Drawing on Tradition: Komatsu firm receives Texas Treasure award

Marice Richter Special to the Business Press

From the resplendent sanctuary of an iconic church to the stateliness of historic Texas courthouses to the beauty and serenity of a landmark Japanese Garden, Komatsu Architecture has left an enduring imprint on Fort Worth, Tarrant County and beyond. Since Albert S. Komatsu first hung out his sign in 1959, this firm has designed or managed more than 1,200 projects, ranging from one of the earliest condominium projects in Fort Worth to a more than $100 million contract to design shopping and retail developments at U.S. military bases in Europe and Asia. Now in its second generation of ownership with Karl A. Komatsu at the helm, the firm has received a Texas Treasure Award in recognition of more than 50 years in business and continuous contributions to Texas’ economic growth and prosperity. Komatsu Architecture is among 65 businesses – and the first in Fort Worth – to receive the award from the Texas Historical Commission since its introduction in 2005, according to state officials. “Komatsu Architecture is a wonderful example of a historic Texas business that has had a significant cultural impact on the state’s development,” Texas Historical Commission Executive Director Mark Wolfe said in a statement. Former Mayor Mike Moncrief said Komatsu Architecture is more than deserving of the honor. “Many of us have in some way been touched by the Komatsus’ projects such as the Japanese Garden, Fire Station No. 8 on Rosedale Street, the Northwest Branch Library in Fort Worth and the YWCA of Fort Worth,” Moncrief said. “It is plain to see ‘the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree’ since Karl’s work ethic and tradition stem from that of his father. “Karl’s commitment to our community and those that are blessed to reside in it has always been deeply appreciated by Rosie [his wife], myself and many more,” Moncrief said. Although the award is one of many honors the firm has received over the years, Karl Komatsu said he is especially proud that it recognizes the firm’s economic and historic preservation impact across the state. Komatsu Architecture has been involved in the preservation of endangered Texas courthouses for many years, including those in Cooke, Franklin, Hamilton, Lampasas and 11 other counties. “Restoring an old courthouse creates new economic opportunity for a town as new businesses open around it,” said Karl Komatsu, who formerly served as a commissioner of the Texas Historical Commission for eight years, including four years as chairman. But historic preservation wasn’t at the core of the firm’s business when it started more than five decades ago. That the firm was founded in Fort Worth was merely happenstance. Albert Komatsu, like many Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the Pacific coast during World War II, spent part of his youth in internment. He eventually followed his sister to St. Paul, Minn., and enlisted in the Army after receiving a draft notice. After the war he attended the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill and earned his degree in architecture. He was recalled to the service during the Korean War and was assigned to design runways and other facilities for the Air Force, including some at Wolters Air Force Base in Mineral Wells. After his discharge in 1954, he made his way to Fort Worth and quickly landed a job. “I was in uniform one day and working in an architecture office the next,” said Albert Komatsu, who is now 86. Under his direction, Komatsu Architecture was involved in a variety of commercial projects, including designing the sanctuary at St. Stephen Presbyterian Cathedral in Fort Worth, Summit Office Park and the Japanese Garden at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. He also did military contract work in Iran before the Iranian revolution as well as projects for Bell Helicopter and General Dynamics. But the firm is probably best known for its work on institutional and public facilities, including the original master plan for the University of Texas at Arlington campus and the design of the Tarrant County College Northeast Campus – work that Albert Komatsu attributes to the patronage of the late Jenkins Garrett, a prominent attorney and civic leader who had once worked for the FBI and denounced the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans. After graduating from the University of Virginia, Karl Komatsu worked for architecture firms in Washington, D.C., on many prominent projects, including some that involved historic restoration through the National Park Service. In 1981, he decided to “give up the rat race” and return to the more manageable pace of Fort Worth and his father’s firm, bringing along his expertise – and growing acclaim – in historic preservation. Besides courthouses, Karl Komatsu, now 61, designed the renovation of child care facilities at the historic YWCA of Fort Worth and Tarrant County in downtown Fort Worth and is designing the Fort Worth Public Training Center, a $97.5 million project that involves renovation of a former federal government storage facility, known locally as the Quartermaster. Other notable recent projects include a YWCA Child Care Center at UT-Arlington, state veterans cemeteries, the Texas Wild! Exhibit at the Fort Worth Zoo, Moncrief Hall at Texas Christian University and the Southwest Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University. “They do excellent work,” said Carol Klocek, executive director of the YWCA of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. “They really listen to us, what we want, and turn our vision into reality.” The firm has also designed several notable projects in the Dallas area, including the Travis Walk dining and restaurant development and the Highland Park Library.