More Casa Ricardo by Architect, Louis S. Curtiss

Some people may say I am obsessed, but I cannot get enough of the Casa Ricardo Hotel in Kingsville Texas by Kansas City Architect, Louis S. Curtiss. I dug a little deeper online and found some very old photos of the building.
View from the top of a train looking back at the Casa Ricardo entry gates and the courtyard of the hotel.

View from the Casa Ricardo Hotel balcony back towards the in-hotel, Harvey House Restaurant. You have to love the quintessential Louis Curtiss detailing of the ironwork in this photo.

View from the Casa Ricardo back to the hotel entry gate and the waiting train with the Kings Inn Theatre in the distance. The hipped roof train station, built in 1904 by the Saint Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railroad is visible to the right just beyond the train. This is the present location of the Louis S. Curtiss Mystery Urns.

Casa Ricardo Hotel with soldiers circa World War I.

Casa Ricardo Hotel in the 1910's or 1920's judging from the Model T Ford.

Casa Ricardo Hotel by Architect, Louis S. Curtiss in Kingsville, Texas

I was able to find a few additional postcard images of various vintages of the Casa Ricardo Hotel by Louis S. Curtiss on the internet. I also found this online mention by KCMODERN friend, Cydney E. Millstein of the Hotel in this application to the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, applying for the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1911-1912, Curtiss undertook a number of projects for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad in the new town of Kingsville, Texas. One of these was for a tourist hotel called the Casa Ricardo, to be operated under Fred Harvey management. An L-shaped structure with broad eaves and continuous balconies along the interior of the L, the design was one of Curtiss' finest and set the pattern for the Bernard Corrigan residence on Ward Parkway in Kansas City, built the following year.

Cydney E. Millstein. "The Norman Tromanhauser House," National Register of Historic Places Nomination. August 18, 2000.
I think Cydney is right on target with the parallels between the 1912, Casa Ricardo and the 1913, Corrigan Mansion. I also see some resemblance of the Casa Ricardo end elevations to the work of the Greene brothers of Pasadena and their 1909, Gamble Residence.

This image appears to be from the early 1930's judging from the Model A Fords in the parking lot.

Judging from the cars this one is from the 1940's.

Louis S. Curtiss Mystery Planters at Casa Ricardo Hotel - Kingsville, Texas

Armed with some new search words I began Googling for some images of Casa Ricardo in Kingsville, Texas by Architect, Louis Curtiss. After filtering my results to remove Ricardo Montalban and Ricki Ricardo, I was able to find another Kingsville postcard. This postcard depicted Casa Ricardo fully landscaped in subtropical slendor and embellished with some beautiful planters near the entrance gate. I had finally found the source of the Louis Curtiss Mystery Urns. I bet that they were even more beautiful in person and in there original setting!

More on Louis S. Curtiss in Kingsville, Texas

So... Upon returning from our stay on South Padre Island, Texas, I wanted to look in my book, Stalking Louis Curtiss by Wilda Sandy and Larry K Hanks. I had to see if the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad General Offices in Kingsville, Texas were included in the locally published monograph. Turns out that the St.L.B.&M General Offices project was a Louis Curtiss design and it was not some long lost or forgotten project. There it was on page 59 and it was a black and white image cropped from the exact same photograph that was used in the post card, minus the color tinting. By the way, the building was built in 1911 and if you blow the photo up large enough you can make out FRISCO on the front of the building. Frisco was the railroad that purchased the St.L.B.&M. line.

But the biggest surprise was on page 58, which depicted another Curtiss project in Kingsville, a rendering of a hotel for Fred Harvey of Harvey House fame, called Casa Gertrudis and a construction photograph of the same project renamed, Casa Ricardo.
I was disappointed to read that both the Hotel and the railroad offices were demolished sometime around 1970.

Still, there were no Louis Curtiss mystery urns visible in either image.

More to come....

Architect, Louis S. Curtiss in Kingsville, TX - St.L.B.&M. General Offices

After spending the remaining three hour drive from Kingsville to the southernmost tip of Texas being perplexed by the Louis S. Curtiss Mystery Urns and the brief fuzzy image of a "railroad station" that appeared to be a Curtiss design, I set out to do an internet search on the worlds slowest wireless internet connection from our condo. I was in search of an image of the Kingsville railroad station. After quite a few strategic shuffles of key words, some five minute waits for photo downloads and some google magic, I discovered a postcard image of my quest.

It turns out that the station was not a railroad station at all, but was the headquarters or "general offices" of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad (St.L.B.&M.) in Kingsville, Texas. This was the only image that I could find on the internet and it definitely was the hand of Kansas City Architectural hero Louis S. Curtiss.

But what about the mystery urns? There were none in the colorized photo postcard. Hmmm...

More to come....

Kingsville, Texas and the Louis S. Curtiss Mystery Urns

On my recent trip to South Texas my father wanted to stop our caravan and visit the King Ranch, which is the largest ranch in the world with over 1 million acres of land. The next two bus tours were full, so we browsed the exhibits and read about the ranch in a small museum that they have on the property. We decided to see a twenty minute film about the King Ranch, the King family, their Santa Gertrudis cattle and Triple Crown winning race horses. Near the end of the film the narrator documents the King family donating the land and platting the new town of Kingsville, Texas to be a new rail hub and headquarters for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad. Vintage photos were shown of an imposing railway station and headquarters for the fledgling railroad.

EUREKA, I thought that I had found a lost Louis S. Curtiss building! I recognized the structure as a Louis Curtiss building right away. And knowing that Curtiss had designed several railroad stations reinforced my resolve. I immediately asked the Museum personnel for the location of the train station, which they showed me on a city map. We drove there, family caravan in tow, and much to my disappointment there sat a rather conventional brick train station with wide overhangs. Not the building that I had hoped to find.

BUT there was one clue there that mad me think that I was not completely off base. There in front of this rather unremarkable train station sat a series of unusual Prairie Style Urns. Unusual, in that they were vertically proportioned... They were almost in the style of Arts and Crafts, Teco art pottery and very eclectic. Eclectic is the word most often used to describe the work of Louis S. Curtiss. Maybe I was on to something.

More to come....

Everyone Loves a Good A-Frame and a Hamburger - Whataburger

I remembered the venerable Whataburger chain of restaurants decked out in University Texas Longhorn colors from a week of college debauchery in South Texas in the 80's. We had even stopped at one of the famous A-frames on a return drive from Spring Break and then listened to one of my back seat travel companions complain, OHH-WHAT-A-BURGER, from a raw onion induced stomach ache for the next 500 miles.

On my more recent trip, I was not prepared for the lack of the landmark, tall A-frames, which were once as common as Longhorn cattle in Texas. You could usually spot one of the distinctive narrow orange and white striped roofs and the gigantic W logo signs from a mile away, a testament to it being a true "Roadside Architectural Wonder." Any Texas town over 2000 people seemed to have one. These days the Whataburgers are just as common, but the buildings seem to come in a more conventional toned-down, quasi-A-frame design. A shorter, squatter mini A-frame-hybrid with ranch house roof side appendages is how I would describe it. And the orange and white stripes are much wider, with a less aesthetic commercial metal panel roof replacing the standing seam metal. Really the newer designs are quite dissappointing.
If you are a true roadside food aficionado, then you can imagine my delight when my daughter latched on to the clever name and the distinctive color scheme and began demanding, "I want to eat at a Whataburger!" She convinced the family patriarch that this would be a better choice than a quick stop at a Burger King. Soon the whole family of fourteen would agree. WHAT-A-TREAT! I quickly became enamored with the #5 bacon cheeseburger with onion rings instead of fries. After three more stops over a week we waved goodbye to our last orange and white roof as we headed north out of Oklahoma City.

I am starting a campaign to demand that the Whataburger chain expand to the north just one more state to include Kansas.

KCMODERN friend Debra Jane, aka Agility Nut, has photographed many Whataburgers, which you can see here.

It also appears that the hamburger chain has started to recognize the historical and marketing significance of their little A-frame buildings and has posted a fun section to the Whataburger A-frame website, which I recommend you check out.

You will also note that the more recently built, flagship location in Corpus Christ, Texas, dubbed the "Whataburger by the Bay," has made a weak nod back to the high A-frame and the narrow orange and white stripes.

George Kraigher House by Architect, Richard Neutra - In Depth

Recent image from unknown internet source

On 24 May 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the George Kraigher House on Paredes Line Road as one of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places for 2004. Reflecting increased awareness of the historical value of modern architecture, the then sixty-seven-year-old Kraigher House, the first International Style house built in Texas, was one of two modern buildings on the Trust’s most endangered list in 2004.

The Kraigher House was built in 1937 to the designs of Richard J. Neutra (1892-1970), an Austrian-born and–trained architect who immigrated to the United States in 1923. Settling in Los Angeles in 1925, Neutra attained international recognition as one of the foremost advocates of the Modern Movement in twentieth-century architecture with his first important building in the US, the Lovell “Health House” in Los Angeles of 1927-29. Despite the onset of the Great Depression, Neutra produced a series of inventive modern buildings in California, mostly small houses, that were extensively publicized in the international architectural press. According to Neutra’s biographer, Thomas S. Hines, it was during a business trip to Los Angeles in 1936 that George Kraigher, a Pan American Airways pilot, saw one of Neutra’s houses and commissioned the architect to design a country house for him in Brownsville, where Pan American Airways had established its Western Division offices in 1932.

George Kraigher (1891-1984), like Richard Neutra, had been born in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Kraigher was from Slovenia. He was trained as a pilot in the Austro-Hungarian military but in 1915 defected to Italy and, for the rest of World War I, flew for the Serbian air corps. Kraigher immigrated to the US in 1921. Before joining Pan American Airways in 1929, he performed aerial survey and mapping work. During the 1930s, Pan American Airways routed all its overland flights between the US and Latin America through Brownsville. Kraigher was a senior pilot for Pan Am. In 1937, he set what was then a speed record for commercial flights in a journey that began in Brownsville and, over the course of six days, extended as far south as Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, before ending in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kraigher was gregarious and convivial. An accomplished horseman as well as a pilot, he entertained in Brownsville, often arranging for friends to fly in from other Texas and Mexican cities served by Pan Am. Among Kraigher’s colleagues was the pilot Lars H. Kristofferson, whose son, the actor Kris Kristofferson, was born in Brownsville in 1936. When the US entered World War II, Kraigher left Brownsville. During the war, working first for Pan Am, then as a US military officer (eventually attaining the rank of colonel) under the Office of Special Services, Kraigher used his flying skills and geographic knowledge in support of critical military missions. He charted air routes across Africa serving supply lines from the US to the Middle East and India in the early 1940s. In the latter part of the war, he was active in the Balkans organizing and carrying out aerial rescues of downed Allied aviators. Kraigher did not return to Brownsville after the war and sold the house in 1946. He organized air services for Aramco in Saudi Arabia and in the 1950s built a second house designed by Richard Neutra in Litchfield, Connecticut, where he lived until his death in 1984.

Neutra’s design complemented George Kraigher’s sense of adventure. The compact house is two stories high. Flat roofs, horizontal bands of steel sash casement windows, a second-floor roof terrace with metal pipe railing, and planar walls finished with white stucco are identifying modernist characteristics. Neutra offset interior spaces in plan so that all rooms have access to the prevailing southeast breeze. A spacious, L-planned room on the first floor combines living and dining uses. There is a bedroom with separate bathroom and dressing room on the first floor and a bedroom, bath, dressing room, and den on the second floor in addition to the roof terrace. A two-car garage projects off the northwest corner of the house. The house retains its original cabinetry and fixtures. Neutra’s hand is especially visible in the deftly proportioned exterior wall planes, which are sculpturally juxtaposed with overhanging roof fascias to give the small house its dramatic presence. The house is surrounded by vegetation typical of the Lower Río Grande border, the only semi-tropical area in Texas: tall Washingtonia palm trees and low, thorny ebony and mesquite trees. Adjoining the flat site is a resaca, a lagoon-like ox-bow lake. The house was built by the Brownsville contractor A. W. Neck for a contract price of $5,000. The Brownsville architect Frank L. Godwin supervised construction. Neutra did not see the house until a chance visit to Brownsville in 1951. The Kraigher House was published in the May 1939 issue of Architectural Record as “Open-Planned, Window-Walled House in Southwest.” It is also illustrated and discussed in Hines’s book Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture: A Biography and History of 1982.

The Kraigher House was the first house and (following the Magnolia Lounge at the Texas Centennial Exposition of 1936 in Dallas, designed by the New York architect William Lescaze) the second building in Texas built in the International Style of modern architecture. Neutra was the modernist master who had the greatest impact on Texas in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the first modern architects to practice in Texas, Charles Granger of Austin, worked in Neutra’s Los Angeles office in the 1930s. The Kraigher House forecast the role modern architecture would play in re-shaping the Lower Río Grande Valley during the 1950s, when, for the only time in the region’s history, buildings designed by local architects were published in the national architectural press.

The Kraigher House was owned from the 1961 until 1999 by the Brownsville real estate broker and developer Bud Franke and his wife. After the early 1970s, the Franke family ceased living in the house and rented it. By the early 1980s the house began to show signs of lack of maintenance. By 1992 it was windowless and inhabited by tenants who lived there rent-free in order to keep the house from being occupied by vagrants. Efforts by Preservation Brownsville and its founding president, Ambrosio Villarreal, Jr., led to acquisition of the house and two acres of its six-acre site by the City of Brownsville in 1999. The city enclosed the house and fenced it off but never began rehabilitation. In February 2004, Preservation Brownsville and Villarreal were successful in having the house listed by Preservation Texas as one of the most endangered historic sites in the state. Villarreal and Preservation Brownsville were also responsible for nominating the Kraigher House to the National Trust’s most endangered list. Listing prompted the City of Brownsville to negotiate a ninety-nine year lease agreement with the University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. In January 2006 the university took possession of the two-acre site and began restoration of the Kraigher House. Dr. Juliet V. García, president of the university, and Dr. José G. Martín, provost, were instrumental in securing the university’s support of this effort.

The restoration of the severely deteriorated house was carried out by Lawrence V. Lof, assistant professor of biology and director of the Gorgas Science Foundation, who is also the university’s rehabilitation projects manager. After overseeing restoration of the Alonzo Building complex, a late nineteenth-century corner store; and another such complex, the Cueto Building, both examples of the border brick style of the lower Río Grande; as well as the J. J. Young House, an imposing Colonial Revival house built in 1910—all for use by various agencies of the university—Lof embarked on the restoration of the Kraigher House with students enrolled in Texas Southmost College’s Historic Rehabilitation Practicum. Restoration work was carried out between early 2006 and 2008.
Article courtesy of Lower Río Grande Valley Chapter, American Institute of Architects
September 2009

George Kraigher House by Architect, Richard Neutra in Brownsville, Texas

Name: George Kraigher House
Architect: Richard Neutra,
with Frank L. Godwin, associate architect
Year Designed: circa 1936
Builder: A. W. Neck
Year Completed: 1937
Size: Unknown
Location: 525 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville Texas
Type: Residential
Style: International Style Modernism
Status: Excellent
Photographed by: Robert McLaughlin

I traveled with my extended family to South Padre Island, Texas between Christmas and New Years Day. While there, we made a side trip to Brownsville, Texas and Matamoris, Mexico, sister cities on either side of the Rio Grande river. At my request we made one stop of architectural interest on this rainy day at a home designed for George Kraigher by California Modern Architect, Richard Neutra. Kraigher was a Pan Am pilot stationed in Brownsville, which in those days was a hub to South America from the US. I jumped out and quickly shot off some photos from the hip while thirteen impatient family members waited in a van. I wish the photos were better, but I had to work with haste and the poor weather conditions of the day. Later, I had to seriously debate whether to give up one of the few sunny days at the beach to make a return trip, but my family vetoed the thought.

This house is special in that it represents a significant success story for the preservation of Modern architecture. In 2004 this house was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the "Eleven Most Endangered Places." The house sat windowless and unoccupied while termites were destroying what remained. Fortunately a few people with some idea that a modern home could be historically significant intervened and convinced the city of Brownsville to purchase the home in 1999. The property was fenced, but no work was done to stabilize the structure. The placement of the house on the 2004 list convinced the city to commit to a 99 year lease to the University of Texas Brownsville/Texas Southmost College. The home was restored by the University from 2006 to 2008. I post these photos as a testament to the good work done by the people of Brownsville.

To see larger versions of these photos go to my flickr site.