Building a Relationship with Architect O’Neil Ford

As you know, G.W. Mitchell Construction (GWM) recently moved. As busy and hectic as it was, we still had fun reminiscing about our hard work over the last 97 years. For instance, we found a letter from a famous architect, O’Neil Ford’s office, stating gratitude to the team for their countless hours of hard work and dedication during the La Villita Assembly Hall build in 1958. The letter specifically states his appreciation for the relationships developed throughout the project.

GWM’s relationship with Ford all began in 1937 when Mr. & Mrs. T. Frank Murchison commissioned him to design their residence. Ford contracted our founder G.W. to build the $36,000 home (equal to $660,000 in 2018). The project went so well that the interior decorator, Earl Hart Miller, sent a letter praising the collaboration and G.W.’s tireless dedication to the project.

Ford was known for many projects around Texas, projects like the Denton Convention Center, several projects at Trinity University, Saint Mary’s Hall campus, and the Tower of the Americas. His firm’s specialty designs were for higher education buildings, as he designed projects on twenty university campuses. However, in addition to higher education, the firm has had specialty practices in residential, planning and urban, theatre, historic preservation and interior design. Shortly before his death, he completed a design in Kerrville for the building of the Museum of Western Art.

The now-famous La Villita Historic Arts Village is an art community downtown that connects to the River Walk and houses a number of art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants and La Villita Assembly Hall. One of the most distinguishing features of the Assembly Hall is the roof, suspended on 200 Bethlehem steel strand assemblies attached to an outer ring, 132 feet in diameter, and a 40-foot inner ring, designed to resemble the bullring, typical in historical Mexican villages.

This type of roof construction is not only one of the first in the nation but also first of its kind in Texas. It eliminates the need for any columns allowing unobstructed views to all parts of the hall, a truly beautiful site. Can you believe the construction team lifted the roof with a single World War I Liberty truck and an A-frame pulley system?!

In the fall of 1958, in the book O’Neil FordArchitect by Mary Carolyn Hollers George, Ford described the construction of the La Villita assembly building:

“What a beautiful thing is that roof structure on the Public Service Building. Everyone in town is excited about it – never have I seen such fine steel fabrication – such marvelous accuracy – and so quickly erected by G. W. Mitchell with his old, World War I Liberty truck!

Amazing, complex of mechanical equipment….Henry Groteus is foreman – enthusiastic and resourceful. Job looks good – great credit to Nic Salas (the project architect). He’s done wonderfully as architectural supervisor.”

The La Villita Assembly Hall project led to 17 more projects at Trinity University that spanned from 1950-1970. Not entirely, but certainly a big part of this expansion was thanks to architect Ford and his great work and appreciation of GWM.


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