Many familiar with Fort Worth history recognize such names as James J. Kane, Marshall R. Sanguinet, Carl Staats, or Wyatt C. Hedrick, all early Fort Worth architects who designed many notable buildings in North Texas. There is even an Arlington Heights street named for Sanguinet.
The name Barbara Friedman does not easily spring to mind. Yet, she was a pioneer in her own right – the second female licensed architect in the state of Texas, who practiced in Texas and New Mexico.
Born in 1914, Barbara had a creative spirit with a special interest in watercolor painting and color theory. She was also an expert horsewoman and enjoyed travel, especially to remote villages in Mexico. Friedman studied architecture at the University of Texas, where she was honored for a garden shelter design.
After marrying Phillip Tocker in late 1934, Barbara began her architectural career in 1935, handling drafting and general design for El Paso architect Percy McGhee. One of her first design projects, done in collaboration with McGhee, was an innovative “Little House” for the El Paso Girl Scouts.
The couple returned to Fort Worth about 1936, and Barbara ran her own architectural practice in Fort Worth for six years before becoming an associate with Hubert Hammond Crane. Architecture was a tough field for a woman because it was essentially a good old boy network, but she had a mentor and strong backer in her father, noted contractor Harry B. Friedman.
Barbara Friedman’s residential designs were on the forefront of modern regional Texas architecture, a style first developed by noted architect David R. Williams. If the houses look familiar to us today, it is because they are the forerunners of the ubiquitous ranch style homes built everywhere in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Modern Texas regional houses — including the ones that Barbara designed early in her career — incorporated the traits of Texas folk or vernacular buildings, including the use of native materials, and plans that maximized ventilation and protection from the harsh pre-air-conditioning Texas environment. They were modern because they did not look back to historic Colonial, Tudor, Spanish Colonial, or Renaissance styles.
Barbara’s best house from this period is her own home on Halloran, completed in 1938. She also designed a home in Berkeley, one at 2410 Jacksboro Highway that no longer stands, and a duplex on West Fifth Street.
Barbara and Phillip Tocker divorced in 1947, and she moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the early 1950s, when she married Gilbert Eggert. There she designed her own studio and was part of the team that designed, built, and decorated the innovative Western Skies Motor Hotel. Barbara returned to Fort Worth during the late 1960s, where she took back her maiden name and lived to be 100, still creative through her painting, gardening, and knitting.
Unfortunately her architectural records were not preserved, so there are likely many more Barbara Friedman-designed houses in Fort Worth than the handful that are known. If readers know of a Barbara Friedman-designed house or building, please contact [email protected] (monitored through Aug. 1, 2021). The work of this pioneer female architect deserves to be remembered.
Carol Roark is an archivist, historian, and author with a special interest in architectural and photographic history who has written several books on Fort Worth history.