John Garth York, architect, was born on May 5, 1914, in Gainesville, Alabama, the son of Laura (Garth) and Andrew E. York. In 1923 his family moved to Fort Worth. York attended North Texas Agricultural College between 1933 and 1935 and graduated from the University of Texas with a B.S. in architecture in 1940. During his school years he worked for the State Parks Board and the architectural department of the National Youth Administration. From 1940 to 1941 he was a draftsman for the Austin architect Olin Boese. He then worked in the Houston office of the Austin Company. York served in the United States Air Force between 1943 and 1946. From 1946 to 1948 he was assistant professor of architecture at the University of Denver as well as a designer for the Denver architect G. Meredith Musick. In 1948 York moved to Harlingen, where from 1949 to 1954 he was in partnership with Walter C. Bowman and the San Antonio architect Bartlett Cocke in the firm of Cocke, Bowman, and York. York quickly established a reputation for the firm, designing inventive modern buildings that responded lyrically to the climatic conditions of the lower Rio Grande valley and made a virtue of the generally meager building budgets with which the firm had to work. The exposition of lightweight structural members and technologically produced building components, accented with brilliant color combinations, was the hallmark of York's style. Cocke, Bowman, and York's best-known buildings were the Casey Clinic, San Benito (1950); Crockett Elementary School, Harlingen (1950); the Lon C. Hill Memorial Library, Harlingen (1951); Clarke and Courts Building, Harlingen (1951); Ed Downs Elementary School, San Benito (1951); the Laurel Park Shopping Center and Service Station, Harlingen (1952, 1953, demolished); Klee Square retail and office center, Corpus Christi (1952, 1953); Bonham Elementary School, Harlingen (1953); and Ebony Heights Elementary School, Brownsville (1953). For the entrepreneur John McKelvey, York laid out the Harlingen subdivision of Laurel Park along the Arroyo Colorado. There he designed a series of dramatic modern houses, among them the McKelvey House (1948), the "House Designed for Living" (1949), the C. P. Thise House (1950), and York's own house (1952). The "House Designed for Living," the W. B. Uhlhorn residence, won a national merit award from the American Institute of Architects in 1951 for its design.
Following the dissolution of Cocke, Bowman, and York, York practiced independently in Harlingen and Corpus Christi until 1960. Among his best-known buildings of the late 1950s were the houses of Bernard Whitman and Antonio Cisneros, Jr., in Brownsville (1955); the Fairway Motor Hotel, McAllen (1956); the Narro-Sánchez Clinic, McAllen (1958); the Petroleum Club, Corpus Christi (1959, with Irwin Don Meyers); and the John Roberts Manufacturing Company plant and office building, Norman, Oklahoma (1960). In association with Olin Boese, York carried out a number of commissions for agencies of the United States government, notably the United States Border Station complex in Brownsville (1960). In 1960 York was appointed to the faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he taught until his death. York became professor of architecture in 1964 and was director of the school from 1962 to 1969. He also maintained an architectural practice in Norman, but did not subsequently design any buildings in the lower Rio Grande valley. York was married three times. His marriage to Beverly Brown ended in divorce in 1942. In November 1943 he married Tacia Catsinas of Houston. They had two sons and a daughter. Following their divorce in 1958, he married artist Shirley Marie Voekrodt in Mexico City. In 1951 York became a member of the American Institute of Architects. He served as president of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Chapter of the AIA in 1953. York had a charismatic personality that intensely affected his professional associates and clients. The compelling power of his enthusiasm and charm made it possible for him to produce radical modern buildings in an area with no prior history of vanguard architectural patronage. John Garth York died on February 7, 1980, at Norman, Oklahoma. His papers are deposited at the Architectural Drawings Collection of the University of Texas at Austin.