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From Disaster Recovery to Public Office

Charles Harper, FAIA
Harper Perkins Architects, Wichita Falls, Texas

While serving as vice president of the Texas Society of Architects (TSA) in 1970, I was asked to find out how our TSA membership could help two mid-sized Texas cities recover from disasters. In late spring, Lubbock was hit by a large tornado, destroying the homes of several thousand low- and moderate-income families. About three months later, Corpus Christi was slammed by the 120-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Celia for nearly three days, destroying or damaging nearly every building in the city.

As a result, we organized a program called Disaster Action Inc., a subsidiary of the TSA, which brings together architects from all over the state to work pro bono for disaster victims, assessing damages to buildings in an area struck by a disaster. The national AIA then asked us to develop a similar program for the entire nation, which came to be known as the Disaster Assistance program.

On April 10, 1979, my home city, Wichita Falls, Texas, was hit by a tornado. The homes of all my firm’s employees, as well as those of friends and neighbors, were destroyed or heavily damaged. My AIA work had been covered by our local media, so the day after the tornado the City Council of Wichita Falls asked me to head the Reconstruction and Redevelopment Task Group for the tornado recovery. Many days and weeks were spent making the disaster recovery one of the best recoveries ever. Wichita Falls received an “All America City” award in 1982.

In 1983 a group of our city’s business people asked me to run for election to the City Council and, later, for mayor. The local newspaper strongly backed my candidacy against four other candidates and said I was the “best known Wichitan” because of my work on the disaster recovery. Many improvements to the livability of Wichita Falls were completed or begun during my elected tenure. No person is better trained to be the mayor of a city than an architect!

Charles Harper, FAIA, interviewed by TV reporters during the Oklahoma City tornado recovery, 1999.


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