Briscoe, Birdsall Parmenas (1876–1971)

By: Stephen Fox

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

Updated: September 20, 2016

Birdsall P. Briscoe, architect, was born on June 10, 1876, in Harrisburg, Texas, the son of Andrew Birdsall and Annie Frances (Paine) Briscoe. He was the grandson of Andrew Briscoe and the great-grandson of John R. Harris, founder of Harrisburg. He grew up on his parents' ranch near Goliad and attended San Antonio Academy, Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University), and the University of Texas. During the Spanish-American War Briscoe served in the United States Army Infantry as a sergeant; he subsequently served as a major in the army during World War I.

He learned architecture through apprenticeships with the Houston architects C. Lewis Wilson and Lewis Sterling Green. After a brief partnership with Green (1909–11), Briscoe began independent practice in 1912. From 1922 until 1926 he was in partnership with Sam H. Dixon, Jr. From 1919 until his retirement in 1955, Briscoe shared an office with Maurice J. Sullivan. Although from time to time he collaborated with both Dixon and Sullivan on nonresidential commissions, Briscoe was best known for his elegantly composed and detailed houses.

He established his reputation as an exceptional designer at the outset of his career. His aptitude for disciplined formal composition and correct, scholarly rendition of historic detail placed him at the forefront of the eclectic trend in Houston architecture during the second decade of the twentieth century. Briscoe's finest houses, designed between 1926 and 1940, exhibit the array of historical architectural styles characteristic of American eclectic architecture and are distinguished by the architect's gift for harmonious proportion and full-bodied ornamental detail.

He worked extensively in the Houston neighborhoods of Courtlandt Place, Shadyside, Broadacres, and River Oaks. Among his clients for houses were William Lockhart Clayton (1917), W. T. Carter (1920), R. Lee Blaffer (1920), Walter H. Walne (1925), Burdine Clayton Anderson (1928), Robert W. Wier (1928), Milton R. Underwood (1934), Wirt A. Paddock (1936), I. H. Kempner, Jr. (1936), and Dillon Anderson (1938). Outside Houston, Briscoe's best-known project was the remodeling of the Patton-Varner House near West Columbia (see VARNER-HOGG PLANTATION STATE HISTORIC PARK) for Ima and William Clifford Hogg in 1920.

Briscoe married Ruth Dillman in 1927. He joined the American Institute of Architects in 1921 and was elected a fellow of the institute in 1949. From 1934 until 1941 he served as district officer for South Texas of the Historic American Buildings Survey. He was the author of two western adventure novels, In the Face of the Sun (1934) and Spurs from San Isidro (1951). He was a parishioner of Christ Church. He died in Houston on September 18, 1971, and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Goliad.

James Charles Susman, The Architecture of Birdsall Parmenas Briscoe (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1979).

  • Architecture
  • Architects
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Stephen Fox, “Briscoe, Birdsall Parmenas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

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November 1, 1994
September 20, 2016

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