Yes, I know that the blog is Preservation in Mississippi and this house is in Arkansas, but Malvaney has posted about New Orleans multiple times so I have an excuse for this bit of mission drift. An aside every once in a while will not hurt anyone. Besides, this information is too interesting not to create a post about, and I have nowhere else to post it. Preservation in Mississippi is a one-off at the moment. Malvaney has not franchised it out, so there is no Preservation in Arkansas or Tennessee or Louisiana or Alabama (despite my occasional idle threats on that last one to inflict my acerbic writing about historic preservation on the Heart of Dixie) or any other Preservations popping up for every state and city like franchised Starbucks (though it would be something if that were the case).
After I had absorbed all I could about Robert Overstreet’s Champion Lodge in the book Small Homes in the New Tradition, I began reading the rest of it and became enamored not with the “name brand” Mid-Century Modern architects’ works in California or Florida (though some of them are fine), but with a house in Springdale, Arkansas by an architect I had never heard of before: William Oglesby. Although information about him online is quite sparse, through enough digging, I was able to cobble together an incomplete portrait of a seemingly talented but mostly forgotten architect.
James William Oglesby III was born on April 8, 1922 in Gravette, Arkansas. I have found nothing indicating why he chose architecture as his career; during World War II he worked in a completely different field, synthesizing penicillin in an Indianapolis military laboratory. He attended the University of Arkansas (though his obituary in Springdale’s The Morning News does not state whether he received a degree in architecture from there, which did not have a school of architecture until 1946, with fellow Arkansas architect and future University of Oklahoma colleague E. Fay Jones among the first students), but Oglesby earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas and New York School of Interior Design. In 1949 he joined the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture under Bruce Goff, where he wrote and directed the College’s graduate program. In 1951, he was joined at Oklahoma by Fay Jones. They would pilgrimage together to Taliesin West in 1952 for Easter weekend, where according to a 1960 Arkansas Gazette article, Wright told Jones to return home and teach as, “Arkansas is more un-spoiled than the rest of the country.” Oglesby stayed at the University of Oklahoma for a few more years, resigning as Associate Professor of Architecture, with tenure, in 1956. Commenters on the Mid Century Modern Arkansas Facebook page suggest that the resignation likely was in protest of Bruce Goff’s firing, given the timing of the two events. Professors usually do not resign from a tenured position without a very good reason.
The trail goes cold there. There is basically no information available online on the last fifty-three years of his life other than a few mentions. The most notable one is that he helped endow the Bruce Goff Professorship of Creative Architecture at the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture in 1999 as a donor and member of the steering committee. Oglesby was also, like basically all of Bruce Goff’s colleagues and acquaintances, a member of the Friends of Kebyar. His directory listing shows that he occupied his Springdale, Arkansas house (approximately) until he died. On October 3, 2009, Oglesby passed away, roughly five months after Robert Overstreet. Oglesby never married and had no children.
The house William Oglesby designed and lived decades in is a very complex design, particularly the roof. It is similar to the destroyed Eduardo Catalano House in Durham, North Carolina but instead of “simply” the hyperbolic paraboloid warped shell on the Catalano House, the Oglesby House has horizontal, sloped, and hyperbolic paraboloid warped, all “hollow construction, fully insulated and with wood finish on the underside” with the paraboloid sections enabling large overhangs over the glass portions of the façade. Like Frank Lloyd Wright and Fay Jones’s houses, Oglesby used thin, rough, irregular stone in combination with open sections of glass, with the street façade mostly unbroken stone. The private backyard portions of the house are nearly completely glass, with some stone veneer supports. From certain angles, the back roof “wings” are very reminiscent of Bruce Goff’s work, particularly how the Gryder House frames the backyard pool with roof “wings” and large amounts of glass.
The William Oglesby House is still extant at 1503 West Emma Avenue in Springdale (the people on the Mid Century Modern Arkansas Facebook page cannot seem to decide on the address, but Oglesby’s Friends of Kebyar directory listing shows that he lived at 1503, not 1527 or 1530). The house was in poor condition, apparently for several years, and has suffered the indignity of a severe remuddling in the past couple of years. The house was saved from complete demolition, but a comment on the MCM Arkansas Facebook page leads me to believe that “saved” is a relative word. A block down West Emma Avenue, at 1411, is the Tweedy House, another Oglesby design that has been exceptionally well preserved (with original custom furniture) by current owner, Robyn Puntch. Another nearby Oglesby designed house, the Tyson House at 1515 Circle Drive, has also been properly restored. I could find no information on other Oglesby designed houses; his work, seemingly, unfairly forgotten. Thankfully, Small Homes in the New Tradition chronicled the William Oglesby House, Champion Lodge of yesterday’s post, and other now lost or maligned houses in their original, unaltered state.