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Texas Originals

Texas Originals: O’Neil Ford

A gifted architect who championed historic preservation with work defined as simple and restrained. He said, “Architecture is scale and proportion … the rest is decor”

Tower of the Americas
The Tower of the Americas. [flickr image by Doug Waldron]


December 3, 1905–July 20, 1982


In 1926, twenty-one-year-old O’Neil Ford began an apprenticeship in the Dallas office of architect David R. Williams. Ford had arrived from Denton lacking a formal education, but he possessed a keen eye for design, a talent for drawing, and the confidence and bravado of a showman.

As a young man, Ford had been impressed by the beauty and simplicity of the German vernacular architecture in Fredericksburg and Castroville. In Dallas, under the guidance of Williams, Ford began producing private residences and other structures that incorporated native materials and traditional crafts, with a sensitivity to natural setting and climate.

During his long career as an architect, Ford and his associates designed many notable homes, public buildings, and businesses in Texas and elsewhere. These include the Little Chapel in the Woods at Texas Women’s University in Denton, the Tower of the Americas and Trinity University in San Antonio, and several buildings on the Texas Instruments campus in Richardson.

A champion of historic preservation, Ford decried architectural flamboyance and cliché. He was also a passionate advocate for education and the environment.  

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Ford to the National Council on the Arts.

Ford died in 1982, but his ethic of simplicity, integrity, and restraint continues to inspire.  “Architecture is scale and proportion,” he often said. “The rest is décor.”

Denton Civic Center
Five Individuals in the Denton Civic Center. The man to the far right is pointing up and talking while the two men left of him are looking where he is pointing. Identified are: J. David Thomas, Zeke Martin, and O’Neil Ford (second on the right). [The Portal to Texas History. Accessed July 24, 2013.]

Selected bibliography

Cochran, Mike. “O’Neil Ford Architect: A Catalogue of the Architectural Works of O’Neil Ford in Denton.” The City of Denton Historic Landmark Commission. (accessed April 03, 2013).

Dillon, David. The Architecture of O’Neil Ford: Celebrating Place. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999.

Ennis, Michael. “Doing What Comes Naturally.” Texas Monthly, June 1978.

George, Mary Carolyn Hollers. O’Neil Ford, Architect. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992.

George, Mary Carolyn Hollers. “O’Neil Ford.” Handbook of Texas Online. (accessed April 3, 2013).

Marlin, William. “O’Neil Ford: Musings of a National Landmark.” Architectural Record 166 (1979): 126–136.

Speck, Lawrence. “The Inventive ’50s: Ford Had a Better Idea.” Texas Architect 35 (1985): 38–45.

Speck, Lawrence.  “O’Neil Ford’s ‘Caring Campus’: His Work for Trinity University Spanned a Quarter Century.” Architecture: The AIA Journal 72 (1983): 58–­61.

“The Unforgettable Mr. Ford: An Appreciation.” Texas Architect 32 (1982): 54–66.

Welch, Frank. “A Day with O’Neil Ford.” Texas Architect 42 (1992): 48–51.