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

He was born in Corsicana on November 28, 1885—135 years ago. 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 Street.

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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