FINN, ALFRED CHARLES
FINN, ALFRED CHARLES (1883–1964). Alfred Charles Finn, architect, was born in Bellville, Texas, on July 2, 1883, the son of Edwin E. and Bertha (Rogge) Finn. He grew up in Hempstead, where he attended public schools. In 1900 he moved to Houston and worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a carpenter, then as a draftsman. Between 1904 and 1913 Finn was employed by the architects Sanguinet and Staats, first in Dallas (1904–07), then in the firm's head office in Fort Worth (1907–12), and finally in its Houston office (1912–13). Finn began independent practice in Houston in 1913. His first job was to supervise construction of the Rice Hotel, designed by the St. Louis architects Mauran, Russell, and Crowell for the Houston entrepreneur, Jesse H. Jones. This began his life-long association with Jones, Houston's foremost real estate developer and builder. During the first years of his practice Finn designed a variety of building types. These included the ten-story Foster Building (1914), for newspaper publisher Marcellus E. Foster, and the adjoining Rusk Building (1916), for Jesse Jones; large houses for Sid Westheimer (1920) and Walter W. Fondren (1923) in Montrose, Earl K. Wharton in Shadyside (1920), and Sarah Brashear Jones in Courtlandt Place (1921); the Humble Oil and Refining Company's first retail service station (1918, demolished); the Melba Theater in Dallas (with W. Scott Dunne, 1921, demolished) for Jesse H. Jones and John T. Jones, and buildings in Shreveport, Wharton, Bellville, and Sealy. By the mid-1920s Finn had become Houston's leading commercial architect, producing skyscraper office buildings, hotels, retail stores, and theaters in the downtown business district. For Jones he designed a seventeen-story addition to the Rice Hotel (1926), the sixteen-story Lamar Hotel and adjoining Metropolitan Theater (1926; demolished), the Loew's State Theater (1927; demolished), and the tallest building constructed in Texas in the 1920s, the thirty-seven-story Gulf Building (1929, with Kenneth Franzheim and J. E. R. Carpenter). Finn's office produced the eleven-story Kirby Building (1927) for John H. Kirby; large houses for William L. Moody III in Galveston (1927) and Ross S. Sterling at Bay Ridge (1928), and such institutional buildings as the Houston Light Guard Armory (1925), the Pilgrim Building (c. 1928, demolished), and St. Paul's Methodist Church (1930). His firm collaborated with the Fort Worth architect Wyatt C. Hedrick on the Worth Hotel and Worth Theater (1928), the eighteen-story Electric Building and Hollywood Theater (1929), and the nineteen-story Fair Building (1930) in downtown Forth Worth. Finn's office designed major buildings in Galveston and Brenham. During the early years of the Great Depression, Finn was able to secure such substantial commissions as the Forest Hill Abbey mausoleum in Kansas City, Missouri, (1931) and the fifteen-story Peoples National Bank Building in Tyler (1932).
Coinciding with Jesse Jones's move from business into government in the 1930s, Finn obtained some of the most prominent publicly financed building commissions in Texas. Under the auspices of the Public Works Administration, his office designed the Sam Houston Coliseum and Music Hall (1937), the twelve-story Jefferson Davis Hospital (1937, with Joseph Finger, the United States Post Office, Courthouse, and Customhouse in Galveston (1937, with Andrew Fraser), a twelve-building dormitory complex at Texas A&M College (1940), and the 570-foot tall San Jacinto Monument (1939). Jones was appointed to the board of Reconstruction Finance Corporation and went on to serve as FDR's secretary of commerce from 1940 to 1945. Subsequently, Finn became an architectural supervisor for the Federal Housing Administration. During World War II Finn designed the 1,000-bed, 37-building U.S. Naval Hospital complex in Houston (1945, subsequently the Veterans Administration Hospital, demolished). Finn's office participated in the postwar building boom that occurred in Houston, designing the twenty-four-story City National Bank Building for Judge James A. Elkins (1947), the Ezekiel W. Cullen Building at the University of Houston (1950), the downtown specialty store of Sakowitz Brothers (1951), and the suburban headquarters building of the Great Southern Life Insurance Company (1952). It also produced the ten-story First National Bank Building in Longview (1956). Finn designed two hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, the Arabia Temple Crippled Children's Hospital (1952) and Ben Taub Hospital (1963, with H. E. Maddox and C. A. Johnson). Controversy in 1953 over an earlier version of what became Ben Taub Hospital led to serious financial reversals for Finn, after he was unable to collect fees for preparing a full set of construction documents. This was followed by a stroke he suffered in December 1953 that left him partially paralyzed. Finn maintained his practice until his death, but his participation in its day-to-day operations was limited.
Finn's architecture was stylistically conservative. It was abreast of current trends, but never at the forefront. After the late 1910s Finn seems to have delegated design responsibility to his associates, notably H. Jordan MacKenzie, who had a significant independent career in New Orleans between 1904 and 1916. MacKenzie worked with Finn between 1920 and 1940. Victor E. Johnson, who was with Finn between 1928 and 1952, also did design work, as did Robert C. Smallwood, who was in the office between 1923 and 1928. Other longtime associates were Milton R. Scholl, J. Russ Baty, and Ernest L. Shult. Finn's eldest son, Alfred C. Finn, Jr., joined the firm in 1934. Finn served twice as a trustee of the Houston Independent School District. He was also a member of the first City of Houston Planning Commission. Finn belonged to the Gray Lodge No. 329, the York and Scottish Rite bodies, the Arabia Temple Shrine, the Rotary Club, and the Houston Club. He joined the American Institute of Architects in 1920 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1949. Finn was a member of St. Paul's Methodist Church. In 1909 he married Mary Elizabeth Riley. They were the parents of two sons. Alfred C. Finn died in Houston on June 26, 1964, and is buried in Forest Park Cemetery. His papers are deposited at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center of the Houston Public Library.
Jay C. Henry, Architecture in Texas, 1895–1945 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993). Houston Post, June 27, 1964. Michael E. Wilson, Alfred C. Finn, Builder of Houston (Houston Public Library, 1983). Steven Fenberg, Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011). Bascom Nolly Timmons, Jesse H. Jones, the Man and Statesman (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1956). Jesse H. Jones with Edward Angly, Fifty Billion Dollars: My Thirteen Years with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (1932–1945) (New York: Macmillan Company, 1951).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Stephen Fox, "Finn, Alfred Charles," accessed May 25, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffi32.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on August 17, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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