Frank G. Parker House

1950 – One of the earliest houses built in Laurel Park, this small house has retained its architectural integrity to an astonishing degree and shows John York’s inventive genius at its fullest. Exploiting a grade change between the high point of the site, along the rim of the bluff that descends to the Arroyo Colorado, and the low point at S. Parkwood Drive, a grade change so subtle that it might otherwise be imperceptible, York introduced a split-level between the street-facing reception rooms and the arroyo-facing bedrooms. He then translated this split section into a complex interplay of ceiling levels in the living room. York’s insertion of clerestory windows between the stepped roof planes brings daylight into the living room while also protecting it from the harsh west sun. The living room is actually on the wrong corner of the house climatically: the northwest corner. York’s spatial juggling was meant to ensure access to the prevailing breeze and daylight, while mitigating the impact of late afternoon sun and heat, as the house, like most of Cocke, Bowman & York’s houses, was not designed with air-conditioning.

Note that where the split-level occurs, York also introduced his most complex ceiling sectional overlay. Note also how the closets in the master bedroom are cantilevered out beyond the raised floor slab in the bedroom wing, visible from the east-facing windows in the dining area. This was to prevent the build-up of mildew. The thin insulated roof deck carried on a frame of compound wood beams and skinny steel pipe columns, the thin Roman brick curtain walls, and the awning windows are characteristic of York at this point in his career. His teasing intimation of exposure is evident in his use of a wall of glass block in the bathroom and in the obscured glass panel next to the front door.

Frank Parker, the original client for this house, was a building contractor who served one term as mayor of Harlingen in the 1950s. He was one of a number of contractors who commissioned York to design their houses.

Text courtesy of Rice University Professor Stephen Fox

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