The Voice for Texas Architecture

Last weekend, the Texas Society of Architects Publications Committee gathered in Tyler for its annual “PubCom” Retreat. Past retreat destinations have revealed a unique architectural presence from earlier times, and Tyler, with its abundance of fine architecture and really talented architects, was no exception. Retreat tours have often focused on mid-century modern residential and commercial architecture, and there is plenty to be had in Tyler — so much in fact, that a group called The Mod Squad was recently created specifically to promote awareness of the wealth of the city’s modern architectural heritage.

The “star architect” of this retreat turned out to be E. Davis Wilcox, who practiced in Tyler from 1946 until his death at the age of 87. One of the finest houses we visited was his personal home, which had deteriorated substantially until rescued by its current owners. Fortunately, they had the resources to not only restore the house to its original glory, but also to furnish and appoint it appropriately. The open plan, organized around a glass atrium and featuring an abundance of windows, in the owners’ words, “brought the outside in” through the architect’s design genius. We visited a number of other houses (built primarily in the early 50s), as well as a school, several bank buildings, and the Tyler Museum of Art, all by Wilcox.

Other highlights included the very original Bruce Goff-designed house at Lake Palestine (most people do not realize that Goff spent his last years practicing in Tyler), the Shoenbrun House, designed by California ranch house originator Cliff May, and the traditional Fair House, which was designed by another prominent local architect, Shirley Simons, in 1938. The house featured a beautiful garden by landscape architect Maurice Shamburger, who also practiced in Tyler and introduced azaleas to the area in 1929.

A driving tour of the city’s historic districts, led by host Mike Butler, AIA, allowed the committee to survey many other buildings in the area as well. As the committee’s van zigzagged the streets, architectural historian Stephen Fox filled in pertinent historical information, making the whole experience all the more enjoyable and informative. Mike also suggested the idea of a “sketch crawl,” which revealed committee member Joe Self, AIA, as master of the quick field sketch, and the upcoming issue of Texas Architect will share some of his simple yet beautiful drawings from over the weekend.

The PubCom Retreat served as the inspiration for the Society’s Design Conference, the second of which was held in Dallas last month. Every one of the retreats has been a truly wonderful experience, highlighted by the building tours and comradery. Our thanks go to Mike and Ann Butler for an unforgettable weekend.