State-level approval marks major milestone in journey to campus designation on National Register of Historic Places
by Sharon Jones Schweitzer ‘75
Trinity University’s quest to create a National Historic District on its campus reached a major milestone with approval by the Texas Historical Commission (THC). The THC’s Board of Review voted unanimously on Jan. 20 to approve Trinity’s nomination, which received praise for the quality and significance of its proposal. The nomination now goes to the National Parks Service for final endorsement.
“We are excited by the opportunities to recognize and celebrate our significant and coherent collection of historic mid-century, modern buildings and the architect who designed them,” said Trinity President Danny Anderson. “Designation on the National Register of Historic Places positions the Trinity campus to be a treasure for future generations.”
Most of Trinity’s campus buildings were designed by renowned San Antonio architect O’Neil Ford between the 1950s and the late 1970s. Built on the site of an abandoned rock quarry, the site’s unique topography allowed Ford to create the feel of a “low-lying Italian village” comprised of modernist red brick buildings connected by walkways and lush native landscaping.
Trinity has the largest concentration of O’Neil Ford buildings anywhere in the world. The University’s Campus Master Plan Committee proposed establishing a National Historic District as a way to honor Ford’s architectural legacy and to maintain the flexibility needed for a 21st century higher education.
The committee worked in partnership with the architectural group Page. Larry Speck, senior principal at Page, is a specialist on the architectural design of O’Neil Ford. “The Trinity campus has long deserved more national attention as one of the landmark works of architecture in the U.S. of the mid-20th century,” Speck said.
Trinity may be one of the first university campuses in Texas – or even the region – to actively embrace preservation of its mid-century modern buildings. Creating a National District on the campus will provide design guidelines that will allow future generations to appreciate O’Neil Ford’s architecture. “The stature of its architect, the consistently high quality of design work over decades, and the intact nature of much of the work now are all extraordinary distinguishing features that combine to make Trinity University a premier architectural ensemble that will now be preserved in the foreseeable future,” Speck said.
The THC Board meeting was also attended by Linda Ford, one of O’Neil Ford’s daughters. She said she was “thrilled beyond words” with Trinity’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Her sister, Wandita Ford, offered this statement a few days later: “Our father loved every minute of working on the Trinity campus and was so proud of his work there. Thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to keep his memory and beautiful work alive and safe.”
O’Neil Ford was the founding partner of Ford, Powell & Carson Architects & Planners, Inc. John Mize, Ford Powell & Carson president, said Ford would have been honored that the two passions of his career, modern design and preservation, are now tied together through this designation. “Our design philosophy, which he started on this campus, informs our day-to-day, and we are so proud that it will now be preserved for future generations,” added Mize.
Ford had an early and lasting impact on the design of Trinity’s Skyline campus, located just north of downtown San Antonio. The result is a campus setting that is unmatched in character among Texas universities and is one of America’s first modern campuses. “It has been an honor to become the steward of the University’s many important legacies,” said Anderson. “I have fallen in love with the campus, like generations of students, and it is exciting to take the recognition of our campus and Ford’s contribution to a higher level with the historic district designation.”
Sharon Jones Schweitzer is assistant vice president for external relations. You can follow her @sjschweitzer.