TO DECO: BUILDING IN WEST TEXAS, 1880 - 1930
by Elizabeth Skidmore Sasser Texas
Tech University Press, 1993
Reviewed by John Troesser
Judge a Book by its Title This
one just happens to be so much more
and West Texas in the same book.
It doesn't get much better than that. Actually, it does get better. There's excellent
photography and a fine job of printing. That's more than enough for some people,
but if you happen to be one of those hard-to-please people who want more, then
more you'll get.
There are discourses on themes ranging from the origin
of chuck wagons (and how the Studebaker Company built them) to neon signs, and
what they meant to architecture in the 1930s.
There's also a part that
could be called "How to heat a church with minimal casualties." Where else are
you going to find this? The author never gets away from the subject, but her anecdotal
stories entertain the reader more than any architectural volume we've ever read.
The stories could stand as a book on their own. Her observations on the cast women
who adorn courthouses, as well as their male counterparts decorating the buildings
of fraternal orders (to say nothing of gargoyles), are worthy of a stand-up comedy
There's a glossary of terms, but her 40 years of teaching architecture,
has given her a style that makes it seem like you're listening to her across a
table. And getting back to our comment on the title - it's a perfectly good title
and by telling you not to judge the book by it - well, we just wanted to let you
know about the extras. Sasser's words on the necessity and construction of dugouts
makes you consider selling your suburban monstrosity with its four-inch strip
of lawn and going west where the deer and the antelope can play - on your roof.
Every type of building is covered. From railroad and fire stations to
icehouses, out-houses, skyscrapers, city halls, courthouses, mansions, schools,
churches, opera houses, theaters and libraries. The geographic range appropriately
starts with Fort Worth (where
the West begins) and goes as far as El
Paso (where the West ends for Texans) and as far South as Laredo
(where Mexico begins). In between are such diverse places as Sanco, San
and even Mentone.
photo of "The Spirit of Progress" for the cover survives in many Texas cities
- some further East. This one appears on the square in Hillsboro, Texas, Hill
TE photo 2001
Texas architecture includes adobe, dirt, stone, cement, brick, steel, plastic
and terra cotta and they're all here, sometimes sharing space. About the only
thing not included is the author's recipe for adobe (although we're sure she has
one). She includes the street addresses of the houses and buildings that illustrate
the book, which we think is a very courteous touch.
It's more than a
pleasure to read but we're afraid it might just be too entertaining to be a textbook.
Some of the photos look like paintings by Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth. The lighting
is so consistently good that you know hours were spent waiting for the right time
A beautiful book for a gift or for your library. Dugout to Deco
has won the San Antonio Conservation Society Publication Award.