Now more than ever, in part due to the contemporary “makers” movement, we seem to have a keen awareness of functional design—how space transforms your appreciation of detail, nature, and life, essentially.
William “Willie” Riddle Ward, Jr. (1890–1984), one of the most notable Southern architects in history, built a career on these ideas. And he was prolific—having designed more than 133 residential and commercial structures in the state of South Carolina alone. Born in Eutaw, Alabama, Ward was a graduate of Auburn University. Like many young architects of his time, he went for graduate studies in New York City, where he was employed by the architectural firm Hill and Stout while attending Columbia University. World War I interrupted his studies, but luckily for Ward, he was stationed in Paris throughout his military service. During that time, he attended classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the renowned art and design school that claims legendary artists like Monet and Renoir among its alumni. Cubism and other modern movements were in full swing by this time, and Ward got the opportunity to experience these innovations juxtaposed with the Neoclassical architecture for which Paris has become so famous.
ENGLISH CLASS // In 1916, Ward designed this Greenville home at 205 East Park Drive for William Ellsworth Phelps, owner of the Piedmont Shoe Company. It is one of the architect’s first residential designs in the Tudor Revival style.
Upon his discharge from the military, he remembered what his friend and Greenville architect Haskell Martin told him: the Southern town posed excellent opportunities for young and talented architects. Ward moved to Greenville and established a partnership with Martin, which lasted until 1925, when Ward opened up his own practice. He continued to work in Greenville until 1957, when he moved back to his hometown in Eutaw, Alabama, upon his retirement.
Ward maintained a versatile spirit of eclecticism throughout his career, and while he tended to switch effortlessly back and forth between architectural styles, two common threads can be found in all of his residential designs: his respect for the land upon which a home is built, and his insistence upon architecture’s compatibility with the natural landscape. Perhaps it’s the legendary Southern connection to the land that drove his design philosophy in this direction. Perhaps Ward’s designs exemplify a larger trend toward park-like residential landscapes during the rst few decades of the twentieth century. Regardless of its root, this design practice would have lasting in uence upon Southern residential architecture into the twenty-first century.
Although Ward designed many notable commercial structures, including the Greenville Elks Lodge on the corner of East North and North Brown streets, many of them have since been demolished, such as the Tyler and City hospitals in Greenville. Most of his residential designs, for which he is most famous, are still standing and have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Throughout his 41-year tenure in Greenville, Ward was known for his partiality toward the Tudor, Classical, and Colonial Revival styles popular during the first half of the twentieth century. He insisted on using high-quality materials with meticulous attention to detail, and although his designs follow many tenets of their respective stylistic categories, Ward’s signature is present in his individually designed moldings and millwork.
One home that represents Ward’s take on the Tudor Revival style is in the East Park Historic District at 205 East Park Drive. Situated within the broader Gothic Revival style, typical Tudor Revival homes display a distinctively European feel with a general set of architectural characteristics, including arched doorways and windows, exposed wooden beams, gabled roofs, slight asymmetry, decorative patterning, brick buttresses, and soaring, angled ceilings. Tudor Revival homes seem to recall smaller, residential versions of French and English Gothic cathedrals (think Notre Dame in Paris), much like 205 East Park, one of Ward’s first commissions while working alongside Haskell Martin.
Designed in 1916 for William Ellsworth Phelps, owner of Piedmont Shoe Company in downtown Greenville, 205 East Park is significant as an excellent example of early twentieth-century Tudor Revival vernacular architecture, possessing many of the characteristics mentioned above. Perhaps most evident from the exterior are the L-shaped, gabled footprint, the arched entryway, the latticed windows, and the brick buttresses. Ward’s design also possesses an extensive amount of brick cladding on the façade, which is another hallmark of the Tudor Revival style. On the interior, the most notable Tudor characteristics are the exposed beams and rafter tails and the large, latticed windows that allow for plenty of light to stream through the rooms. One of the highlights of this home is the roof terrace, which has a brick parapet and flared buttresses. This terrace serves as Ward’s homage to the landscape and topography of the lot, a common theme throughout the East Park Historic District.
MIND YOUR MANORS // In 1937, Ward designed this Greer home at 211 North Main Street for prominent businessman Richard Perry Turner. The home’s antebellum character evokes the Classical Revival style, similar to Southern plantation houses.
Ward’s design at 205 East Park, although noteworthy, is an example of one of his early designs before he started his own architectural practice in 1925. After this date, he is most known for his Classical Revival designs of the late 1920s and 1930s for prominent Upstate families. Although many of Ward’s residential designs were centered in Greenville, he was also commissioned to build homes in the surrounding area. In 1937, Richard Perry Turner, known in Greer for his pro table wholesale and retail grocery business, hired Ward to design his home at 211 North Main Street in Greer after seeing his younger brother’s residence a short distance away at 305 North Main Street.
The R. Perry Turner house is an excellent example of Classical Revival residential architecture, a style popular throughout the South since well before the Civil War. The façade of Ward’s design harkens back to Southern antebellum plantation houses, and the inevitable remnant of Gone with the Wind’s Tara sifts through our memories. Perhaps the most obvious Classical Revival characteristic at the R. Perry Turner House is the central tetra-style (four- columned) portico with elements of the highly decorative Greek Corinthian order. The Greco-Roman style columns paired with the triangular pediment above recall iconic examples of ancient Classical architecture, such as the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, or the Pantheon in Rome. Additional characteristics of the Classical Revival style present in Ward’s design are a symmetrical plan with nearly identical side porches on either side of the home and Palladian windows. The home’s interior boasts a prominent foyer with a curved wall to accommodate a curved, cantilevered staircase with detailed scrollwork, cased archways, ornate mantle pieces, and chair rails with paneled wainscoting—all elements of the Classical Revival style.
As with his design at 205 East Park, Ward took great pains to showcase the beautiful topography of the surrounding landscape. The large, partially tree-canopied lawn frames the home in the center of a roughly 2.5 acre lot. The front walk is lined with boxwoods, and the rear of the home features private vegetable gardens hidden from view.
Ward returned to the East Park community throughout his career, and perhaps this is no coincidence, considering the compatible, symbiotic relationship between the neighborhood’s residential architecture and McPherson Park. Another Willie Ward design sits at 25 Harcourt Drive. Designed in 1940, it represents characteristics of the Colonial Revival style, such as prominent cross-gables and chimney, off-set entryway, brick veneering, polygonal bay windows, and a west-facing gable dormer. The one-and-a-half story floorplan is a reflection of how Ward modernized the classical rules of symmetry in his designs: rather than creating a “mirrored” composition, he seemed to be more interested in constructing an off-set yet balanced design compatible with the natural topography of the lot.
Willie Ward, by the end of World War II, had become one of the South’s most influential architects, highly praised for his various Revival-style designs and strict adherence to traditional principles. When he designed the Hugh Aiken House at 1 Parkside Drive in 1948, the next generation of Greenville-based architects had already been inspired by his work in residential architecture throughout the Upstate. Although one of his most famous designs, it is also one of the most eclectic, drawing from both Colonial and modern influences. The home was designed in 1948 and constructed in 1952 for Hugh K. Aiken, the president and treasurer of Piedmont Paint and Manufacturing Company. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
The Hugh Aiken House, constructed on an extensively landscaped lot of 4.9 acres on Parkside Drive at West Avondale Drive, sits two blocks from the North Main area. The design builds upon that of 25 Harcourt Drive and displays hallmark characteristics of the Colonial Revival style mentioned above. The design also represents, however, a departure from Ward’s otherwise strict adherence to Revivalist designs. Upon closer examination, one can’t help but infer that the influence of modern, post-war architecture is present at the Hugh Aiken House. For instance, it has an angled, one-and-a-half story footprint, and although design elements on the interior seem to be symmetrical, the exterior floor plan is rectangular, yet one-sided. Ward was proud of these design elements, and their employment re ected the future of residential design over the next several decades. In fact, according to Bob Farmer, one of Ward’s former associates, the architect considered the Hugh Aiken House his “modern house.”
Ward’s reference to modernism and the evident influence of his contemporaries is fitting in this particular setting. Broad Margin, designed in 1954, is one of only two homes in South Carolina designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Sitting within the same block as the Hugh Aiken House, it possesses many of the same characteristics, including the falling topography, numerous hardwood trees, and a creek. Although Ward’s self-proclaimed “modern house” is an unusual departure from his adherence to traditional Revivalist designs, it does maintain his insistence upon architectural compatibility with the lot’s configuration. The heavily wooded setting is highlighted, and the focal point of the home’s footprint is the small pond fed by natural springs, standing in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of downtown Greenville only a few steps away.
Today, what is perhaps most significant about Ward’s designs is their relevance. His homes are an excellent showcase of how middle- and upper-class young professionals responded to socio-economic changes of the first half of the twentieth century. It’s no secret that Greenville is embarking on a new era. In fact, many find it natural to draw comparisons between Ward’s Greenville— the textile giant of pre- and post- World War II—and the present Greenville: the simultaneous growth of the creative class along with the business sector. The ability to attract entrepreneurial industry innovators. The tendency to embrace an innovative spirit along with a nod to traditional practice, preserving Greenville’s identity as a truly Southern city.
However, there is also another pattern emerging. In the face of renewed interest in “downtown living,” we’re seeing increasingly more condominiums and urban housing designs emerge. Greenspace is becoming scarce, although public parks remain a priority. Maybe the new creative class can learn something from Ward—that compatibility with the land and timeless yet eclectic design comprise a recipe for an architectural legacy that stands the test of time.