Meet Atlee Ayres, the visionary architect who helped design modern San Antonio

THere are some of the things that make up the soul of a city: its people, its cuisine, and its architecture. Recently, a 1920s house in Terrill Hills designed by architect Atley Ayres came on the market. On the list, Ayres is noted to have designed hundreds of homes across San Antonio in the early 1900s, including the Atkinson-McNay House, along with famous commercial buildings such as the Freeman Coliseum and Smith Young Tower, once in the city. The tallest skyscraper. If architecture defines a place, Ayres was key in creating the San Antonio we know today.

But despite his reputation as “the most famous architect in San Antonio,” not much has been written about Ayres (in fact, there is only one book – The Eclectic Odyssey of Atley Bey Iris, Architect Dedicated entirely to his legacy. Adding to the confusion is that what is written is often incorrect, in large part due to his longstanding partnership with his son, Robert M. Which Eris is responsible for Which The project.

“It wasn’t caught by the right people,” explains Professor Emeritus Maggie Valentine at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “People confuse his work with his son.”

Ayres’ approach, heavily influenced by Spanish colonial buildings found in Mexico, California and Florida, makes him what Valentine calls one of the “real examples” of Neoclassical Southwestern architects. And because his 71-year career has been such a long one, there are hundreds of examples to be found throughout the Alamo, from the iconic Taj Mahal at Joint Base San Antonio Randolph to a charming 1950s pool cabana outstanding in architecture. comprehend.

In total, Ayres designed 500 buildings, and many of the characteristics of these projects – tile work, stucco, columns, raised houses to increase circulation, two large rooms on either side of the house with a portico in the middle – became synonymous with the “look” of San Antonio.

“[Ayres’ work] Is very good quality. He follows the rules, he knew what he was doing. He borrowed from the classic and did it very well,” says Valentine.

Looking southwest from the Medical Arts Building toward the steel frame of the Smith Young Tower in 1928. Posted October 9, 1928, in San Antonio Light:

Looking southwest from the Medical Arts Building toward the steel frame of the Smith Young Tower in 1928. Published October 9, 1928, in San Antonio Light: “A skyline view from the Medical Arts Building shows how Smith Young Tower on Bowen Island, a 35-story skyscraper, looming over the skyline of the business district.”

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Enchanted by San Antonio

Smith Young Tower as shown in 1929, the year it was opened.  Now known as the Tower Life Building, it remains an iconic piece of San Antonio's skyline.

Smith Young Tower as shown in 1929, the year it was opened. Now known as the Tower Life Building, it remains an iconic piece of San Antonio’s skyline.

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aTille B. Ayres was born in Ohio in 1873 and moved with his family to Houston in 1880 before settling in San Antonio in 1888. The Ayres family lived “right across the dusty plaza of the legendary Alamo in a three-story limestone building,” writes Robert James kot ve Eclectic Odyssey.

Coote writes that Ayres was fascinated by his new home, which was inspired by “the winding streets, the old Hispanic structures, the chili kiosks in the various courtyards lit up at night with assorted colored lanterns, the large wood fires warming the food and the chili queens in costume”.

As a young man, he left San Antonio to study at the Metropolitan School, which was part of Columbia University. While studying in New York, Ayres learned of the “classical and disciplined institution of design” that would influence much of his work, and in turn, the city’s aesthetic.

Attlee B. Iris, President of the Feast Society 1911-1918, directed

Attlee B. Ayres, president of the 1911–1918 Fiesta Society, ran “Wedding Without a Woman,” a festival farcical performance that took place on April 18, 1918, during the feast. Iris himself is the bride. The official system for the coronation of the Queen of the Alamo was abolished due to World War I; The male play was the only note of frivolity at the Fiesta that year.

/ Ellison Photography

After graduating from the Metropolitan School, Ayres moved to Mexico City in 1894 for 18 months before returning to San Antonio and opening his architectural office. Although he would not return to Mexico for decades, the country undoubtedly left its mark on the young architect, both in his practice and in his imagination (he even went on to publish Mexican Architecture: Domestic, Civic, and Ecclesiastical in 1926).

Perhaps the chief architect’s inspiration was more than anything else, San Antonio itself. His designs, especially the 200-plus homes in neighborhoods like Olmos Park, Monte Vista, Alamo Heights, and Laurel Heights, have been adapted for life in central South Texas.

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Coote wrote in Eclectic Odyssey. “His homes were well planned for the lifestyles he understood and shared.”

“It’s truer to the San Antonio neoclassic,” Valentine adds. “He has set the standards with those large, stately mansions.”

Designed by Atlee Ayres, the 2-acre property is the crown jewel of San Antonio real estate.

Designed by Atlee Ayres, the 2-acre property is the crown jewel of San Antonio real estate.

Courtesy of Phyllis Browning Inc.

From the palaces of Monte Vista to the luxurious skyscrapers

aFluted columns, flat-ceilinged arcades, and deep couchettes, all designed to increase the breeze coming into the house are among the characteristics of these “grand stately mansions.” Even the corner of the house itself was chosen to reduce the South Texas heat, like Thomas Hogg’s house, which is located a block west of Trinity University. Built in 1923 with an addition by Ayres and his son Robert, in 1948, it is considered “a major home in the history of local architecture in San Antonio,” according to the Society of Architectural Historians. Among the many touching details are the use of “dark red or mahogany floor tiles,” which Ayres was inspired to use after a trip to Los Angeles.

The home of the late Marion Coogler-McNay remains the focal point of the McNay Museum of Art grounds.

The home of the late Marion Coogler-McNay remains the focal point of the McNay Museum of Art grounds.

Ken Man Hui / Staff Photographer

This attention to detail also appears in the Atkinson-McNay home, Iris’ most famous residential work. Now home to the McNay Museum of Art, Coote writes, the original building was “curved and planned at an angle to expose rooms to the prevailing Gulf breeze from the southeast.”

Ayres also designed the Atkinson-McNay home as a celebration of indoor and outdoor living. Besides a gorgeous inner courtyard, Ayres had a “meticulous interest in comfort in subtropical San Antonio,” and designed the house to integrate interior rooms with gardens using doors, windows, loggias, and porches.

“Look at the materials they use, the way the air flows, the city’s climate, it’s not just style, it makes sense about how the building is organized inside,” Valentine says. “It’s more about the basic architecture rather than copying the look.”

Besides a talent for architectural design, Ayres had two other things that were critical to his success: timing and communication. The turn of the century brought an influx of new wealthy residents to San Antonio, many of whom eschewed the Tony King William area to largely undeveloped “suburbs” such as Olmos Park and Monte Vista. These newcomers were introduced serendipitously with the launch of Ayres Architecture, which he founded in 1898.

Even his work at the Atkinson-Mcnay house came after Ayres heard a rumor that wealthy oil heiress Marion Coogler-McNay was moving to San Antonio and so he preemptively wrote her a letter. If you give us an idea of ​​your requirements, Iris wrote to the heiress, we would be happy to send you some drawings.

“He obviously had very good connections,” Valentine says.

It is considered a tower
The lighthouse-like “Taj Mahal” tower, or Building 100 at the San Antonio-Randolph Joint Base, is a feature of many Art Deco designs. The historic building was completed in 1931 and is considered an architectural treasure in San Antonio in the Art Deco style.John Davenport/San Antonio Express News

The Alamo Legacy

hThe work extended beyond the residential streets of San Antonio, and beginning in the 1920s Ayres began to take on more commercial projects, including the iconic Smith Young Building in 1926 and the aforementioned “Taj Mahal” in 1931. Contracts with the state Texans have taken him outside the Alamo city limits, with projects across the state, including the remodel of the Texas State Capitol.

By his death in 1969, he had designed many courts in Texas, helped pass legislation, write books, and was still in business at the age of 96 when he died.

What places Ayres among the masters of architecture of his day was not his profusion or mastery, but his ability to find and adapt what was beautiful. His designs, whether Craftsman, English Tudor, or Mediterranean, remained true to their style but built for life in south central Texas. By designing buildings for real life, he actually helped shape the perfect look for San Antonio.

Look at the material [the Ayres] Use, the way the air flows, and the city’s climate, it’s not just style, it’s logical about how the building is organized inside. Valentine explains that it’s more about the basic architecture rather than copying the look.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Coates, who wrote, “Attlee had a special talent for understanding what those who created the patterns found beautiful.”



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