Pioneer Texas Architects - F. E. "Ernst" and Oscar Ruffini - 1870 - 1917

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For a period of several years, from 1879-1884,  Ernst and Oscar Ruffini worked together.  However,  they were temperamentally and professionally different. Ernst was entrepreneurial and outgoing, two traits that helped him make advantageous business contacts. Oscar was congenial, though reserved and somewhat of an introvert. Both brothers shared a talent for architectural design and engineering, but each of them expressed their technical skills differently. Ernst excelled at design while Oscar was the better draftsman and engineer. Ernst designed over forty buildings in his short nine-year career. These projects included four state institutions and 11 courthouses. Oscar's projects numbered almost ninety. Although he focused on commercial and residential buildings, he also designed several courthouses and schools.

Although Ernst was not an innovative designer, he was familiar with both classical styles and the popular styles of his day. He skillfully employed this architectural vocabulary following conventional design standards. For his ornate commercial  buildings, he used four segments. The first segment included the doors and display windows. The second level included a series of transom windows, still in the first story,  for the purpose of permitting more light to enter the interior. The third level of the building  corresponded to either the remaining wall of a one-story building or to the second and higher stories of taller structures.  The fourth level included a cornice as well as either protective or decorative elements on the top. [Hancock building, for example]. Ernst's preferred style for courthouses was the French Second Empire style. A hallmark of an Ernst Ruffini design was a mansard roof, a distinctive element of this architectural style. A good example of this style is the Blanco County courthouse.

Oscar Ruffini brought professional expertise in design and engineering to the town of San Angelo. He did not consider himself to be a first-rank architect, but he designed many important commercial and residential buildings in the city. His main concern was to build attractive buildings that were both sound and functional. His sparing use of architectural detail reflects both the preferences and financial resources of his clients. It may also indicate a desire to suit his building style to the scale and economic level of the prosperous small town environment. An Oscar Ruffini store and office building from the mid-1880s to the mid-1890s  was comprised of two stories, built of native stone or a plain frame building with the standard four-level façade of that era.  He often specified iron pilasters or other decorative elements for the front of the building. His residences, many of them using the popular Queen Anne cottage style, were enlivened by the imaginative use of ornamental detail work

F. E. "Ernst" Ruffini Buildings

image of Hancock bldg front elevation#134, Hancock Building, Austin, Texas, [1880?]

Designed in Ernst's preferred architectural style for commercial building, Renaissance Revival. This was a very  popular style for commercial buildings from the 1860s to the 1880s, because of its allusion to the grand palaces of Italian merchant princes. Limestone was used for the façade, and galvanized iron for the cornices and pediments to create an elegant appearance. The lobby included an eight by twelve foot skylight.  The double doors  in the canted corners and second bay were grained to resemble black walnut.  Ernst "texanized" the structure by using rusticated stone work on the first story and specifying a tin roof that was to be painted "Venetian red" or "princess brown". This building was one of the most prestigious business addresses in Austin. Compare this design with Oscar's Veck-Sterret Bank, and note the differences.


City hall and school building Rockdale Texas#227, City hall and school building, Rockdale, Texas, [1883]

This combination public building and school incorporates restrained use of classical architectural elements such as Corinthian pilasters, arched brick ornamentation over the windows, and use of dentilling under the bell tower. Several roof elevations and string course brick work further define and give visual interest to the facade. Compare this design with Oscar's Coleman School.


St. Mary's Academy south elevation#253, [St. Mary's Academy], Austin, Texas, [1883]

This building was of a fairly plain design. It is a white limestone building 130 feet wide and 60 feet deep. The design called for an H-plan. The main section was four stories high with a plain Mansard roof. Steps led to the principal entry on the second floor. The wings were three stories high, and the chamfered corners at the front ressembled an apse, a traditional Catholic church design. In the pediment above the main entry there was a circle window. This motif was repeated in the gable that projected from the front of each wing.  To add some interest to the plain exterior, Ernst designed string courses. He specified slate for the roof, but it is not known whether this material or wood shingles or tin were finally used. Compare this design to Oscar's Southern Presbyterian Church .


Blanco County Courthouse north elevation#303, Blanco County Courthouse, Blanco, Texas, [1885?]

The Blanco County courthouse is considered to be an outstanding example of Ernst's use of the French Second Empire style, and perhaps the best of his courthouse designs. Ernst used this architectural style to design eleven Texas courthouses. It was said that an Ernst Ruffini courthouse could be recognized by its mansard roofs, a hallmark of his courthouse designs. Classical details such as the arched pediments, Corinthian capitals, and dentilling convey an air of elegance and dignity that is suitable to this important public building. Compare with Oscar's Turn Verein.


Oscar Ruffini Buildings

VeckSterrett bank front elevation#4, [Veck-Sterrett] bank, [1884]

The Veck-Sterrett bank is one of Oscar Ruffini's most notable designs. It was an early commission and the first bank to be built in San Angelo. The building also included a store and offices. This bank uses a common design concept for late nineteenth century banks. It is a two-story native stone building featuring a canted corner which makes the entry visible from any direction. The facade is plain, marked by the use of a slightly arched pediment over the main entry, and a second pediment to demarcate the door of a retail store on the side of the building. The only other decorative element is the use of a bracketed cornice. The building front was two bays wide, and the side of the building was five bays deep. To provide shade to the interior, a flat-roofed gallery with a saw-tooth edged awning wrapped around the entire building.


Coleman School Coleman TexasSchool: Coleman School, Coleman, Texas, [1888]

Contrast the simplicity of this school's design with the Rockdale school.  There is a minimum of exterior architectural detail. The windows have a horizontal border at the top, with the exception of a double-arch window above the main entry door that features brick detailing, and an arched main entry door surrounded by cut limestone stonework. There are no pilasters or dentilling to add visual interest, or to visually mark the difference between the first and second stories.


Southern Presbyterian Church#35, Southern Presbyterian Church, San Angelo, undated

Although not architecturally significant, this church is of historical significance because it represents the establishment of organized religion in San Angelo. The church is built in the Eastlake style. Structurally, it employs the use of cross bracing and prominent horizontal and ertical elements. Decorative shingles was the other typical feature of this style. The most significant decorative element of this church is a quatrefoil window placed above the entry. Other features include visible cross bracing in the exterior walls and a spindle balustrade in the belfry, both of which were typical Eastlake elements.


Turn Verein San Angelo TexasRecreation Hall, Turn Verein, San Angelo, Texas [undated]

This design is for a recreation hall called a "Turn Verein," a popular social gathering place for many German-American citizens in San Angelo. This was a one-story plain frame building, with no distinctive or ornamental architectural design elements. It housed a bowling alley in the right rear of the building. It also featured a large space for exercise and social events, a ladies meeting room and water closets for men and women. There were two additions to the original specifications dated 1893.

Page last modified: May 8, 2019