The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 524
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
as the centerpiece of their research, make visible the architectural body and civic
soul of Galveston between the war of 1860-65 and the great storm of 1900.
Galveston was unique in the pre-war South, an island with a port capable of
handling seagoing vessels that shipped Texas cotton directly to Europe. The
Texas Gulf Coast during these years is still among the least studied, least appreci-
ated, least rationalized period and place in American architectural history. Evan
the building types then valued: great city houses, urban churches, railway sta-
tions, four- or five-story commercial blocks, are themselves now passe. But this
period offers important critical and historical uses.
The architecture described in this book offers a close analogy to the architec-
ture of the 1970s and 1 980s, for both periods shared an interest in the exuber-
ant overcoming of a body of theory, the remnants of Bauhaus rationalism in the
1970s and a pre-186o historicist styles in the 1870s, through the playful appro-
priation of historical codes, forms, and details. There are differences. In the pre-
storm architecture of Nicholas Clayton and his Galveston contemporaries the
finish and detail that can be accomplished only by the human hand was not yet
dominated by industrial processes, and it might also be argued that late-nine-
teenth-century architecture benefited from the fact that during this period
architects often began not in school but in the trades, Clayton as a plasterer. But
just as James Gwathmey and Philip Johnson ended the flight from history with
buildings that unashamedly co-opted historical forms (the New Orleans World's
Fair, the Manhattan telephone building, the Dallas Crescent), so Nicholas
Clayton and his mentor Mathias Baldwin-to mention only two southerners-
overcame the appeals to historically correct theory represented by the Gothic of
Pugin and Renwick and the Grecian of William Strickland. At Galveston build-
ings like Clayton's Sacred Heart Church (1884-1892, figure 95), the University
of Texas Medical Department (1888-1891, figure 122), and his Central High
School (1892-93, figure 119) a primary set of Romanesque references is used
with a freedom and verve that could seem unremarkable only to the generation
of imperial Americans that included Mark Twain and Grover Cleveland. And
when detail is read into this primary historical context, the aesthetic freshness of
Clayton's style, at the Walter Gresham house for example (figures 85 and 87),
becomes something radically new. Second Empire (the Van Alstyne and
Trueheart houses, figures 77 and 85) and the historicist Gothic Revival
(Ursuline Academy, figure 132) also provided primary references that Clayton
made into a new architecture.
Nicholas J. Clayton himself is an appealing character whom this book makes
better known, introducing to us a boy from the village of Cloyne in County Cork
whose mother brought him to Boston in 1848, then west to Cincinnati; who
then worked in St. Louis and Memphis before joining the Federal navy in 1862,
from which he was discharged at age twenty-five and began to make his way first
back to Cincinnati, then Memphis, and finally to Galveston, where the plasterer
turned architectural draftsman became the city's premier architect.
As every good study should, this book provokes suggestions for yet unwritten
architectural histories. Although Clayton designed for all sorts and conditions
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/568/: accessed October 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.