The King William Association’s new home at 122 Madison Street is a mid-century modernist gem that has been associated with some of the most important architects and architectural educators of that period. It is also associated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Villa Finale, underwriters of the extensive renovations supervised by King William historic preservation architects Fisher Heck.
In 1963, the building was designed as the showroom and manufactory for Graham Knight’s Clare Candles, artisanal hand-made tapers originally produced in Dallas. A past President of the KWA, Knight commissioned O’Neil Ford and Associates to design the structure. It exhibits all the hallmarks of Ford’s mature style of regionalist modernism. While it has the form of more aggressively modern buildings (end walls without windows, flat roof, projecting soffits and strip windows placed just below the roofline), it is softened by the use of hand-made materials like Mexican brick, Saltillio tile, and wood framed window openings and doors.
Ford’s firm itself occupied the building from 1977 to 1980 as a special projects studio for the design of the Finance Ministry for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. One of the team working there was our neighbor, Joe Castorena. The architects affectionately referred to the premises as “the waxworks.”
The building’s most distinctive features are the light wooden trellises and panels that shade it from the glare of South Texas sunshine (see photo, left). I was able to find the original set of architectural drawings still stored in our archive at Ford, Powell & Carson. While the design was overseen by Ford, the project is largely the work of Alex Caragonne, then a recent graduate of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.
Caragonne received his diploma in 1960, at the end of the tumultuous tenure of the “Texas Rangers,” a rambunctious group of very young professors recruited by Bay Area modernist Harwell Hamilton Harris, who himself had been recruited as post-war dean of the school. The young turks went on from Austin to distinguished careers at Ivy League schools. Caragonne’s mentor, Colin Rowe, became one of the most famous architectural theorists of the 20th century. Following teaching at UT, Rowe taught at Cambridge University but spent the balance of his career at Cornell. After a stint with Ford, Caragonne followed Rowe to Cornell, where he received his Masters of Architecture, and began a long teaching career of his own at Columbia University and Yale. The book he wrote about his own educational experiences, The Texas Rangers, Notes From an Architectural Underground, is a perennial favorite with architecture students. Caragonne was an influential figure in the founding of UTSA’s College of Architecture where he was also a faculty member.
His drawings for the Candle Factory include notes by Ford and another hand we can’t identify with the admonition, “Alex, I don’t think the cross-panels are necessary-please check.” This is a reference to the panels under the sunshades, which are still there. Young Alex won that round.
- Michael Guarino