Considered “a gentleman from start to finish,”native-born Atlanta architect Clement J. Ford continued the tradition of classical architecture that became the city’s hallmark early in the 20th century.
While many of his peers shifted away from residential architecture and embraced modernism, Ford’s work helped keep the classical flame alive in Atlanta for four decades and—while his work may not have been as grand as some—played a significant role as Buckhead developed into the area that we now know.
Born in 1907, Ford studied architecture at Georgia Tech before continuing his education at Columbia University, like other notable Atlanta architects such as Neel Reid and Philip Shutze. Ford then remained in New York and worked for nationally known architects William Lawrence Bottomley and Dwight James Baum before returning to Atlanta.
In 1938, Ford received the Edward Langley Scholarship to travel and study public housing in Europe—the first Southerner to ever earn this award. Afterward, he returned to Atlanta and worked for Burge and Stevens, which was designing the nation’s first public housing project, Techwood Homes.
No other Atlanta architect seems as connected to a piece of property as Ford is to 240 West Andrews Drive; he lived there for some 50 years, raising his family, building his home and running his business.When the Fords purchased the property, it had a small summerhouse built in the 1930s and another small structure that served as his studio. Ford designed and had the “big house” built in 1952. Over time, his office would move to the summerhouse and then to the basement of the main house. The house still stands today, although it’s been altered by two bay windows and other additions.
The architect always operated a small practice, focusing on traditional residential design. With few employees and low overhead, Ford could accept
only the commissions he enjoyed and was passionate about. While Ford was never part of a large firm, he fit the Atlanta architect mold in almost every other way. His education at Georgia Tech and Columbia, his military service in World War II, his Episcopal faith and his membership in numerous social clubs made him the perfect keeper of Atlanta’s gentleman architect tradition.
Local landscape architect Edward Daugherty became acquainted with Ford in the late 1960s, and the two designers collaborated on numerous projects beginning with the renovation of the Grant Mansion into the Cherokee Town Club. When asked why a client would choose Ford over one of his competitors—who, for many years, would have been Lewis Crook or James Means—Daugherty says “If you wanted a home, Clem was your choice. If you wanted a showplace, you chose someone else.”
Ford didn’t typically have the grand lots and large commissions that many of his predecessors enjoyed; many of his commissions were one-story homes built on lots that had been subdivided from grand estates. Like Ford himself, his houses have a relaxed elegance and a human scale that’s both comfortable and appealing. He was ahead of his time in recognizing the lifestyle changes of the post-servant era and adapted his traditional taste to modern living, focusing attention on the kitchen and other less-formal areas.
After World War II, when classicism in Atlanta waned, Ford kept the fledgling style alive until its resurgence in the 1980s. Wright Marshall is a frequent speaker and writer on Atlanta’s historical architects, with Georgia’s classical architecture serving as his primary passion and inspiration. Marshall is the owner of Revival Construction, which specializes in the renovation and restoration of older homes. Having grown up in nearby Griffin, Marshall graduated from Woodward Academy and Washington and Lee University, where he studied business and art history.