Carleton Adams, Architect

Many of us are familiar with the elegant residential designs of Atlee Ayres, but fewer of us are familiar with the work of another very talented San Antonio architect of the early twentieth century, Carleton Adams.

Adams career spanned the years between 1910 and 1960, and his firm, Adams and Adams, Architects, was responsible for much of what we find charming in San Antonio today. Carleton Adams was the son of Jay Adams, developer of the Laurel Heights subdivision (now part of Monte Vista Historic District.) He grew up in the fine Queen Anne style home at 505 Belknap. He was educated at Columbia University, and upon graduating joined with his uncle, Carl Adams, to form the firm Adams and Adams.

One of their first commissions was the Guy Combs House (c. 1913) at 125 West Summit. This house combines Beaux Arts and Prairie School design elements in an interesting way that reflects the architects efforts to resolve the two schools of design. Their next major project was the Big House at the King Ranch (c. 1913-1915). The Adams based this design on Mr. Kleberg’s memory of an impressive “casa grande” he had once seen at a Mexican hacienda. With its stucco walls, arches and tiles, tropical patio, tower, murals, and stained glass, the house has an undeniably strong romantic appeal, and has inspired much Texas mythology, including Edna Ferber’s novel, “Giant”.

Carl Adams died in 1919, and Carleton continued to work under the firm name for the rest of his life. In the 1920’s, he designed a number of fine houses in the newly popular Spanish Colonial Revival style. Many can be found in the Monte Vista Historic District. The Stowers House at 131 West Lynwood, the Walthall House at 242 West Lynwood, and the Baumberger House at 325 West Lynwood are especially fine examples of his work, combining modern convenience and construction with a strong romantic reference to San Antonio’s Spanish heritage and culture.

In 1929, Adams was engaged by Mr. Baumberger to design the San Antonio Zoological Gardens. This early portion of the zoo included the innovative barless bear pits, naturalistic settings which allow an intimate, unobstructed, and safe view of the animals, and continue to delight zoo-goers today.

The Crash of 1929 brought an end to the big house business for a while. Adams moved into public sector work. His design for Thomas Jefferson High School (c. 1930-1932) displays rich Spanish Baroque detail and decoration. It is a much loved building, especially among the Jeff alumni.

In the 1940’s, Adams was appointed by the State of Texas to serve as Campus Architect at A&M University in College Station. At about this time he was joined in the firm by his son, Carleton Adams, Jr. and once again there were two Adams in the firm. Adams was also a fine landscape painter. Some of his works can be found in the SAMA collection.

Carleton Adams was honored by the American Institute of Architects in 1963, when he was made Member Emeritus of that organization. His work stands as an important contribution to the history and identity of San Antonio and Monte Vista Historic District. In his best work, he was successful in his efforts to achieve a regional Texas architecture, one of modern construction and convenience, one suitable to the people and the climate, and one that also remembers the past with affection.

Cee Parker

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Monte Vista Historical Association
PO Box 12386
San Antonio, Texas 78212