Remembering O’Neil Ford in anticipation of Braniff renovation

Elizabeth Kerin, Staff Writer

Jane and Duane Landry, both award-winning architects, attended a gathering celebrating the architectural excellence of the Braniff Graduate building. Photo by Elizabeth Kerin.

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that President Thomas Keefe spoke at a recent town hall meeting regarding Braniff and suggested that his comments sparked concern about the building’s architectural future. That information was inaccurately attributed to Dr. Debra Romanick Baldwin. President Keefe was out of the country at the time of the town hall meeting and made no comments on the future of Braniff. The article has been corrected below. 

Fishing through her woven black leather clutch, Jane Landry drew out a faded 6-inch ruler. She traced the name etched into the faded plastic with her forefinger and recalled with a distant smile that it had once belonged to the great architect O’Neil Ford.

Ford, a Texan native, rose to critical acclaim for the organic modernist structures he designed over the course of his career. Jane Landry, who became a licensed architect during her time working under Ford, kept the ruler in remembrance of his vision. He had left it accidentally in her studio at some point during the late 1960s, and to Jane Landry it embodied Ford’s architectural excellence.

“Nothing was left to chance,” Jane Landry said, recalling the attention to detail that was central to Ford’s ethos.

Dr. Debra Romanick Baldwin invited a variety of distinguished guests for an afternoon of architectural appreciation in anticipation of the administration’s recently announced plan to renovate Braniff Graduate Building. Some of the proposed alterations, including the removal of the original ceramic light fixtures and the whitewashing of the oak paneling, represent a problematic shift away from Ford’s aesthetic.

Romanick Baldwin, associate professor of English, brought together Mark Lamster, architectural critic at The Dallas Morning News and architecture professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, Jane Landry and her husband Duane Landry, both award-winning architects, and Lyle Novinski, emeritus professor of art, to gather in celebration of the architectural excellence present in Ford’s Braniff Graduate Building at the University of Dallas campus.

The Landrys worked with Ford on his design and execution of the UD campus. Braniff porch was meaningful to Duane Landry, especially: this was where, in 1959, Ford brought him into the project.

“I came up and sat on this porch on a Saturday morning with Jane in the car … And O’Neil hired me right on,” Duane Landry said.

Duane Landry recalled how badly he needed the work; he sat and chatted for a few hours without Ford realizing Jane was waiting.

At the time of its completion in 1966, Braniff was lauded as a modernist architectural gem. Since then, the daily wear and tear of a vibrant, constantly growing university has taken its toll on the building. Braniff is now in a state of disrepair.

Duane Landry worried that the aesthetic of campus was at risk of being compromised, especially if Braniff’s appearance were to move toward SB Hall’s corporate tone.

With the administration’s proposed budget, set at about $70,000, Lamster sees the solution as a matter of cosmetics rather than a structural overhaul.

Mark Lamster looks outward over UD campus from the William A. Blakley Library. Photo by Elizabeth Kerin

“The answer isn’t to rethink [Ford’s Braniff], but … to try to clean it up a little bit,” Lamster said. “I think [that] would be worthwhile, while maintaining its central integrity.”

According to Lamster, poorly executed renovations are commonplace.

“You see it all the time,” Lamster said. “So get it right now. Bring it back as close to the original as possible.”

In the spirit of Ford’s 6-inch ruler and attention to detail, the philosophy and English departments are co-hosting a roundtable discussion on the significance, challenges and opportunities accompanying the renovation of the Braniff Graduate Building on Wednesday, May 4, from 1-3 p.m. in the Gorman Faculty Lounge.

Addressing the group as they passed around Ford’s ruler, Jane Landry eulogized Ford’s love of creation and design in a tone so overwhelmed with emotion that her voice cracked. Ford’s nobility of intention was apparent down to the smallest details.

“When we take up improvements without meaning, the attention to details disappears,” Landry said. “The details are gone.”

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  1. Thank you for covering the Landrys’ fond reminiscences of working with O’Neil Ford. However, I would like to clarify that both the architectural walkabout and the May 4 round table were in response to Administrative invitation for feedback at the town hall meeting on what needs would best serve Braniff. No set plans, but rather open dialogue was offered. I am personally grateful to the Administration—to President Keefe in particular—for his concern that the Braniff Building appear and function at its best. And the productive discussion at the May 4 round table—which considered the challenges of renovating historic buildings, and which included Patrick Daly who has overseen such successful and historically sensitive renovations as the UD cafeteria—makes me excited for the future!


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