Wiley G. Clarkson (Part 1): Mister 5th Street

He was born in Corsicana on November 28, 1885. Moving to Cowtown in 1912, he became one of the most prominent architects of Fort Worth’s golden age of architecture. Using a drafting pencil in the first half of the twentieth century, Wiley Gulick Clarkson helped to draw the way this city looks in the twenty-first century.

Clarkson was prolific in his career of forty years, designing all of or part of twelve hundred houses, churches, schools, and commercial buildings, either as the sole architect or in a partnership. If you have lived in Fort Worth long, you have been in a Clarkson building. If you have ever lived in Ryan Place, especially Elizabeth Boulevard, you may have lived in a Clarkson house. You may have learned the three r’s in a school he designed, worshiped in a church he designed, or worked, socialized, swum, or purchased a suit or a candy bar in a building he designed. For example, I was born in a hospital (Harris, 1930) he designed, attended an elementary school (D. McRae, 1936) whose new wing he designed, then a middle school (William James, 1927) he designed. My parents worked at two hospitals he designed all of (Cook, 1928) or part of (All Saints, 1945). I grew up on the East Side looking at his Masonic Home buildings (1920s) over our back yard fence. (Portrait provided by grandson Wiley Clarkson.)

Certain streets can serve as linear showcases of the work of the Four Fathers of Fort Worth’s classical architecture. For example, to get a crash course in the team of Sanguinet and Staats, as you drive down 7th Street you pass the Neil P. Anderson, StarTelegram, Fort Worth Club, First National Bank, and Farmers and Mechanics National Bank buildings. For Wyatt Hedrick, Lancaster Avenue has his Texas & Pacific passenger terminal, central post office, Texas & Pacific freight terminal, and Will Rogers complex.

For Wiley G. Clarkson, it’s 5th Street. As you drive east to west on 5th downtown you pass:

Sinclair Building (1930). Clarkson designed mostly in classical revival styles until the art deco era of the 1930s. He designed other art deco/moderne buildings that survive (such as North Side High [1937], the U.S. Courthouse [1933], Sagamore Hill Elementary [1941], Masonic Temple [1931]), but the Sinclair Building is his masterpiece. The building was named for its main tenant, Sinclair Oil Company.

Sanger Brothers Department Store (1925) on 5th at Houston Street. This building housed the department store of Mayor H. C. Meacham after Sanger Brothers moved to 410 Houston.

YMCA (1925). Built where once stood Winfield Scott’s pre-Thistle Hill home on Quality Hill.

First United Methodist Church (1930)—Cowtown’s Notre Dame. Magnifique, y’all. Clarkson was a member of this church. When Clarkson died, pastor Gaston Foote in his eulogy called the building a “poem in stone.”

Wiley G. Clarkson (Part 2): Mister Elizabeth Boulevard

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6 Responses to Wiley G. Clarkson (Part 1): Mister 5th Street

  1. Dan Lamb says:

    Mike, I just wanted to relay a quick story to you about how you made a 90 year old man’s day yesterday. I volunteer in the Stockyard Museum on Mondays. About 4 pm yesterday an elderly gentleman came into the museum and asked me to help him clear up some Fort Worth History that has had him confused for over 60 years. he said that in the mid 50s he had taken an historic bus tour around Fort Worth and was told about something called the “Frenchmen’s Spring”. He was very impressed with the story and over the years he had told others in FW about it. But no one believed him or had ever heard of it. After awhile he began to doubt if he had heard the story correctly or was just delusional. He had been bothered that he was spreading incorrect history and came to us to see if he was right,crazy or just and old man who had made up something. Thanks to your article this past March about the “Frenchman’s Well” I was able to call it up on my phone, showed it to him and we read your article together. I wish I had taken that opportunity to use that phone to get his picture, so you could see the smile on his face. Thanks once again for what you do for Fort Worth, History and the people of our city with Hometown By Handlebars.

    Dan Lamb NFWHS

    • hometown says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Dan. Made my day. During his ninety years the wellhouse was still in its original location on North Taylor Street. Later he could also have seen it on the courthouse grounds after it was moved and before it disappeared.

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