An Inventory of his Drawings, 1878-1907
ALFRED GILES (1853-1920). Alfred Giles, son of Thomas and Sophie Brown Giles, was born at Hillingdon, Middlesex, England, on May 23, 1853. He attended the Proprietary School at Gravesend, Kent, for four years, beginning in January of 1864. A member of the Church of England, he had a boyhood ambition to enter the ministry. Upon finishing school at seventeen, Giles chose his life's work and was apprenticed to the architectural firm of Giles and Bivens in London. The senior partner, John Giles, was not related to Alfred. As part of his training, he attended classes in the arts of construction at King's College, University of London. Upon completion of the two-year term of apprenticeship, Alfred Giles was employed by the firm for a brief period. In 1873, the young architect immigrated to the United States and, for health reasons, settled in Texas. He worked for three years in the office of John H. Kampmann, a successful San Antonio contractor, from whom he acquired skill in the use of locally available building materials, especially stone. When Giles established his own firm in 1876, the dreary period of Reconstruction was coming to an end. Ranchers, farmers and merchants grew prosperous, and San Antonio became a focal point of commerce and amusement for a vast area. The advent of the railroad in 1877 greatly expanded the choices of building materials, and returning travelers brought with them newly acquired tastes for novelty. Indeed the Victorian period was characterized by rapid changes of style, and Giles' work reflected a great variety of styles derived from architectural forms of the past, usually in more or less new combinations. Giles' own means of expression, however, always took precedence over novelty of fashion. The sobriety and simplicity with which he adapted and combined these stylistic elements suggests that he exercised strong control over his work and that he preferred restraint. A reserved use of ornament and a strong feeling for symmetry, even in asymmetrical compositions, characterize his approach.
Giles produced unpretentious domestic residences and showy mansions, as well as commercial and institutional structures for clients who were the makers of San Antonio, especially the Mavericks, the altruistic developers of Alamo Plaza and Houston Street for whom Giles designed twenty major structures, and the Terrell family for whom he designed at least seven. Indeed, San Antonio was a Giles town with forty structures to his credit in the central city alone by 1900. Families in other Texas towns were also loyal clients, especially Captain Charles Schreiner of Kerrville and the Faltin and Ingenhuett families of Comfort.
GILES' MONTERREY OFFICE: At the turn of the century, a brilliant architect named Atlee Ayres began to claim most of the prestigious jobs in San Antonio. Giles' response was to open a branch office in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico and extend his practice throughout Northern Mexico, while maintaining his practice in Texas. Again it was a propitious move and the architect known there as Alfredo Giles was an immediate success. The dictatorial Mexican president, Profino Diaz (1877-1911), gave preferential treatment to foreign interest as a means of bringing his country into the modern epoch. In concert with the industrialists who were his clients, Giles designed eight major buildings within four blocks in downtown Monterrey, as well as eleven building in the state of Chihuahua for General Luis Terrazas who quite literally owned the state.
The Revolution of 1910 curtailed Giles' practice in Mexico, but he continued to find work there until his death in 1920. His buildings in Mexico, interestingly enough, have long been a source of great pride and most have been maintained in a better state of preservation than their counterparts in the U.S.
SERVICE TO THE PROFESSION: Despite his far-flung enterprises, Alfred Giles served his profession well, presiding at the organizational banquet of the Society of San Antonio Architects on August 6, 1908. He was also chosen chairman of the Texas State Association of Architects when they reorganized in 1908 in Austin. Both of these attempts to organize failed. In 1928, the state group finally formed a lasting alliance, and another San Antonio architect, Ralph Cameron, was elected its first president.
FAMILY MAN: On December 15, 1885, Alfred Giles married Annie Laura James, daughter of John James, surveyor of Bexar County. They had eight children of whom only survived to adulthood.
VISIONARY RANCHER: After 1885, with the proceeds of his inheritance (extensive real estate holdings in London) the architect began purchasing land near Comfort, Texas. His partner in land ownership was his brother-in-law, Judge John Herndon James. The ranch, named Hillingdon after the family seat in England, soon comprised 13,000 acres where horses, mules, registered Aberdeen-Angus cattle and Angora goats grazed. Giles was a founding member of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers' Association and a member of the Texas Cattle Raisers' Association. He instituted progressive land management practices that have been continued by his family to the present day. [Hillingdon Ranch was featured in the March 1999 issue of National Geographic in an article by John Graves.]
On August 13, 1920, at Hillingdon Ranch. Alfred Giles died. He is buried beside his wife, who died in 1909, in City Cemetery Number 1 in San Antonio.
-Entry prepared by Mary Carolyn Hollers George
This record group contains 29 drawings for two buildings (1878-1907): the August Faltin Store in Comfort, Texas and the Sullivan Carriage House in San Antonio.
The 7 representations of the original August Faltin Store (1878) are drawn in ink on linen. The one set of blueprints is for the ca. 1907 addition to that building.
The 15 drawings of the Sullivan Carriage House (1896) are photostatic copies. Included are photocopies of this project's specifications (supplied by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library).
Giles' office in the Soledad Block of San Antonio was entirely destroyed by fire in the spring of 1892. Materials from Giles' practice 1892-1920 were lost in the 1940s.
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Alfred Giles (1853-1920) Drawings, 1878-1907, Alexander Architectural Archives, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin
Drawings processed by: Lila Knight, 1980, 1985
Other Finding Aids
Unpublished inventory in Archive.
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