Copyright
Patrick James Nicholson.

William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute online

. (page 15 of 31)
Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 15 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


1900s, the property would in time be quite near the heart of the city.
In addition to the elegant main house, the Baker estate included a
carriage house, stables, servants' quarters, and extensive lawns and
gardens. The latter gave Martino an opportunity to apply his Italian
training and experience to Houston's climate and plants.

As noted, Watkin took over his marathon chairmanship of the
Committee on Buildings and Grounds in 1912, while still completing
the final details of the original campus buildings throughout 1912. It
was not until the spring of 1913 that Watkin and President Lovett met
to discuss a landscaping program for the campus.



158 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Progress was understandably slow. The Physics Building and
additional dormitories were at the working-drawing stage, and
completion of these projects was a good two years away. The 1909
general plan by Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson had included tentative
landscaping designs for various structures. Some of these, such as a
huge auditorium, graduate college, and professional schools of med-
icine and law were never built. Nothing had been done, however, to
produce final and approved plans for landscaping, or to transform
them into reality.

In 1913, it was decided that Watkin should start work on the
grounds. The opening move was to borrow Captain Baker's gardener
for a time. The young Italian could report on the few trees that were
on campus, and make plans for new plantings of trees and gardens
under Watkin's direction [5]. Martino was also skilled in laying down
the gravel walks and drives planned by the architects.

Watkin had been impressed by Martino from the first time he
arrived at Rice "on loan" from Captain Baker. Martino was obvi-
ously well trained, with a real love for the plants he so carefully
tended. After several months, Watkin decided to put him in perma-
nent charge of a grounds staff, if he should become available. There
were some problems in communication, as Martino's stay in a special
night class for immigrants had been unfortunately short and unpro-
ductive. When excited, Tony spoke in an incomprehensible mixture
of English and Sicilian, which he never overcame.

The few trees on the Rice Institute campus originally were severely
damaged in the devastating August 1915 hurricane, the same hurri-
cane that had blown the roof off President Lovett's leased home and
caused great damage in Houston. Watkin had to borrow Martino from
Captain Baker again. Tony once more proved his value, both in
saving trees and in greatly extending and improving the system of
campus walks and driveways. Flooding from the hurricane had
emphasized the need to fill in many low areas.

Late in 1916, Watkin came to a decision. The building program at
Rice had been temporarily halted due to the war. It was time to move
ahead with an ongoing, permanent plan for improving and maintain-
ing the campus grounds. As early as 1909, while in charge of the
renderings for the original Rice Institute buildings, he had been



Chapter Five 159

instructed by Cram to include a master plan for landscaping, as well
as campus roads and walks. It would not be difficult now to update
the plan in terms of present and future needs.

Martino was still on loan from Captain Baker. It was clear to Watkin
that Tony was needed in the new program. In his usual careful manner,
Watkin first went to Dr. Lovett. With the president's approval, he
requested permission from Captain Baker to hire Martino on a
permanent basis and permission was fortunately granted [6] .

Tony asked his new boss to accompany him on a campus tour the
very day he was transferred from an "on loan" status to the official
Rice Institute payroll. They marched first along Main Street, all the
way from Sunset Boulevard to Harris Gully. They returned to Sunset
and next came a fast walk due west up the main entrance drive to the
Administration Building. The deliberately striding Watkin could
barely keep up with the little gardener. The result was that Martino,
his brother, and two helpers, soon planted truckloads of live oaks
("li-VOKA," in Martino's colorful accent) that are such a part of the
Rice campus today. Set out along the line of their initial walk, each
of the small trees was placed in enriched soil, braced against
prevailing winds, and carefully tended.

There were also plantings of hedges of cape jasmine ("capa da
jazz") [7], hundreds of crepe myrtles and azalea bushes, plus what
finally totalled five miles of privet hedges. Other ornamental trees
such as magnolias, cedars, and camphors were added later. In
accordance with Watkin's original watercolor rendering of the cam-
pus, a double row of 44 elegant Italian cypress trees reminiscent of
the Vatican gardens were soon added as a striking feature of the
landscaping of the Academic Quadrangle.

Tony Martino quickly became a favorite of the student body. The
students saw the cheerful, energetic gardener often. He was ever-
present on the Rice campus, and they soon related his presence to
their ever more beautiful surroundings. Gertrude Boxley (Mrs.
Hubert Evelyn) Bray reported this revealing anecdote many years
later: She was going out on her first date with Dr. Bray, an honor
graduate of both Tufts and Harvard. He was a doctoral candidate and
teaching fellow in mathematics, and they would marry after her
graduation with the Class of 1921 . She realized that Hubert was on a



160 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

limited budget that would probably not provide even a small version
of the then customary bouquet for a first date or prom.

Miss Boxley and her classmates had been admiring the pansies
blooming on either side of the main entrance drive. On her way home
after her classes on the day of the date, she went to one of the beds of
small, multicolored flowers and began carefully gathering a tiny
bouquet. Gertrude was absorbed in this when she looked up to see
Martino watching her. Anticipating a reprimand, she stood up.
Martino smiled, and indicated that he would show her a better way
to pick the pansies. He did this quickly and, with another gracious
smile, handed Miss Boxley a most attractive bouquet.

Over the years, Tony Martino became a universally beloved campus
figure at Rice. His traditional appearances at student pep rallies during
each football season were a vital part of the Rice "spirit."

rv.

Had someone told William Ward Watkin when he first arrived in
Houston in 1910 that he would make significant and lasting contribu-
tions to intercollegiate athletics at the Rice Institute and, indeed,
throughout the Southwest, he might well have claimed mistaken
identity. He played and enjoyed golf and tennis when time permitted,
and had a normal interest in the broad range of intercollegiate sports
that continued throughout his life. The administration of a sports
program, however, was hardly an assignment to be expected.

Watkin's first major move as chairman of the Committee on
Outdoor Sports was one that bore dividends through the next decade.
In 1912, with President Lovett's help, he recruited and brought Philip
Heckman Arbuckle, a graduate of the University of Chicago and
disciple of Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, from Southwestern University
to Rice. Arbuckle was appointed instructor in athletics on the original
faculty. He also served as director of athletics and football coach from
1912 through the 1920-1921 academic year, although absent on
military leave for the abbreviated 1918-1919 season.

Coach Arbuckle 's first football team at Rice in the fall of 1913 had
only fourteen men on the entire squad. The turnout was actually
remarkable, from a total of one hundred freshmen and sophomore



Chapter Five 161

men. The Owls won four games and lost none, outscoring the
opposition in their beginning season 81 to 14.

At this time, a new football conference was about to be formed, and
Watkin was invited to represent Rice at the meeting. At the end of the
1913-1914 academic year, L.T. Bellmont, director of athletics at the
University of Texas, had invited representatives of Texas A&M,
Baylor, Texas Christian, Austin College, Southwestern, Louisiana
State, and Oklahoma to meet with representatives of his own institu-
tion to discuss the formation of the Southwest Conference. When
Louisiana State decided not to join the new organization, Rice was
invited to fill out the slate of eight original members, and accepted
provisionally at a second meeting, held in Houston in December
1914. Following the brief disruption of World War I, the Institute
rejoined the Conference late in 1918. Active as Rice's representative
in the SWC from its beginning in 1914, Watkin was named vice-pres-
ident of the organization for 1918-1919, and president in 1920-1921.

Philip Arbuckle remained as football coach through 1921. His
overall record was 43 wins, 10 losses, and 6 ties, including memora-
ble first victories over Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Southern
Methodist and defeating the University of Arizona and the Haskell
Indians. As early as 1915, overall competition in sports at Rice had
been broadened by the addition of baseball, track and field, tennis,
and a quite successful pre-World War I program in basketball.
Through 1918, Owl teams in basketball often had less than 10 men
on the entire squad, yet won 44 games against 19 losses [8].

By 1921, Chairman Watkin saw the need to replace Arbuckle as
football coach, in spite of his excellent record. Phil, as he was known,
simply had too much to do. He was in charge of a new one-year
course in physical training required of all male students, as well as
football and a full program of intercollegiate athletics. Watkin had
litde difficulty recognizing Arbuckle's plight, which was resolved by
narrowing his responsibilities to professor and director of athletics.

Between 1921 and 1923, two promising younger men attempted to
replace Arbuckle, after he stepped down as football coach. The result
was an unhappy one: a succession of losing seasons after the Owls had
begun so promisingly. Late in 1923, Watkin sought and obtained the
necessary permission to recruit an outstanding replacement for



162 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Arbuckle, who had obligingly resigned as director of athletics to coach
the football team temporarily during the disastrous 1923 season.

Chairman Watkin decided to aim for the top. He sought John W.
Heisman of Washington & Jefferson College, a small but distin-
guished institution at Washington, Pennsylvania. Heisman had been
coaching, since 1892, successively at Auburn, Clemson, Georgia,
Georgia Tech, and Pennsylvania. His team at Georgia Tech had been
undefeated in 25 games between 1915 and 1917. Often compared to
Alonzo Stagg of Chicago, and later to Notre Dame's Knute Rockne,
Heisman changed the game of football forever by originating the snap
from center. He was even better known for pleading successfully
before the Rules Commission in 1906 for the approval of the forward
pass, and for his innovative "Heisman shift."

Washington & Jefferson was only 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh,
on the West Virginia border. Founded in 1 78 1 , the institution was sound
academically, with a student body about the size of that at Rice Institute.
Apparently, an alumni group had underwritten an extraordinary
contract of $10,000 a year to bring Heisman to W&J as football coach
and director of athletics, in the hope of achieving the success he had
enjoyed elsewhere. Then fifty-five years of age (although he appeared
to be a decade younger). Coach Heisman had left the extreme
competitiveness of his Ivy League position at Pennsylvania. He had
established a sporting goods distributorship in New York City, which
he combined with his coaching at W&J. From W&J, he could reach
Manhattan by train in a few hours, and still enjoy a comfortable income
through his lofty standing in the coaching profession.

Heisman was not entirely happy at W&J, however. The difficulty
was that he found it all but impossible to recruit the caliber of players
to which he had become accustomed. W&J was definitely not in
Penn's class. Watkin was generally aware of John Heisman's having
left Pennsylvania, and of rumors of his dissatisfaction at W&J. What
he apparently did not know was the size of the eminent coach's salary,
which was well above that of anyone on the Rice faculty other than
President Lovett.

Following several discussions with Dr. Lovett, Watkin arranged to
meet with Coach Heisman in New York City early in February 1924.
Heisman had done his own homework regarding Rice Institute and



Chapter Five 163

Houston, and he was interested, but on his own terms. He would
come to the Rice Institute as football coach and director of athletics
on a five-year contract through 1929, at an annual salary of $9,000.
Since this was less than he had made at W&J and due to the pressures
of his relatively new and continuing sporting goods business in New
York City, he wanted to be in Houston only from September 1 until
the beginning of the Christmas vacation in mid-December, and again
from March 1 until the start of final examinations late in May.

Watkin, of course, had to have such an unusual proposal studied
and discussed at length in Houston by President Lovett and the
governing board. Lovett and the trustees, ever preferring quality, had
been impressed by Coach Heisman's record from the time that
Watkin first brought him to their attention. His chronological age, the
$9,000 salary, and the proposed long absences from Houston were
definite negatives. However, on balance, the formidable reputation of
Heisman prevailed. The decision was for Dr. Lovett and Watkin to
meet with the candidate, and to accept his proposition with the request
that he reconsider being away from Rice half the time [9] .

It had obviously occurred to everyone involved that a football
championship for the Owls was overdue, and that the renowned
John W. Heisman might be the man to bring this distinct honor to
the Rice Institute.

Arrangements had been made for Lovett and Watkin to meet with
Heisman in New Orleans in mid-February 1924. A day or two before
their departure. Dr. Lovett came down with influenza, and Watkin
went on to New Orleans alone. As authorized by the trustees, Watkin
offered the candidate the posts of football coach and director of athletics
through 1929 at the requested $9,000 annually. He felt better about the
$9,000 after stopping by to see Alonzo Stagg in Chicago, who pointed
out that the going price for coaches of far less renown was reaching
the $7,500 range. Watkin did express to Heisman the hope that the
coach would be staying longer in Houston each year, and then gave the
new colleague his congratulations and assurance of full cooperation.

The Houston newspapers produced prominent stories about Rice's
new coach and director of athletics, and there was substantial
coverage in sports sections over the state and nation. Locally, there
were various predictions that Heisman would bring the Institute and



164 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

the city a coveted and long delayed SWC football championship.
Some emphasized that this could well come in the first season of
1924, since many senior letter men were returning to the practice field
out on South Main. At the least, one sports editor hoped, Heisman
might be able to defeat the University of Texas, and to greatly improve
upon the two preceding disastrous seasons.

The highly personable new coach gained immediate and continuing
attention after joining the Rice faculty in late summer 1924. He
frequendy spoke on campus, and before various business clubs and
organizations. Also a columnist for the Thresher, he was at all
pre-game pep rallies, notably at the "Slime Parade" opening the
football season [10].

Heisman and his Owls defeated the Texas Longhorns 19-6 in that
first season of 1924, but the year ended at 4 wins and 4 losses, far
from a conference championship. When the new coach announced to
the trustees the following spring that he would stay on duty straight
through the academic year of 1925-1926 if given a salary increase of
$2,500, Captain James A. Baker did not bother to respond for the
governing board to this outrageous request. Heisman was more in
evidence, however, as his win-loss record began to go downhill.

By the end of the 1927 season. Coach Heisman's record in football
at Rice was a losing 14 wins, 18 losses, 3 ties, and no conference
championships. The Owls won only a single SWC game in 1925, and
none in 1926. Heisman's resignation was accepted by the trustees on
December 1, 1927. He had accepted a position as the first athletic
director of the Downtown Athletic Club of New York City, and would
remain there for the rest of his life. After his death on October 3,
1936, the DAC Trophy awarded each December to the nation's
outstanding football player was renamed the Heisman Memorial
Trophy. "The Heisman" has gained dramatically in prestige in the
intervening more than half-century.

In retrospect, John Heisman was probably hampered at Rice
Institute by eligibility problems and the inability to recruit outstand-
ing players in the area. He and Watkin remained on friendly terms.
Watkin, as completely honest as ever, made it clear to Heisman that
they held utterly different views on certain policies regarding inter-
collegiate athletics. The coach believed in energetic recruiting of



Chapter Five 165

players, with generous scholarships and less demanding academic
courses for them, plus minimum faculty control over the intercolle-
giate program. Chairman Watkin was strongly opposed to all of this.

V.

As John W. Heisman departed the scene, Watkin now realized that
he had served a full fifteen years as chairman of the Committee on
Outdoor Sports, with an unusually heavy investment of his time since
the recruitment of Coach Heisman in 1924. Coupled with his steadily
augmented duties in his post as head of Buildings and Grounds, there
were too many conflicts for his available time.

He decided to resign from the Committee on Outdoor Sports,
within days after Heisman 's departure for New York City. This
followed several informal meetings and diplomatic hints as to the
length and recent intensity of his service as chairman of the Commit-
tee. To his gratification, the resignation was accepted, with a gracious
note of appreciation from President Lovett for his long and effective
service. It was none too soon, in view of the many demands upon
Watkin by January 1928.

By 1927, Watkin's family was demanding more of his time. Annie
Ray, the firstborn Watkin daughter, was now almost a teenager.
Rosemary and Sonny were ten and eight. Also by 1927, there had
been eleven graduating classes at the Department of Architecture.
Professor Watkin had a larger and ever expanding group of students
at all levels. He wanted to give more personal attention to his
department. He had also decided to institute certain collateral pro-
grams, including the new Rice Traveling Scholarship in Architecture,
all of which continued to keep him busy.



Notes

1. On a return trip to the city many years later, Albert Joseph, in his
reminiscences of Houston in the 1920s, also recalled, with regret and
lingering sadness, the Brazos Hotel with its elegant Palm Court ("redolent of
the Old South"), which had long since been torn down. It was there that the
Watkin and Guerard families had enjoyed ample Sunday dinners, as a string
quartet played and "courtly black waiters" walked a spotless black-and-white



166 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

marble floor. Albert also regretted to find the Majestic Theatre half-demol-
ished, the wrecking ball poised to resume its noisome destruction. Doomed
as well, he discovered, was the old City Auditorium, where he had seen the
immortal Anna Pavlova dance, and heard Ignace Jan Paderewski weave the
entrancing melodies of his countryman, Frederic Chopin, on the piano.

The demise of the Majestic Theatre and the Brazos Hotel, however, also
reminded Guerard of the "banshee wail," so strangely sad, of the north-
bound Katy Limited. This was the train that left at precisely one minute after
midnight, bound from Houston's old Central Depot to St. Louis. Young
Albert would hear it often in the summer, after Houston's sultry heat had
once again awakened him on the family sleeping porch. (It was still more
than a full generation before residential air conditioning.)

2. There had been "preparedness" parades in Houston as early as June 1916.
The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps shared busy recruiting offices in the
remodeled old Federal Building on Fannin at Franklin Avenue. The city
adjusted steadily to the possibility of war, which seemed ever nearer as
Germany stepped up its submarine warfare early in 1917. Then, only weeks
after the declaration of hostilities, facilities were prepared for more than
30,000 troops in what would later become Memorial Park, the Hogg family's
magnificent gift to Houston. Training soon began for national guard units
ordered to Camp Logan, on the western borders of the city, from all over the
nation.

World War I had a lasting economic impact upon Houston, and thereby on
the Rice Institute's ability to attract and retain superior students and faculty
alike. The conflict accelerated the ongoing development of the petroleum
industry, which had slackened somewhat since the booming decade after
Spindletop's 1901 gushers. A prolific new field had been discovered at Goose
Creek, just as the demand for oil increased sharply.

The importance of the city as a railroad center also escalated. Soon the
Chamber of Commerce adopted a slogan in use for many years: "Where [a
steadily growing number of] railroads meet the sea." Shipments of cotton,
rice, timber, and manufactured goods, as well as petroleum products,
increased steadily as the war intensified.

3. There had not been local AIA affiliates in Texas when Watkin arrived in
Houston in 1910. He had considered joining the nearest chapter, in New
Orleans, but decided to wait. In 1919, he and Birdsall Briscoe, together with
Olle Lorehn, were in the forefront of a successful campaign to establish the
first Houston Chapter of the AIA.

The Houston chapter of the AIA is now one of the largest and most active
in the nation, and was host to the national AIA convention in 1990. It has a
tradition of providing leadership for the organization, and of carrying out
significant projects while maintaining professional standards at the highest
level.



Chapter Five 167

4. Salvatore Martino was a native of the hamlet of Alia, near Sicily's ancient
capital of Palermo on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Born August 21, 1885, into a
family of trained horticulturists, young Salvatore was sent away to school at
eleven. He attended a botanical institute in Italy's cultural center of Florence
for four years, earning a certificate in agriculture and horticulture.

An older brother who headed a monastic order in Rome (reputed to have
been named a cardinal later by Pope Pius XI) had Salvatore appointed a
second gardener at the Vatican in 1901. In the world-famed papal gardens,
he added substantially to the knowledge of plant propagation, floriculture,
pruning, pest control, fertilization, and other aspects of horticulture he had
acquired in Florence.

Young Martino, however, kept hearing of the opportunities and advan-
tages of life in the United States, from two other brothers who had emigrated
there. He joined them in 1903. However, in 1904, Salvatore returned to Italy
for military service, and did not return to America until 1908. He went to
Houston, which had a climate similar to that of southern Italy and Sicily he
knew so well, and somewhat comparable plant life.



Martino had toured the Rice campus soon after entering Captain Baker's
employ, in the spring of 1909. He found only a small grove of pin oaks near
the principal entrance on Main Street, a clump of what were called
"volunteer" pines along the Sunset Boulevard border, and small thickets of
undergrowth along Harris Gully. The remainder was barren Harris County
prairie, with an occasional thin cover of ragged native weeds or grasses
overgrazed by trespassing cattle.

A convert later to the longer-lived live oak, Martino did plant a tiny stand
of pin oaks to complement those at the main entrance. They were placed just
to the left and slightly east of the future site of the Administration Building.
The trees, little more than saplings, were probably obtained from Edward



Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 15 of 31)