Buildings good and bad: Dallas Morning News architecture critic Mark Lamster takes on all of Texas

by | Architecture


Dallas is his beat — but he roams all of Texas, looking for good (and bad) buildings. Punch up the GPS: You’re on the road with architecture critic MARK LAMSTER. Says he: “Texas, Texans like to tell you, is its own country. Exploring its vast open spaces and idiosyncratic towns is a great pleasure. Avoid Interstates and their strip-mall detritus. Keep to the back roads.”

story and photographs by MARK LAMSTER

It is tempting to romanticize the state’s industrial heritage, but Texas is still a place of blue-collar energy, and there is great beauty in the honesty and integrity of its rugged buildings:

CLOCKWISE, from top left: 1 This vanishing perspective along the train tracks in Roscoe is adjacent to a lumberyard that has been converted into a bar and club. It may be the only non-gay bar called the Lumberyard in America. 2 In my years in publishing, I edited a book on wood-burning incinerators like this one in Lubbock, which are now rarely seen due to environmental regulations and the economics of scrap wood. 3 The Boyce Feed & Grain store in Waxahachie looks old, but is actually new. 4 Bible Hardware, in Abilene, where power tools have been sacred since 1939. 5 The architect Le Corbusier was drawn to the stark power of grain elevators, like this one in downtown Abilene. 6 A favorite close to home: the faded type and bold forms of the Atlas Metal Works in West Dallas.

Nothing defines a Texas town so much as a courthouse, the focal point of communal life:

CLOCKWISE, from top left: 1 The red sandstone courthouse of Waxahachie, designed by James Riely Gordon, the Babe Ruth of Texas courthouse architecture. 2 The Bosque County courthouse anchors the town square in Meridian. 3 Another Gordon production, the 1899 Comal County courthouse in New Braunfels, restored in 2013. 4 Albany’s picturesque courthouse. Nearby, the town’s jail has been reinvented as an arts center. 5 This somewhat eerie 1885 courthouse in Blanco was displaced when Johnson City became county seat. 6 Hillsboro is still agricultural country, as this red tractor suggests.

Sometimes Texas takes care of its patrimony. Too often it doesn’t:

From top left: 1 A handsome application of local Thurber brick, offset by Fenway Park green. 2 The dramatic arcade of Mission San José in San Antonio. 3 A relic from the past survives in downtown Dallas. 4 But the Fino men’s clothing store is now finito, torn down in late 2014. 5 The indigenous stone of Lueders defines much of the building in that town. 6 The dilapidated F&W Auto Center in Oak Cliff, just steps from bustling Jefferson Boulevard. 7 This survivor on historic West Tenth Street in Oak Cliff has a bit more ambition than its shotgun neighbors. 8 The extraordinary bell-tower facade of Mission Espada in San Antonio. 9 The Houston Astrodome, its future uncertain, sits vacant as construction crews perform environmental remediation. 10 Generous canopies, like these in Lueders, give shade to many a Texas street front.

Everything is bigger in Texas — including the towers:

CLOCKWISE, from top left: 1 Pennzoil Place in Houston, Philip Johnson’s twin-towered masterpiece. 2 Houston’s dynamic skyline, here with Johnson’s less-successful Dutch Gothic banking tower at center. 3 Fountain Place in downtown Dallas takes a different shape from every angle. 4 The Republic National Bank Building in Dallas, with its embossed-aluminum stars, a midcentury classic from New York architects Harrison & Abramovitz. 5 The Republic Bank Tower — or Batman signal? 6 O’Neil Ford’s tower at Texas Tech in Lubbock, a lesson in architecture that is home to an architecture school.