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Celebrating the Life
Eugene George

"One mission of my architectural practice is the documentation of cultural assets that are fading..."

George with historical marker

Eugene George began his architectural studies as an undergraduate at the University of Texas and went on to complete his graduate work at Harvard University, where he studied under Walter Gropius.  George’s design work reflects this modernist training, as seen in his South Austin Fire Station (1977).

However, George also served as the architect of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia from 1971-1973 and has directed numerous historic preservation projects, from the adaptive reuse of a 1920s-era service station in downtown Austin (1979) to a survey and restoration of a Revolutionary War battlefield in Yorktown, Virginia (1975). In a recent publication he explained, "One mission of my architectural practice is the documentation of cultural assets that are fading, even vanishing, and every opportunity is seized, including enlisting students of architecture in this quest."

Randle-Turner House, near Itasca, Texas

George first became familiar with the Randle-Turner House when he and students documented it for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1961.  At that time, the house’s condition was quite dilapidated, and one part of it was being used to store hay.  View the Randle-Turner House gallery

By 1950, local interest in the house was growing, and it was described in the Dallas Morning News, which proclaimed, “House Built Without Nails Still Sturdy after 100 Years.”  George has long been interested in wood joinery techniques, observing that in many of the borderlands structures he studies, it is possible to discern the nationality of the builders by the type of joins they create.  In his restoration of the Randle-Turner House, George and the carpenters who worked on the project used period-appropriate hand tools and fabricated wooden pegs to hold beams and joists together, in keeping with the house’s original construction methods.

The house’s survival is quite remarkable due to the fact that Indian raids occurred in the area throughout the time of its construction and early occupancy.

A short report about the restoration project is included in the George Collection:

“The Randle-Turner House near Itasca is one of the few surviving examples in north central Texas of a house type with antecedents in the southeastern United States.  Dating from the 1850s, the house’s survival is quite remarkable due to the fact that Indian raids occurred in the area throughout the time of its construction and early occupancy.  The building is a typical “two-pen dog-run” house with a gallery on the south and “lean-tos” on the north.  The frame is hewn oak sheathed in cypress weatherboarding, with double-hung windows and a wood-shingle roof.  The program called for accurately restoring the house to its initial period using materials and construction techniques of the time, an approach which required extensive documentary research and historic analysis of the structure and the site.  Except for fire-retardant roof shingles and fireplace lintels, all new materials match original materials in specie, size and fabrication.  Since this project was a “pure” restoration, the building was not adapted to any modern functional requirements.  Although energy efficiency considerations were not part of the program, the house’s large and strategically oriented windows, along with the shaded south gallery and central dog run, provide a maximum of creature comfort in the climate of the region.”

Yorktown Battlefield and Nelson Block, Yorktown, Virginia

After serving as architect of Colonial Williamsburg from 1971 to 1973, George returned to Texas and re-established his private practice in Austin.  However, he was soon called back to Virginia for a different project: the restoration of the Yorktown Battlefield and the Nelson Block.  View the Yorktown Battlefield gallery

The Nelson House, which was built around 1724, served as Cornwallis’s headquarters during the final battle of the Revolutionary War, and the battlefield was the site of the British defeat.  The Nelson Block comprised the house, gardens, outbuildings, and surrounding grounds.

In 1781 the Americans and French destroyed their own earthworks and redoubt, fearing that these siege structures would be used against them.

The restoration of the house and battlefield proved to be an interdisciplinary effort.  Working from data provided by archaeologist Norman Barka, George and a former student, Richard Ryan, surveyed the site and determined the position of features to be rebuilt or restored.  After they captured the site in 1781, the Americans and French destroyed their own earthworks and redoubt, fearing that these siege structures would be used against them by the British.  Under George’s direction, artillery positions were reconstructed from archaeological evidence, using similar European oak hand-finished to historic dimensions.  

The George Collection contains a number of measured drawings of the site, as well as George’s comments and reflections on them.  George recounts that he took measures to protect the archaeological integrity of the site.  To guard against wear and tear from tourists, George designed a sub-surface bed to reduce moisture intrusion into the archaeological levels.  Although eighteenth-century earthworks were meant to be temporary, the reconstructions were intended to last much longer.  George used techniques specified by the Texas Highway Department to make the embankments long-lasting.  Finally, treasure hunters with metal detectors had long posed a preservation risk.  George peppered the earthworks with nickel-sized boiler punchings, in hopes that their presence would frustrate looters.

Nieman, Hanks and Puryear Office Building / Starr Kealhofer Garage, Austin, Texas

The Staff Kealhofer Garage was built in 1928.  Located at 910 Lavaca Street in downtown Austin, the building was in a prime location for office development and was part of an adaptive reuse project by Eugene George for an insurance and real estate company.   View the Nieman, Hanks and Puryear gallery

Gallery

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Although structurally sound, the building was in an advanced state of deterioration in 1978, at the time of its rehabilitation.  The project brief, included in the George Collection, summarized it thus:

“Responding to the popular Mediterranean style of the Twenties when it was built, the first floor of the building functioned for half a century vending automotive fuels and oils, servicing vehicles by minor repairs in association with grease pits, wash racks, and tire repair spaces.  The second floor consisted entirely of an open, L-shaped loft space for the storage of tires. … The solution for the first floor included enclosing the former fuel vending area to form an open plan clerical space.  Flanking this space on three sides were offices either established from the fuel vending area (north), the accessory sales and storage areas (south), or within the former minor repairs, oil changing/grease rack area (west).  …

Two stairways were constructed to penetrate the former loft warehouse area---one upward through the former carwash area, the other via the former accessories office.  The second floor loft area was subdivided into additional clerical and management spaces…. During the process of renovation, architectural details from the initial building period were refurbished or reconstructed---including metal ceilings, exterior and interior openings, and an exterior turret which had been removed.”

“Revitalization under any circumstances must respond to traditional accomplishments, at the same time encourage new growth within the historic pattern.”

George expressed his philosophy about projects such as this one in a paper written in the same year: “There’s more to the problem than cleaning up the junk, clearing the weeds.  Revitalization under any circumstances must respond to traditional accomplishments, at the same time encourage new growth within the historic pattern.  We are well along in our second century of urban life.  Let us grow, but let us reinforce ourselves by stabilizing Austin’s qualities: unique, individual, and different from other places.”

George’s rehabilitation of the Starr Kealhofer Garage won a 1979 Building Award from the Heritage Society of Austin.

South Austin Fire Station, Austin, Texas

The South Austin Fire Station was built at 5811 Nuckols Crossing Road in 1977 and is one of George's new construction projects.  View the South Austin Fire Station gallery

Gallery

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George designed the building using a light-colored brick.  The architectural specifications in the collection reveal that George was involved in all aspects of the project, from the landscaping of the site to the amenities for the firefighters who stayed there.  The building includes areas for fire trucks and equipment, as well as living spaces for fire fighters.  Ribbons of glass brick provide natural light and privacy in bathing and dressing areas. George also designed a variety of storage and clothing lockers, desks, kitchen cabinets, and even chalkboards in the interior spaces; drawings for each of these features are included in the project specifications.