Chromaster, Charles Osborn (1891–1955)

By: Andrew Klooster

Type: Biography

Published: April 23, 2021

Updated: April 23, 2021


Charles Osborn Chromaster, architect, son of Charles J. Chromaster and Florence Aurella (Osborn) Chromaster, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on March 18, 1891. He learned architecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then worked for various architectural firms in Chicago and Milwaukee. At some point he married Vera Wells; they had two children, possibly a third child died in birth.

Chromaster came to Fort Worth on the heels of a disastrous extramarital affair that ended very publicly with criminal charges. The architect left his wife and children to live with Jeannette Gorman. When Chromaster spent the Thanksgiving holiday with his family, Gorman began to worry that he would leave her to return to his family. Events came to a head when Gorman took poison tablets following an argument with Chromaster on the night of  December 2, 1922. The suicidal outburst sent her to the hospital. When the police arrested Chromaster, the man declared that he was “sick of the whole business” and intended to return to his wife. Little came from the charges as Chromaster returned to his wife and moved to Fort Worth following the incident. The change of scenery did little to save the marriage, however, and Charles and Vera divorced in 1924.

Chromaster found personal and professional success in Fort Worth. He quickly married again, this time to Evelyn E. Holmes on November 26, 1925.  Upon arriving in Fort Worth, Chromaster went to work for the the W.G. Clarkson Company and eventually became chief designer under Wiley Gulick Clarkson. The two architects produced several projects together. One of the first of these projects was the W.I. Cook Memorial Hospital designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style utilizing limestone, green terra cotta roof tiles, and bronze gates to create an elegant and traditional look. The hospital opened on January 28, 1929, and was later renamed the W.I. Cook Children’s Hospital in 1952. Collaborations between the two architects produced various municipal projects during the New Deal, most notably the Municipal Airport Administration Building at Meacham Field and the North Side Senior High School in 1937. Both projects incorporated the elements of Art Deco that emphasized the simplicity of the austere PWA (Public Works Administration) Moderne Style. Clean lines, recessed windows, and sparse ornamentation emphasized the natural beauty of modern building materials with an eye to thrift. The renovation of the W.C. Stripling Department Store in 1937 as part of an effort to create a more unified and modern aesthetic on main street allowed the architects to display a broader mastery over the different styles of Art Deco by combining various elements of Zigzag, Classical, and Streamlined Moderne within the downtown retail location.

Chromaster struck out on his own in 1939. The architect designed many churches throughout Fort Worth during the next fifteen years, including the imposing Gothic Revival structure of St. Stephen Presbyterian Church on McPherson Avenue near Texas Christian University (TCU). After building the Ahavath Sholom Synagogue in 1952, Chromaster stated, “I have built 65 churches in the past ten years. I do it out of respect for religion. Building churches are to my mind practicing true architecture. This way I can contribute to the community.” Chromaster also notably designed the Glen Lake Methodist Camp along the Paluxy River at Glen Rose, Texas. Additionally, using limestone in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, he designed the West Berry Church of Christ, now the TCU Human Resources Building, at 2701 West Berry Street.

Chromaster also made a mark on home building in the Fort Worth area. He often spoke publicly regarding the challenges that faced architects when trying to effectively express a customer’s vague notions about function and style. Furthermore, Chromaster noted the unprecedented challenge architects faced in trying to accommodate the ever-expanding list of amenities that comfort demanded of the modern home, including refrigerators, television, air-conditioning, and central heating. The architect’s expertise in home building culminated in a position as the home building editor for Holland’s, the Magazine of the South through the 1940s and into the early 1950s.

Chromaster’s professional success translated easily into the professional organizations in which he participated. A founding member of both the Texas Society of Architects and the Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Architects, he led the Texas Society of Architects as president in 1940 and followed his previous employer, W.G. Clarkson, as president of the Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1949. Equally active in social clubs, Chromaster participated in the Fort Worth Masonic Lodge, the Fort Worth Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Southwestern Domestic Rabbit Association, and the Texas State Rabbit Breeders Association.

Charles Osborn Chromaster died suddenly in his Fort Worth home on Parker Henderson Road on July 29, 1955. After having taken briefly ill the day before, the architect died from an apparent heart attack. He was buried in the Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum in Fort Worth. The thirty years he spent designing buildings in Fort Worth, either under the tutelage of Wiley G. Clarkson or on his own, left a lasting impression on the city. Chromaster’s ideas about architecture permeated the built landscape of Fort Worth across the various homes, churches, and municipal projects he designed throughout his career.

Judith Singer Cohen, Cowtown Moderne: Art Deco Architecture of Fort Worth, Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988). Dallas Morning News, August 17, 1932; May 20, 1935; September 7, 13, 1940; December 5, 1950; March 4, 1951. Byrd Williams and Carol E. Roark, Fort Worth’s Legendary Landmarks (Fort Worth: Historic Preservation Council, 1995). Fort Worth Record-Telegram, June 25, 1926. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 17, 1924; July 12, 1925; March 10, 1932; March 13, 1933; September 23, 1945; September 23, 24, 1947; February 11, 23, 1948; May 28, 1950; September 29, 1950; February 23, 1951; April 8, 1951; July 30, 1955. Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, AR406, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Library. Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire and West-Central Wisconsin), February 9, 1988. Milwaukee Journal, December 4, 1922. St. Stephen Presbyterian Church, Architecture in Fort Worth (http://www.fortworth architecture.com/south/ststephen.html), accessed April 20, 2021. Texas Jewish Post,  April 12, 1951; September 11, 1952.

Categories:

  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Churches and Synagogues

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

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

Andrew Klooster, “Chromaster, Charles Osborn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 06, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/chromaster-charles-osborn.

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April 23, 2021
April 23, 2021

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