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Center for Public History, University of Houston; University of Houston Libraries, University of Houston
This is an oral history interview with Steven Fox conducted as part of the Houston History Project. Stephen Fox is an architectural historian at Rice University, he discusses prominent Jewish architect Joseph Finger and his legacy to Houston architecture in the early twentieth century. Stephen Fox says Joseph Finger was an Austro-Hungarian Empire émigré. Fox suspects Finger came to Houston due to the city’s commercial prosperity, where Fox says Finger established himself as a trustworthy architect. Finger brought with him European architectural influences: Sezession, Art Deco, and Modernist. Finger incorporated these styles into buildings he designed in Houston such as: the Turn-Verein, Houston Temple of Congregation of Israel, and A.C. Burton Chrysler Company Sales and Service Building. Fox speaks of Alfred C. Finn, a contemporary architect of Finger, who was both a competitor and collaborator to Finger. The two architects worked on the Jefferson Davis Hospital. The architects were among a few city architects that pushed for modern architectural styles at the time that led away from the dominant styles of the 1920s such as the Georgian, Tudor, and Spanish. Fox talks about Finger designing the many buildings for the Houston Independent School District, one of the largest houses in Houston for James M. West, a wealthy Houston businessman, and the Houston City Hall building, his most prominent public building. Finger ran into controversy for his design of City Hall after a change in mayors. The new mayor publicly questioned Finger’s qualifications, however, Finger maintained support from city council and outlasted the term of the critical mayor. Fox says that the city hall building is conservative in design, yet its internal design use of modernistic techniques is a representation of Houston embracing the new. Fox also cites Finger’s work on the Houston Municipal airport as another public building exemplifying Finger’s modernistic design. Fox says Finger’s firm was closed in 1970 following his death by his business partner George Rustay. However, the firm Rustay, Martin, and Vale continued for some time the architectural style that Finger's firm had pioneered before gradually shifting to the modern architectural styles of the time. Many of Finger’s surviving buildings are now endangered, such as his home on Portland Place, or have been demolished, such as the Houston Turn-Verein. Fox believes that friendlier attitudes towards preservation in Houston that started in 1990s have helped protect Finger’s buildings and encouraged their repurposing, such as Texas State Hotel in downtown Houston or the Levy Store on Main Street, which became the Commerce Building.
Arts; Architecture; Fox, Stephen
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University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
Houston History Archives
Oral Histories from the Houston History Project
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Preservation Location: ark:/84475/pm42322d36b
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This item is accessible by: the public.