Born in the late 1920s, Ernest “Ernie” Jacks spent his childhood and teenage years in West Memphis, Arkansas just across the Mississippi River from Memphis. When he turned 18, he enlisted in the military as most of his friends and neighbors did in his community. It was the end of the war, and Jacks spent only a year or two in the military until he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1946 to attend the newly formed Department of Architecture at the University of Arkansas. It was there Jacks, with 16 other new students met and befriended another of Arkansas’ architectural treasures, Ernest Fay Jones, also one of the members of the class.
Until the 1950s, most architecture schools trained their students in the classic Beaux-Arts way of design and detailing. The new program at the University of Arkansas was an outlier, eschewing these old methods for the up and coming “modernist” movement that was a result of the explosion of construction necessary for housing all the returned war veterans to the United States.
In 1950, senior year of architecture school, the graduating class took on a commission for the Hantz family. Harold Hantz was the chairman of the Philosophy department at the University of Arkansas, and the project appears to have been a class project. Fay Jones is attributed as the lead architect with Ernie Jacks working in tandem to complete the working drawings.
The home typifies the type of modern architecture that was taught in the fledgling architecture program. The home is situated on the site in such a way as to take in the view of the Boston Mountains in the distance. An open floor plan and great panes of minimally interrupted glass also typify the modernist aesthetic. The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. You can view the nomination form here. The building has also been documented by the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) and resides in the Library of Congress. You can find their documentation here.
Another connection Jacks made while in Architecture school was with architect Edward Durell Stone. Stone was a critic in the architecture department and must have taken a shine to Jacks because, after graduation, Jacks went to work for Stone’s office in New York City, working on the medical school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Jacks’ job with Stone didn’t last long as Jacks was recalled into the Navy for several years where he found himself stationed in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
Upon discharge from the Navy, Jacks found himself in San Diego, California. He was offered a job working with Richard Neutra’s office, but he apparently didn’t like Neutra’s style and found himself in a job working for Craig Ellwood on the early Case Study houses in the mid-to-late 1950s. Ellwood’s influence on Jacks’ architectural style would be apparent in Jacks’ future designs.
After working for Ellwood in California, Jacks studied Architecture school in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma where he worked with Bruce Goff. After graduate school, Jacks returned to Arkansas to manage Edward Durell Stone’s Fayetteville office. It was there that Jacks was exposed to large commissions designed by Stone’s office such as the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D. C. and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. Working with Stone’s office kept Jacks on the road which didn’t always work well with the family he now had back in Fayetteville. Eventually, Jacks was offered a professorship at the University of Arkansas where he was an alum which kept him closer to home and gave him the ability to work on commissions in his home state of Arkansas.
The first house, the Chambers House, was built from 1963-1964. Located at 3200 South Dallas Street in Fort Smith, the Chambers family may have been referred to Jacks as their architect by Jacks’ former classmate, Fay Jones. The home is a modified H shape with the H set on its side; a carport forming the top end of the H, wrapping around a private two-story courtyard at the center. The home is set back off the street and Jacks, who also provided the landscape plan, created a formal walk to the home accentuated by large saucer planters. The house is wrapped in vertical swaths of western red cedar with large brick chimneys at both ends of the front façade. The windows at the front of the home are floor-to-ceiling slot windows of golden glass allowing for privacy on the street side. The courtyard and backside of the house all have large picture windows allowing for copious light and views towards the courtyard and wooded lot. The property even has a Jacks-designed two-story playhouse. (Author’s Note: SO COOL!)
The home is very modern in the use of open plan living with the kitchen at the very heart of the home. The den has a large vaulted ceiling with a skylight which is mimicked in the playhouse design. The children’s bedroom wing is connected both on the interior by a corridor with built-in cabinetry along its length as well as a balcony the runs the length of the wing and connects the bedrooms from the outside. The kitchen has all custom wood cabinetry of walnut matching all of the enormous numbers of built-ins around the home. The center of the kitchen is the cooktop and an indoor grill covered in grand style by a stainless-steel hood set on four posts around the island.
Find a house tour here that was made when the home was up for sale in 2017.
Alas, the Chamber’s family who, as Jacks put it, were the ideal client to work with, did not last long, only a few years in their new home before they moved on to Texas. They left their home to their church, and it has since changed hands only a few times, which has probably prevented any large modifications from happening to the home.
Jacks’ second home of note in Arkansas is the Dr. James Patrick House in Fayetteville, built from 1965-1966. It was listed on the National Register in 2017. Dr. Patrick was a medic in Japan during World War II and returned to study medicine and become a general practitioner, settling down in Fayetteville with his wife and family to a practice where he worked for 34 years. It was in this practice that Dr. Patrick met Jacks, a patient, which started the relationship and led to the construction of the home for the Dr. and Mrs. Patrick and their five children.
Mrs. Patrick had some very modern concepts for her home, including an open concept with the ability to watch the children from the kitchen along with a kitchen office to aid in the running of the family. The house was to be 3,000 s.f. and the Patricks’ original budget for the home was $40,000. With the design completed and tendered to bid, the house estimate ballooned to in excess of $73,000.
Much of the home’s design contains similarities to the Chamber’s home. A centrally located kitchen, a wing of bedrooms, indoor/outdoor space in the form of patios, and minimal windows to the front of the house to provide privacy for the family and a two-story patio on the rear.
The lot itself is sloping away from the road so that the front of the house appears built into the earth and is very long and low to the ground. The outside of the home is brick with wooden accents on the horizontal railing at the back patio. The brick is often brought indoors as well to add texture to the natural materials used inside the home.
Because of the grade, immediately upon entering, you must go down a set of brick stairs to enter the home. All rooms except for the breakfast area and family room can be found along this central spine with bedrooms to the left of the kitchen hub and dining and living rooms to the right. There is even a cozy loft space above the utility room to give the entry height.
Like the Chambers house, all the bedrooms open and are connected by a deck overlooking the rear of the house. There are significant amounts of walnut built-ins throughout the home, very similar to the cabinets found in the Chambers house. The rooms are much smaller, and the general plan is less open than at Chambers, but the kitchen and adjoining breakfast rooms overlook a lower story of the family room where Mrs. Patrick could watch the children. In fact, since the kitchen is the hub of the floor plan, Mrs. Chambers could easily keep an eye on all parts of the house from her one kitchen vantage point; one of her must-haves in discussion with Jacks.
Jacks continued practicing architecture and teaching at the university for many years, retiring from the University in 1995. Jacks was still going to the office every day until 2016. (Author’s Note: We should all be so lucky). Want to hear the definition of Mid-Century Modern from Ernie Jacks himself? Look no further. The word from a master of the period.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Arkansas mid-century Architect Ernie Jacks. Off to California next. So many architects – who knows who we’ll feature!
P.S. If you want to know more about mid-century architect in Arkansas, you should follow Mason Toms' Instagram, @arkiarchie. So much mid-century goodness and knowledge (so much more than mine). You won't be disappointed!
North and east façades, looking southwest. Photographed by Callie Williams and Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
View of the east façade of the courtyard area, looking west. Photographed by Callie Williams and Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
View of the north and east façades of the playhouse, looking southwest. Photographed by Callie Williams and Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
View of the dining room, looking northwest. Photographed by Callie Williams and Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
View of the hallway in the bedroom wing, looking northeast. Photographed by Callie Williams and Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
Central pavilion of the house and the carport, looking northeast. Photographed by Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
Northwest façade of the bedroom wing of the house, looking southeast. Photographed by Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
Southwest façade of the bedroom wing of the house, looking northwest. Photographed by Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.
Northeast and southeast sides of the family room, looking east. Photographed by Mason Toms. From the National Register Registration Form. Copyright of the photographers, used by Fair Use for education.