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LBJ: Gordon?

Gordon Bunshaft: Yes?

LBJ: Lyndon Johnson.

Bunshaft: Oh, yes, Mr. President. How are you?

LBJ: I hope I’m not interrupting your dinner or something.

Bunshaft: Oh, no, no.  I—we finished some time ago.

LBJ: Gordon, we—I just learned tonight, our folks have been out looking at these libraries and is there no way in the world that we could reconstitute as nearly as possible in the President’s office at the Library the President’s office here?

Bunshaft: Well, we hadn’t thought of it, but it’s possible—

LBJ: I hate to build me a little one out there at the side and say, this is the way the President’s office looked. And here’s his desk and here’s his chair. Here’s his FDR picture. Here’s his—where all these people sat. Now, that is the most attractive thing, they tell me, to the people who go and hear it, is Truman discussing where he sat in this office.

Bunshaft: Yes.

LBJ: And—

Bunshaft: [talking over each other] I didn’t know that the Tru—in Kansas of Mr. Truman—President Truman—

LBJ: Lady Bird said we—well, we have a trouble—she says it just ought to be, we just should have thought of it, we just played hell not doing it. And now we got a bunch of can’t-do philosophy. She says that the ceiling’s not high enough—well maybe we don’t have to have the same height ceiling but maybe—and maybe we can’t have the same oval room, maybe it—we’ve got different dimensions.  But it seems to me that if we could, we ought to take this rug out of here and this—just as the Kennedy’s are doing and have done, just as the Trumans did—and ought to take the desk and ought to take the chairs, and we ought to say—you see, very—relatively few people come through the President’s office here.

Bunshaft: Yes.

LBJ: But all of them want to see where the President worked, just as much as they want to see where the President was born, when they come to our little house. That’s one of the basic things, and it’s going to be remembered and impress it on them a lot more than some book up in a shelf.

Bunshaft: Yeah.

LBJ: And if we could, I just—that’s the one thing I want.  I’d like to have as near a reproduction as finances and architectural requirements would permit.  I don’t say it’s got to be 18 feet high or 14, or it’s got to be 38 feet long.

Bunshaft: Well—

LBJ: We might have a little card on the door and say this is not an exact reproduction, or something, but I’d like for it to be such that, say—where they get an impression that here’s where the President worked, because they all want to see that. They all want to—that’s what they come to see.

Bunshaft: Yes.  Well, Mr. President, we’ll get the dimensions and we’ll try several locations—maybe there’s more than on—and it would be nice, if we could do it, to do it exactly, because I think the quality of that room is the total thing.  And it may be possible to do it.

People from the northeast have a long history of perverting Texas with their wicked ideas, and Gordon Bunshaft is one of its most profound examples, as his idea—the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum—will stand the test of time. Bunshaft, who was born in Buffalo, educated and trained at MIT, and made his career in the New York City super-firm Skiddings, Owing, and Merill, designed unarguably the most important piece of Austin architecture. He had a reputation of being a tough and crude man who spoke his mind, and was known for long silences where he would search for the right solution to a problem. He was someone who could lead an artistic movement because not only did he believe in what he said, he would stop at nothing to make you agree with him, and he shut out those who didn’t.

He was so outspoken, in fact, that he didn’t hesitate to disagree with LBJ. In a famous letter he sent to the president, he said, “The only sour note in your library, it seems to me, is the Political Campaign Exhibit [which] seems to have been done without the slightest sense of design or regard for the space or walls … It all looks like a poor trade show.”

Bunshaft was a terse and difficult man. He never lectured or taught, or liked to share his ideas with people. He didn’t leave behind drawings or a legacy for us to learn from. Even his house on Long Island was destroyed after Martha Stewart sold it to the textile business owner, Donald Maraham, who thought it was ugly.

Bunshaft’s design of the LBJ Presidential Library & Museum is a minimal monolith—a work clearly dedicated to modernism, yet with an intention to give homage to an earnest president. It is, with its sleek design, a very serious work of architecture, creating a somber, contemplative feeling, yet also with inviting balconies to take in views of the city and a majestic ceremonial staircase inside. This Austin architecture landmark houses 45 million pages of historical documents, including the papers of President Johnson and those of his close associates and others. As per LBJ’s request, referenced in the phone call to Bunshaft at the beginning of this article, the top floor of the library has a 7/8 scale replica of President Johnson’s Oval Office.

Ada Louise Huxtable, in her review in The New York Times of this great piece of Austin architecture, said, “Architecture as art and symbol is one of civilization’s oldest games, and Mr. Bunshaft is one of its most dedicated players.”

By: David Plick


“The object of the ‘Welfare Brotherhood’ is twofold. I want to make the ‘hoboes’ not only better citizens, but better ‘hoboes,’ and I want the public to appreciate what the ‘beat’ is, what his rights are, and how he should be looked upon.”

James Eads How

James Eads How came from a dynasty family in St. Louis. His father, James Flintham How, was the vice-president of the Wabash Railroad, and his grandfather, James Buchanan Eads, designed and built the famous Eads Bridge, which still stands in St. Louis today. Though his family had the means to provide the highest luxuries for James, he always chose the monastic life. He studied theology, and later, while studying at Harvard, attempted and failed at starting a monastic society. Later, he became a vegetarian while a member of George Bernard Shaw’s Fabian Society—a democratic socialist organization with ties to the Labour Party—and went to medical school.

But what distinguishes James Eads How in American history was his devotion to the cause of homelessness. In 1905, How founded the International Brotherhood Welfare Association, which was devoted:

To bring together the unorganized workers.

To co-operate with persons and organizations who desire to better social conditions.

To utilize unused land and machinery in order to provide work for the unemployed.

To furnish medical, legal and other aid to its members.

To organize the unorganized and assist them in obtaining work at remunerative wages and transportation when required.

To educate the public mind to the right of collective ownership in production and distribution.

To bring about the scientific, industrial, intellectual, moral and spiritual development of the masses.

To bring about the scientific, industrial, intellectual, moral and spiritual development of the masses.

How didn’t stop there though. For several years in his twenties, he actually lived as a hobo. He grew out a long beard, traveled around working odd jobs, and attempted to support himself through his own labors. With his organization, the International Brotherhood Welfare Association, How later founded Hobo colleges, conventions, and he started a magazine called Hobo News. Though the media mocked How, calling him a “Millionaire Hobo”, he was dedicated to the cause of empowering migrant workers his entire life.

This is all to say, how amazing it is to be a part of this unique piece of American history. How, a man who lived by a different order than almost anyone, who dedicated his life to something that he believed in, and then, R.M Schindler, who How assigned to design his home (later called the How House) in Silver Lake, a modernist architecture legend who changed the art form in the 20th century. This is some of Schindler’s most inventive work. He applied intricate three-dimensional forms, center-cut Redwood and poured-in-place concrete inside and out; it is striking visually yet offers an immensely comfortable lifestyle.

Commissioned by the owner of the property, Michael LaFetra, Jeff Fink, an architect who has done many restorations of Schindler’s properties, restored the How House in 2004.

On November 20, 2007, the How House was declared an Historic-Cultural Monument by the city of Los Angeles.

By: David Plick

551b2c2618160b4e1630baa905016bc91460393856This Sunday, May 1st at 2PM you can tour an important piece of American architectural history right here in Austin—the Barrow Residence by Harwell Hamilton Harris. A protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the fathers of the Midcentury Modern style, and the first dean of the UT School of Architecture, Harris has a house on the market at 4101 Edgemont Drive in the picturesque Mt. Bonnell neighborhood. And TVOA is so lucky to be a part of it.

The American Architectural History:

It all starts with a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright, who was in Southern California attempting to develop his own architectural art form. Harris had seen Wright’s Hollyhock House while he was studying sculpture at Otis Art Institute, and was inspired to study architecture, seeing that it offered tremendous artistic opportunities and challenges with form and design. He enrolled at UC-Berkeley, but was convinced by two guys—R.M Schindler and Richard Neutra—to not study architecture, but rather, to learn by doing. Later, after having his influence come from the International Style of Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Harris combined modernist principles to a regionalist approach to design which emphasized using local materials and local culture.

Hence, the Barrow Residence in all its Texan majesty was born.

The Incredible Story Behind the Barrow Residence, as told by Sarah B. Duncan (the current proprietor):

During Harris’s tenure as dean, he became friends with a young architecture student named David Barrow, Jr. At about the same time, David’s father and his Uncle Edward acquired 2000 acres of land north of 38th Street and west of what is now Mopac (Loop 1), which had been occupied by Texas Crushed Stone. Their intention was to develop the land as residential home sites. The Barrows’ role in the development of this area is memorialized in nearby Barrow Preserve and Edwards Mountain.

Although the Barrows had grown up on Windsor Road in the heart of Tarrytown, David Sr. somehow met and fell in love with a woman named Nelle, who had grown up near Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch. When David asked Nelle to marry him, she replied, “I will consider your proposal, Mr. Barrow. But you know I don’t go anywhere without my cattle.” The Barrows later personally selected and purchased this lot because not only did it back up to Camp Mabry where Nelle’s cattle could at that time run free but, as Nelle told my next-door-neighbor in a very charming manner, it was “obviously the best lot.”

Having selected their lot, the Barrows needed an architect. Enter David Jr., who introduced his parents to the new dean. As evidenced by their subsequent correspondence throughout the design and construction process in 1954 and 1955 (maintained, with the home’s original plans, in UT’s Alexander Archives), the Barrows had found their architect. In keeping with mid-century modern principles, Harris and the Barrows designed and built a gracious and beautiful home but no more than was needed—large, open “public” rooms for entertaining; a bedroom and separate bathrooms for Mr. and Mrs. Barrow with an adjoining home office for Mr. Barrow and a “sewing closet” for Mrs. Barrow; a separate bedroom and bathroom for David Jr.; and, of course, several “outdoor” rooms.

David Barrow lived in this home until his death. After the death of her husband, Nelle continued to live in this home until shortly before her death. [Later], Nelle had grown too old to personally tend her garden and asked her son David to build her an addition from which she could at least see her hillside garden of (depending on the season) red columbine or red amaryllis. David of course honored his mother’s request and built a room of glass and, in keeping with the original house, used straight vertical grain fir. Shortly before her death, Nelle sold the house to Peggy Marchbanks, who lived here before selling it to two realtors, Susan and John Gould, who in turn sold it to the Myers. As luck would have it, within weeks after the Myers purchased this house, a home they had both loved growing up, was listed for sale. The Myers bought that home, lived here while renovating it, and listed this one for sale. I purchased the house from the Myers in 2012.

And now this captivating property, which is built for comfortable living where you can host leisurely dinner parties on the deck under the Texas sky, but is also a cherished part of our unique cultural identity and American architectural history, is again for sale. It’s a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle to get some thinking done, live a peaceful life, yet still reap all the benefits of an urban cultural center. We hope to see you on Sunday!

By: David Plick