The violence of a world war is an unlikely connection between the performing arts and the visual arts. But after English-born ballroom dancer-turned-flight instructor Vernon Castle was killed in a training accident at Carruthers Field in Benbrook on February 15, 1918, he was replaced by a young pilot he had trained: architect Joseph Roman Pelich.
Pelich was born in Austria in 1894, came to America with his family in 1899, and settled in Cleveland.
Pelich studied architecture at Cornell and at the Sorbonne in Paris and began his career as an architect in Cleveland. But after America entered World War I, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, was sent to Canada to serve with the Royal Flying Corps, and came to Fort Worth with the RFC. After Castle was killed Pelich became chief flying instructor at the three Army airfields of Tarrant County’s Camp Taliaferro.
Unlike many of the RFC cadets who had trained at Camp Taliaferro, Pelich survived the war. After the war ended on November 11, 1918, Pelich continued to fly for the Army at Barron Field in Everman. On January 26, 1919—a century ago today—Pelich had a narrow escape when his Curtiss H caught fire over Wichita Falls. Clip is from the January 29 Star-Telegram.
The Barron Field Review of 1919 featured Pelich and John M. Lyle, the other aviator in the burning plane. (Also featured in the publication was future aerial daredevil Ormer Locklear.) The publication included an aerial photo of the airfield.
Pelich also helped to illustrate the Barron Field Review.
Pelich left the Army later in 1919 and traded the control stick for the drafting pencil: He remained in Fort Worth to resume his career in architecture. Along with Sanguinet and Staats, Hedrick, Clarkson, and Weinman, Pelich became one of the premier architects in Fort Worth. He designed Polytechnic and Eastern Hills high schools, the original Casa Manana, the 1939 public library, Oaklawn Elementary School (and probably S. S. Dillow Elementary School), an addition to Alice E. Carlson Elementary School, St. Joseph’s Hospital, WBAP studios, Daniel-Meyer Coliseum and Robert Carr Chapel at TCU, Fort Worth Medical Society’s building, and houses in upscale enclaves such as River Crest, Park Hill (including the Westbrook House wherein oilman William P. Clark was murdered), Ryan Place, Westover Hills, Forest Highlands (the Hill, Cummins, Parsons, and Freese houses on Avondale Avenue), and Ninnie Baird’s house on nearby Rogers Avenue.
Poly High School.
In 1936 Pelich posed on the floor of the artificial lake “over which the world’s largest revolving stage in Casa Manana glides.” Clip is from the February 8 Dallas Morning News.
In 1939 Pelich’s modern library replaced the classical Carnegie Library of 1901. Clip is from the February 5 Dallas Morning News.
Amon Carter was not well enough to attend the ceremony dedicating the airport named for him in 1953 (in 1960 renamed “Greater Southwest International Airport”). Architect Pelich was modest, saying, “We just studied other fields and found out what the bugs were and avoided them in this one.” He said the three murals in the terminal lobby required an acre of gold foil. Clip is from the April 26 Dallas Morning News.
In the 1950s Pelich supervised restoration of President Eisenhower’s birthplace in Denison.
Here are a few houses that Pelich designed:
2622 Fifth Avenue (1922) in Ryan Place. At 2,700 square feet, one of Pelich’s smaller projects.
2600 Ryan Place Drive (1923) in Ryan Place.
The Westbrook House (1928) at 2232 Winton Terrace West in Park Hill.
2350 Medford Court East (1927) in Park Hill.
2424 Medford Court West (1930) in Park Hill.
2420 Medford Court East (1931) in Park Hill.
2237 Winton Terrace West (1934) in Park Hill.
1206 Mistletoe Drive (1924) in Mistletoe Heights. The lots on the west side of the street are on a bluff and extend almost down to the Clear Fork of the Trinity River.
1208 Mistletoe Drive (1920) in Mistletoe Heights.
Pelich also designed the Douglas Chandor house in Weatherford.
In death Joseph Roman Pelich shared the front page on July 20, 1968 with the Miss Texas Pageant, Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas, and California Governor Ronald Reagan.