Clement J. Ford was a native born Atlanta architect who continued the tradition of classical architecture that became Atlanta’s hallmark early in the twentieth century. Those who knew Clem Ford considered him “a gentleman from start to finish,” and his work helped keep the classical flame alive in Atlanta for four decades while many of his peers shifted away from residential architecture and embraced modernism. While his work may not have been as grand as some, Clem Ford played a significant role as Buckhead continued to develop into the area that we now know.
Born in 1907 Clem Ford studied architecture at Georgia Tech and continued his education at Columbia University as had many other notable Atlanta architects such as Neel Reid and Philip Shutze. Ford remained in New York and worked for nationally known architects William Lawrence Bottomley and Dwight James Baum before returning to Atlanta.
In 1938 he was awarded the Edward Langley Scholarship to travel and study public housing in Europe. Ford was the first Southerner to ever earn this award. He returned to Atlanta and worked for Burge and Stevens, which was designing the nation’s first public housing project, Techwood Homes. Ford joined the Navy during WWII and served as a “sea bee,” building airstrips in the Pacific theatre.
No other Atlanta architect seems as connected with a piece of property as Clem Ford is to 240 West Andrews Drive. Ford lived there for approximately fifty years, raising his family, building his home, and running his business. When the Fords purchased the property, it had a small summerhouse that was built in the 1930s and another small frame structure that served as his studio. Ford designed and had the “big house” built in 1952. Clem’s office would move over time to the summerhouse and then to the basement of the main house. The house still stands today but has been altered by the two bay windows and other additions.
Clem Ford always operated a small practice and focused on traditional, residential design. With few employees and low overhead, Ford could accept only the commissions he enjoyed and were his passion. While Ford never created and became a partner in a larger firm, he fit the Atlanta architect mold in almost every other way. His education at Tech and Columbia, his military service in World War Two, his Episcopal faith, and his membership in numerous social clubs made him the perfect keeper of the Atlanta’s gentleman architect tradition.
Well-known 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 Buck Crook or Jimmy Means, Daugherty stated “if you wanted a home, Clem was your choice. If you wanted a show place, you chose someone else.”
Ford did not typically have the grand lots and large commissions that many of his predecessors enjoyed, and many of Ford’s commissions were one-story homes built on lots that had been subdivided from earlier grand estates. As with Ford himself, his houses have a relaxed elegance and a human scale that is both comfortable and appealing. Clem Ford was ahead of his time in recognizing the lifestyle changes of the post-servant era and adopted his traditional taste to modern living, focusing attention on the kitchen and other less formal areas.
Clem Ford exemplified the gentleman architect in the tradition of the men that preceded him, and he kept the classical flame alive in Atlanta in the dark days after World War II until the style’s rebirth in the 1980s. He created casually elegant homes throughout Atlanta for nearly four decades and remains a hero to those who love Atlanta’s classic residential architecture.