nature-tours here run the gamut from intimate dolphin encounters aboard small craft to temperature-controlled excursions on triple-decker cruisers. SPI’s newest addition, a two-hour eco-tour
dubbed “The Sea Life Safari” studies not only bird life and dolphins, but also fish and other marine creatures, as well as the geologic history of the Laguna Madre.

Farther north, the neighboring communities of Rock-port/Fulton, Port Aransas, and Corpus Christi also em--brace winter’s eco-tourism bounty. Fewer beach-strollers mean there’s better shelling, green sea turtles put on shows around the jetties, and surfers don wet suits for some of the year’s best waves. I spoke with Carolyn Rose, the edu-cation coordinator for the Mission-Aransas Na-tional Estuarine Research Reserve  (NERR), a 185,000-acre network of public sites whose mission is to protect the estuaries and educate the public about their importance, about NERR’s new Bay Education Center in Rockport. Along with displays and interactive exhibits devoted to creatures that depend on Texas estuaries, an exhibit called “Science on a Sphere” (a six-foot globe that shows real-time images of global weather patterns) helps visitors learn about planetary science. Which, of course, affects those mesmerizing Gulf Coast sunsets.

Let winter’s waves inspire you.   

Postcards continued: Lubbock Lights


Marfa Book Company owner Tim Johnson operates his store as a creative crossroads, sponsoring events that feature arts, public affairs, and film screenings. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

Even though Marfa’s population is small (2,400), the ideas are grand in this Big-Bend-region hideout, and like other “art towns,” Marfa can be mystifying for the newcomer. But don’t be intimidated! Even if you’re baffled by rumors of the latest behind-the-scenes art-world coup, you can get to know Marfa’s quirky personality on your own schedule. There are weekends, such as during the annual film festival in May or Chinati Open House in October, when the crowds can overwhelm the town. But there are quieter times when you might want to just bicycle around town and enjoy the leisurely pace of a West Texas village.

Photo courtesy of The Daytripper with Chet Garner; by Nathan Locklear

Unless you’re from Waco (or are a Baylor Bear), you may not have frequented this Central Texas hub off I-35. I decided to spend a day in Waco and explore beyond the access roads.

Lawndale Art Center spotlights modern design

Thanks to the nearly 20 museums, galleries, and other attractions in Houston’s lively Museum District, visitors can immerse themselves in topics as diverse as weather, butterflies, art, and design from around the world. But you don’t have to travel the world to find creative design, and Houston’s Lawndale Art Center aims to prove it during its first annual Design Fair 2010 (April 21-25), an event that brings new life (and a Texas focus) to Lawndale’s 20th Century Modern Market.

Lawndale’s executive director, Christine West, explains the transformation: “When we started Modern Market in the mid-1990s, Mid-Century Modern design was collectible, but it wasn’t as popular as it is now. Today, there are other similar markets around the country; mainstream manufacturers like IKEA and West Elm are making knockoffs and reproductions; and the television show Mad Men has influenced taste in fashion and furniture. Original items have gotten expensive as the period has become more mainstream. So the board decided to broaden the focus to incorporate the exciting things happening in 21st-Century design.”

'We’ll showcase the best designers in Texas, while we focus on both Mid-Century design and what is modern today.'

The event kicks off with a free public lecture on April 21,
then continues with a benefit preview party and sale on April 23 (tickets: $75), during which participants can enjoy first dibs on the fair’s furni-ture, glass, ceramics, lighting, books, metalwork, textiles, and fashion.

Design Fair continues on Saturday and Sunday with two floors of items on display (and for sale) by artists and designers from throughout the world. New for 2010: the Texas Co-Op, a presentation of furniture, glass, ceramics, lighting, books, metalwork, and fashion by Texas designers, curated by Houston retail legend Mickey Rosmarin. “We’ll showcase the best designers in Texas,” says West, “while we focus on both Mid-Century design and what is modern today.” Call 713/528-5858; www.lawndaleartcenter.org.

—Lori Moffatt




The Trinity River Audubon Center turns trash into treasure

South of downtown Dallas, the Trinity River Audubon Center helps preserve a 6,000-acre, hardwood forest. (Photo by Scott Miller)

I take a boardwalk over a stream of shallow, tea-colored water and follow the trail to a small wooded area. Under a wide, blue, North Texas sky, bees buzz around hives tucked into the trees, and lizards sun on the path. I negotiate a large puddle and hear the splash of a frog jumping into the water up ahead. Tall cattails rustle in the breeze and blue dragonflies patrol the surface of a small pond.
I feel miles from civilization, yet downtown Dallas lies less than 10 minutes away.

The 120-acre Trinity River Audubon Center, which opened to the public in October 2008, represents the first step of an ambitious plan for parks, trails, bridges, and other improvements on the river, together known as the Trinity River Corridor Project. While flood-control levees hem in the waterway west of downtown, here to the south, the river meanders through the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, North America’s largest urban bottomland hardwood forest.

If 6,000 acres of natural land aren’t surprise enough, there’s this: The Center occupies a former illegal dump site. Once cursed with 1.5 million tons of construction waste, it has been transformed into a rolling landscape covered with Texas prairie grasses. Four miles of trails traverse woods and circle ponds and wetlands, where shorebirds wade in the shallows. The main building, designed by architect Antoine Predock, has a vegetated roof, a rainwater-collection system, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, solar panels, and was built of sustainable materials that include Forest Stewardship Council-certified cypress walls, bamboo flooring, and recycled denim insulation. Floor-to-ceiling windows slant toward the ground to prevent bird strikes. Outer walls sport concrete made from locally quarried gravel and sand. Dramatic angles rise above the floodplain to a soaring point, evoking the image of a bird about to take flight.

Owned by the city of Dallas and operated by Audubon Texas, the facility serves as the flagship for the organization’s Texas education and conservation initiatives.

“Our intention is to give people access to the Great Trinity Forest and a close-up look at the river itself,” says Director Chris Culak. “But it’s also interesting to see what a landfill can look like once it’s cleaned up, to see how the property is being restored to its native state—part blackland prairie, forest, wetland, and ponds. Looking at it now, you’d never think it all had trash sitting on top of it.”

The Dallas Parks and Recreation Department hopes to connect the Center’s trails to a network reaching downtown Dallas, making it possible to hike or bike here from the heart of the city. For now, the Center offers evidence of nature’s resilience and the power humans have in reversing ecological damage. On your next trip to Dallas, spend some time at this still-developing jewel. Grab a sandwich and soda in the gift shop and picnic on the outdoor deck, watching for some of the 120 different species of birds identified here. Just make sure to properly dispose of your trash. 


A Central Texas village destined for new owners

It is rare to find an entire town on the market.
But such an opportunity is coming up because The Grove is on the auction block: Its general store, blacksmith shop, and saloon—and all their contents—will be offered to the highest bidder during an event set for the weekend of April 23-24.

The Grove, about 15 miles northwest of Temple, first came to life in 1917, when the general store and Lutheran church were built to serve the community. After the highway was moved because residents didn’t want to pave over their well, The Grove grew ever quieter.

Then, beginning in 1972, the village regained some energy through the indulgence of Moody Anderson, a retired National Guard colonel and inveterate antiques collector. Ever since then, Anderson has restored, renovated, tinkered, and shaped a sort of living museum.

'(Moody Anderson) really brought vitality to the community, and his collections are so visually rich that students and young filmmakers are drawn to it. The general store is organized in such a way that it helps you take a step back into the past"

“This has been Moody’s playground and his passion,” explains Lori Najvar, who documents history on The Grove (and other Texas culture) through her nonprofit PolkaWorks.org. “He really brought vitality to the community, and his collections are so visually rich that students and young filmmakers are drawn to it. The general store is organized in such a way that it helps you take a step back into the past,” she adds.

Indeed, there are household and veterinary products from “the old days” on the general store’s shelves. The smithey’s tongs and hammers rest near the bellows in the blacksmith shop, scary period instruments await a patient in the dentist’s office, and a fabled bar-back sets a western vibe for the Cockleburr Saloon. Some of these pieces are famous in their own right because Anderson often rents props to film and television productions, including Lonesome Dove.

For more information about the history of The Grove, contact Lori Najvar by e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For auction details, call the Burley Auction Group at 830/237-3440, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..                                      

—Charles Lohrmann


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