A letter from W. Mark Gunderson, AIA
Preston M. Geren, Jr., FAIA
( 1923 – 2013 )
Tracing it’s lineage back to 1892, with the formation of the firm Messer, Sanguinet, Messerin Fort Worth, and morphing into Sanguinet & Staats, then Wyatt C. Hedrick before PrestonGeren, Sr formed his firm; the Geren architectural legacy is arguably the primary ‘branch’in the tree of Fort Worth architectural firms. Perhaps only the Wilson / Patterson line has spun off as many other firms over time in the region. Certainly some of the most respected professionals practicing today began in the Geren firm or one of it’s successors.
If the raison d’etre for the American Institute of Architects is the manifestation of a certainprofessional standard within the discipline of Architecture, then the Geren family holds a singular place within this structure in Texas. And Preston M. Geren, Jr., as the third generation of the Geren legacy, brought considerable stature and vitality to an already highly-regarded and accomplished family.
The architecture school at Texas A&M was founded by his grandfather Dr. Frederick E. Giesecke in 1905 as the first formal curriculum in architecture in Texas. Dr. Giesecke held four engineering degrees and headed the program until 1912 before accepting the position as director of the new Department of Architecture at the University of Texas. He held the position in Austin until 1928 before he returned to Texas A&M to again chair the architecture program in addition to serving as College Architect until his retirement in 1940. Dr. Giesecke’s research in poured-in-place reinforced concrete was significant as was his interest in mechanical systems. He passed away in 1953, at the age of 84.
His son, Preston M. Geren, Sr. also graduated in Architecture, in 1912, from Texas A&M. He worked in partnership with his father in the firm Giesecke and Geren in Austin from 1914 to 1916, having already served as supervising architect at A&M for two years immediately following his graduation. During World War I he served in the French battlefields where he earned a Purple Heart and the Croix de Guerre. Upon his return to Austin in 1919 he worked for a contractor and then was professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture at Oklahoma State University before joining with Sanguinet, Staats & Hedrick in 1923 where he practiced as a chief structural engineer for 11 years and worked on several Fort Worth landmarks.
Geren, Sr. established his namesake firm in 1934. He was a charter member of the Texas Society of Architects and the Fort Worth Chapter of the AIA when formed in 1946, amongmany such professional honors. His son would serve as TSA president and receive it’s highest awards for service.
Preston M. Geren, Jr. ( born in 1923 ) attended Texas A&M University School of Architecture from 1941 to 1945 serving in the 3rd Army during his college years and also earning a Purple Heart, Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars and Combat Infantry Badge in European battlefields of World War II. Upon his return from Europe his degree was completed at Georgia Tech and he joined his father’s firm in 1949. The Geren firm remained in business until joining with CRS in 1982 and ultimately closing in 1987.
The list of major structures brought to life by the firm is too long to elaborate but Preston M. Geren, Jr. had said many times that the Kimbell Art Museum, for which his father (who died in 1969 during the project ) began as associate architect to Louis Kahn, was the “crown jewel” of his professional production. Despite the many tensions inherent in that project he held to the highest ethical positions and is no doubt responsible for its completion in present form.
The original working drawings for the project, as drawn by Geren’s firm, reside in Austin with the Alexander Architectural Archive; not in the Kahn Archive at the University of Pennsylvania as one might expect.
Preston Geren, Jr. had enormous precedent set by his father and grandfather. He married Colleen Edwards, the granddaughter of rancher Casswell Edwards, and introduced another level of stewardship, love and discipline into the family. Their children, now three more generations, continue to contribute to the public and professional standards set so high by those described above. All of this in addition to dozens of long-term community commit- ments outlined by others. He was recipient of the Texas A&M Distinguished Alumnus Award.
The loss of Preston M. Geren, Jr. at age 89 is the end of an era for Fort Worth architects, and a loss for architecture in broad. It is difficult to imagine another person ever occupying such a position among his peers in this place. He was remarkably humble and fair. His words carried the weight of time, integrity and experience. If the value of architecture is in such qualities being manifest in our built world, we have lost very much. Very much.