Copyright
Patrick James Nicholson.

William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute online

. (page 16 of 31)
Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 16 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Teas Nursery. In business since 1894 as Houston's pioneer nurseryman. Teas
was already acquainted with President Lovett.



When making the decision to employ Tony Martino full-time at the Rice
Institute, Watkin had asked for any appraisal of Martino that Baker might be
willing to provide. Baker wrote: "I have a very good opinion of Tony Martini
(sic) ... his services were generally satisfactory. He is an indefatigable
worker, and I am inclined to believe he will render you satisfactory service.
Mrs. Baker always thought that he paid more attention to large matters than
to details. She had occasion frequently to correct him in this particular.
Otherwise, I have heard no complaint of him."

This fell somewhat short of an enthusiastic recommendation, but it served,
nevertheless, and Martino was soon officially a key figure of those reporting
to Watkin, as he would be until his retirement thirty-two years later.



168 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

1 . A generation and more of Rice graduates would recall the fragrance of
Tony's "capa da jazz." These fragrant plants filled the Quadrangle, and their
blooms were timed to appear in late May during commencement week.
Luxuriant azaleas, planted between the live oaks lining the main entrance,
also had a controlled blooming season. Their flowers appeared at the time of
the May Fete, and were long remembered by faculty children including the
Watkin, Weiser, and Tsanoff daughters. At a young age, they were flower
girls in one of the first of these annual spring ceremonies.

Apart from "li-VOKAs," Tony Martino's obsession was rose bushes.
"The rose," he explained, "she da queen of flowers." "Mr. Wat" was soon
accustomed to hearing pleas for more trees, hedges, and ornamentals on
campus, but especially for more rose bushes. Tony also wanted extra mules,
to keep the lawns and peripheral fields properly mowed. Watkin heeded
many of his head gardener's requests, in spite of tight budgets, but it was
never possible to fund the greenhouse that Martino had always wanted.
Tony's roses, many of them a special variety from Nebraska that thrived in
Houston's relatively temperate winters, began to appear frequently at fac-
ulty teas and in administrative and faculty offices on the campus.



It was not until around 1926 that Rice organized its first golf team. This was
a sport close to Watkin's heart, and one he personally enjoyed. Watkin
sponsored the golf team and arranged for the team to play on his membership
at the Houston Country Club. Hermann Park only had 9 holes at the time.
The first captain of the team was James Greenwood, Jr., Class of 1927, later
a prominent neurosurgeon in Houston. His brother Joe, Class of 1930, was
also a captain of the team. Their sister, Mary Greenwood Anderson, Class
of 1938, has written a history of this first Rice golf team, which is now in
the Fondren Library at Rice.



9. An overriding factor in the decision to hire Heisman might well have been
the mushrooming, almost obsessive, desire on campus and throughout
Houston for the Rice Institute to win the football championship of the
Southwest Conference against much larger and longer established opponents.
Heisman was seen as a possible answer to this.

The Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, sometimes described as a
"loose knit and informal" organization, had been formed by Southwest
institutions as early as 1909. Rice joined the Association in 1913 for a brief
time, with Watkin representing Rice in the meetings. The two dominant
members, Texas and Texas A&M, had quickly developed an annual football
game, played each November in Houston as a feature of the No-Tsu-Oh
Carnival. At the 191 1 game, there was a near riot when students cheering on
the opposing teams clashed. This was before the No-Tsu-Oh Ball at which
Edgar Odell Lovett reigned as King Nottoc XIII, and which William Ward
Watkin attended as his guest.



Chapter Five 169

The near-riot had several negative consequences. President W.T. Mather
of the University of Texas canceled the game with A&M until further notice.
Houston lost a very popular athletic spectacle, always preceded by a colorful
parade of Aggie cadets and marching band as well as Longhorn students and
their band. Further, the organization of the Southwest Conference was
delayed until the very end of 1914.

There was a positive result for the Rice Institute, however. Between 1912
and late 1914, Coach Philip Arbuckle was able to launch a program of
intercollegiate athletics at Rice with considerable success. This made the
Institute a viable candidate to accept charter membership in the Southwest
Conference.

10. In the Slime Parade, a traditional event, male freshmen marched from the
campus to the Rice Hotel in pajamas. There Coach Heisman shared a
makeshift podium with Tony Martino, who had become a beloved symbol of
school spirit. Martino made one of his brief, highly enthusiastic and largely
unintelligible speeches. The gist of this was always "Owlsa gonna win,"
followed by tremendous applause from the assembled students, faculty,
alumni, other backers and curious onlookers.

Tony always wore his best suit to these pregame pep rallies. It was the one
probably purchased for a special highlight of his long career at Rice: the
February 5, 1920, visit of General John J. Pershing to the campus on
"Pershing Day." On that great occasion, the head gardener superintended the
planting of a handsome pecan tree donated by the World War I hero.



CHAPTER SIX



A 1925 trip to Europe for the Watkin family . . . Rice's
Chemistry Building, in handsome "Brady pink" brick,
becomes a most important commission . . . Impressive
residential assignments for Watkin in Montrose,
Shadyside, and nearby areas . . . Broadacres, a "lush
urban park". . . Planning new institutions of higher
education for Texas' expanding system . . . A series of
notable commissions further establishing Watkin 's
reputation as an architect: Autry House, Miller
Memorial Theater, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Public Library, Palmer Memorial Chapel, and the
Houston Independent School System . . . A traveling
scholarship in architecture is established . . .
Preparations for a 1928-1929 sabbatical in Europe for
the Watkin family



I.



William Ward Watkin's private practice had grown rapidly. The
number and variety of commissions were a tribute to his excellent
work on the Rice Institute project. They reflected his increasing
stature as an architect in general practice, and especially in the field
of campus and church design. Watkin's participation in community
organizations and his friendships among Houston's business and
professional leaders were also factors. Many of these businessmen
were building elegant homes in the city's best subdivisions, and
Watkin was to receive his good share of these commissions.

Due to Watkin's heavy workload in the early 1920s, he was forced
to postpone a long-planned vacation in Europe during the summer of
1922. Instead, the Watkins went for their customary July respite from
Houston heat to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina.
There, while Houston sweltered, there were sometimes logs ablaze in
the two splendid lobby fireplaces, each 12 feet wide. The elegant
resort hotel was built of granite boulders from the Blue Ridge

170



Chapter Six 171

mountains. Watkin, as usual, sent the family on ahead. He would join
them later, after clearing his desk of the details of another busy year.

The postponed journey to Europe was finally possible for the Watkin
family in the summer of 1925. Watkin and Annie Ray toured France
while the children remained at a summer camp for American children
on the Normandy beach at Houlgate. The camp, located in a French
beach villa and run by Mrs. Charlotte Wiggin of New York City,
offered the valuable opportunity for Watkin 's children to learn French
from the French children on the beach. To their pleasant surprise, Ray,
Rosemary, and Billy found three of their Kinkaid friends at the same
resort for a brief time: Jane, John, and Cecil Amelia ("Titi"), the
children of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lee Blaffer of Houston [1].

The plan had been for the Watkin parents to continue on together
to Spain, after an automobile tour of Normandy and a brief stay at the
Hotel Crillon in Paris. The Paris and Normandy tours were accom-
plished. Mrs. Watkin, however, who had not been well on the ship
over from the States, became ill in Paris and had to remain in the
American Hospital to recuperate. A friend from Houston, Mrs. Ralf
Graves, had come over to be with her. At Mrs. Watkin 's insistence,
Watkin went on to Spain. He was accompanied by good friends from
Houston, Mr. and Mrs. George Howard, who had already planned to
join the Watkins on this part of the trip.

On July 23, 1925, Watkin wrote President Lovett from the Grand
Hotel in Seville: "Seville in July! But the breeze has been from the
mountains, and it is as cool as Houston in April." He described
Northern Spain as reminiscent of "the plains and hills of West
Texas." Amid some of Europe's most illustrious architecture, Watkin
was understandably more concerned about his beloved wife's health.
Again to Lovett from Spain: "I hope she will be ready [early in
August] for our trip into Italy." There had been elaborate prepara-
tions for this journey, with detailed advice on interesting highlights
and local accommodations from Jimmy Chillman, who so recently
had been a resident of Rome as a fellow of the American Academy.

Fortunately, Mrs. Watkin recovered quickly in Paris. She was able
to accompany Mr. Watkin on his long-awaited tour of Italy. From
Venice on August 21 , 1925, Watkin wrote President Lovett regarding
the famed cloister of the Doge's Palace: ' 'I have made a detailed study



172 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

of the lower order [of the cloister]." A reproduction had guided him
as early as 1909 in following this element of the Doge's Palace, "for
my detailing of the lower order of the Administration Building."
Sixteen years later, with this component of one of the jewels of
Venetian architecture actually before him, Watkin proudly reported
to Dr. Lovett that "We have kept color [in the Administration
Building at Rice Institute] equal to Venice."

The Watkins went on from Italy to England via France (where they
picked up their children). The town of Oxford would be their
headquarters for a month. Mr. Watkin had remained in touch with
Julian Huxley, who was well into his successful career as a scientist
and administrator. On September 14, 1925, Watkin wrote President
Lovett from Oxford: "Have been here a week. As cold as Houston in
December. If [only] English hotels had a little more generous
provision for heating.

"I have seen Huxley a number of times, and he has driven Mrs.
Watkin and me to adjoining towns for sightseeing. We are having
dinner together tonight. As you know, he is moving very shortly to
London, having accepted the professorship [in biology] at King's
College. He is enthusiastic over the chance and likes the chance to live
in London, as well as the work."

Back in Houston in the fall of 1925, Watkin was again busy with
his private practice and the myriad details of a new academic year at
Rice. He returned to what would prove to be another disappointing
season for John Heisman and the Owl football team.

Watkin was in the midst of the final stage of completing what is still
considered one of the most handsome and functional structures on the
Rice Institute campus: the Chemistry Building. This project, for
which Cram and Ferguson acted as associated architects, can be
regarded as one of Watkin's most significant commissions.

Watkin described the original concept of the Chemistry Building,
dating back to the Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson General Plan of 1910,
as a "simple rectangular mass." More than a dozen years later, with
planning advice from Harry B. Weiser, Watkin could see that a
different approach was needed. A colleague and friend since before
World War I, Dr. Weiser was also a chemist of international renown.



Chapter Six 173

He had provided Watkin with invaluable counsel regarding the design
and construction of the Chemistry Building.

It was obvious that emphasis had to be put on the specific number
of both large and small laboratories, and the proper venting of fumes
and gases generated in experiments. Even details such as storage areas
for certain chemicals posed special problems. Cram, Goodhue &
Ferguson's "simple rectangular mass" quickly took on a very different
configuration. As early as January 1923, Watkin wrote President
Lovett about "... sketches of the Chemistry Laboratory which have
been carefully studied by Mr. Weiser and myself . . . over a period of
many months." From this point, Watkin's role shifted steadily to that
of principal architect. It is properly listed among his own designs.

As the Chemistry Building design continued to depart from the
original concept, the quiet Watkin gave a diplomatic explanation.
"Early plans," he pointed out, could often be seen as "the foundation
for more complete solutions as experience lis] gained from . . .
actual buildings." His new Chemistry Building, which was finished
by the fall of 1925, was indeed a "more complete solution." Further,
it was not merely functional. The structure blended exceedingly well
into Rice's expanding campus, with its overall design, brick, arches,
cloisters, amphitheater, limestone banding, and handsome tower.

The brick might well have been a problem instead of an asset.
While preparing specifications for the Chemistry Building, Watkin
discovered that the "Brady pink" brick used in the original
structures at Rice was no longer available. Sherman Brady had died
in a racing car accident. His kiln had shut down and the Brady
Company was in receivership.

Watkin was anxious to find a new supply of "Brady pink" brick,
if at all possible. He was helped by Tom Tellepsen, who had been
awarded the contract for the Chemistry Building. Tellepsen, long a
Houston general contractor, knew members of the Brady family, who
assisted him in locating a one-time foreman of their brickyard, now
in his eighties.

The Bradys had been well known in the Houston area for
generations. Sherman Brady's father. Colonel J.T. Brady, had been
a state senator and leading businessman for many years. Sherman's
mother Lucy was the daughter of General Sidney Sherman, who



174 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

commanded the left flank of Sam Houston's army at San Jacinto.
Colonel Brady operated a large brickyard on Hill Street bridge near
present-day Navigation Boulevard. The clay for Brady bricks came
from a deposit on Brady Island, formed by redirecting a portion of
the Ship Channel. Kilns were operated both on the island and at
Navigation Boulevard locations.

With help from Sherman Brady's sister Lucy (Mrs. W. Sperry
Hunt), his widow, Chaille Jones, and others, a new supply of Brady
pink was finally made available [2] . Construction on the Chemistry
Building was delayed several months because of the problems in-
volved, but Watkin' s recommendation to wait on the exterior brick-
work was accepted. The wait was kept to a minimum by his skill at
rescheduling work at the site, and the cooperation of Tellepsen.



n.



Watkin had commenced his private practice of architecture in 1913
with Lovett's approval, not long after the opening of the Rice Institute
in September 1912. In 1915, he formed a partnership with George
Endress of Austin, and the firm was known as Endress & Watkin.
Offices were in Houston's Scanlan Building, where Watkin had been
working with such intensity from 1910 to 1912 on the original
buildings at Rice. Mr. Endress kept his offices in the Littlefield
Building in Austin. The first commissions were remodeling projects
in Beaumont, San Antonio, and Galveston, but they later received
commissions for several new state colleges: West Texas State at
Canyon, Texas; Sul Ross Junior College at Alpine, and others.

But Watkin was soon to begin work on his first important church
commission. A new Trinity Episcopal Church in Houston was being
contemplated. In 1917, Watkin was to share his first church commis-
sion with Cram for a new church and parish house for Trinity Church
at Main and Holman. Trinity had become a major new Episcopal
parish serving expanding residential areas near Rice Institute.

The Watkin family later transferred their membership to the new
Trinity Church, which was some two miles closer to their home than
the downtown Christ Church. The rector of Trinity Church, the
Reverend Robert E. Lee Craig, had completed the drive for a new



Chapter Six 175

church and rectory when he died suddenly in 1916. Father Craig was
replaced in January 1917 by a 34-year-old priest, Clinton Simon
Quin, who had left careers as a pitcher in professional baseball and as
an attorney to enter the priesthood. Clinton Quin was later Episcopal
Bishop of Texas during a period of extraordinary growth and
progress for his denomination in the diocese.

Within a year, the Reverend Mr. Quin was named bishop coadjutor
of the diocese. He was soon administering the diocese for his
superior, Bishop George Herbert Kinsolving. Bishop Kinsolving died
in 1928, at which time Bishop Quin succeeded him.

Watkin was fortunate to be able to deal directly with the dynamic
Quin during the critical phases of the design and construction of
Trinity Church in 1917 and 1918. Watkin had obtained the commis-
sion himself for the Cram & Ferguson firm, with Watkin as
"associated architect." He also became the key figure during all the
succeeding stages of building the church, from the early planning
through the dedication of the church and parish house in 1919.

The Cram & Ferguson office in Boston prepared the initial
drawings, with Ralph Adams Cram in a vital role as critic and
adviser. Watkin, however, was responsible for the finished product,
as well as for an impressive tower added in 1921. He also provided
the plans and supervision for the details of interior embellishment,
which continued during much of the 1920s. The style of architecture
can be described as Norman Gothic, reflecting the 11th-century
architecture of northern France. This was close in form to the French
Romanesque tradition, later brought into England and especially
admired by Watkin. He would later write of "The marvels of the
French Gothic [style, which] cause it to stand apart, alone in its
splendor." Watkin also wrote that church architecture must again "be
understood as a problem, major and meaningful, in which a dignity
of emotion is to be expressed and an atmosphere of quiet contempla-
tion, and consolation is to be achieved in terms and with materials
consistent with our own days."

Trinity Church still dominates its surroundings at Main and
Holman, and has now been listed in the National Register of Historic
Places. Watkin always considered this one of his most important and
satisfactory commissions.



176 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

It was a matter of understandable pride and sense of achievement to
have had such a major role in the handsome and inspiring church.
Further, the well-executed commission for Trinity parish brought
favorable attention to Watkin in other consequential groups within the
city. This may well have led to the volume of residential commissions
and civic projects awarded him in the early and mid- 1920s.

The fact that Watkin was the principal architect for the new Trinity
Church and parish house also had lasting results in the relationship
between Cram & Ferguson and Watkin. As indicated, Cram &
Ferguson closed its Houston office late in November 1919, soon after
the dedication of the new Episcopal church. There was an understand-
ing that Watkin was to share fully in the design and supervision of
any future commissions awarded the firm in Houston.

Within months the trustees at Rice had Watkin under contract as
architect for the first post- World War I structure on campus. The
contract covered a Field House, tucked away in a remote area near
Harris Gully along Main Street. It was intended to be a temporary
structure. The Field House, which opened in time for the 1920-1921
academic year, included offices, facilities for physical training, and a
two-story basketball court. Outside the Field House, to the west, were
bleachers and an athletics field for football, baseball, and track.

The entire project was completed for less than $55,000. As a
temporary facility, it was built with reasonably attractive and service-
able materials, but Watkin concentrated on usefulness and economy.
The result was a boxlike structure of inexpensive brick and stucco,
with ready-made windows and doors, and a minimum of decorative
effects. The Field House had no cost overruns, and was ready on
schedule despite remaining postwar shortages. It was what President
Lovett and the other trustees had wanted: a minimum facility that
would serve a purpose for more than a decade, and then be replaced.
The success of the Field House may also have had a considerable
effect upon the decision to have Watkin assume a more central role in
designing the tremendously more complex Chemistry Building.

In 1917, Watkin received the first of many residential commissions
from prominent Houstonians, a commission to build a new home for
Howard R. Hughes, founder of the company bearing his name. The
Hughes Tool Company had already established dominance in the



Chapter Six 177

relatively new industry of oil field equipment. Hughes had acquired
one of the best lots in Montrose Place, which was a new 165-acre
development a mile northeast of the Rice Institute campus. John
Wiley Link had launched the addition, much larger than either
Southmore, Westmoreland, or Courdandt Place, and had built his
own mansion there at the intersection of Montrose Boulevard and
Alabama.

The Howard Hughes property was located at 392 1 Yoakum Boule-
vard, one block from the Link mansion, now the administrative center
for the University of St. Thomas. Watkin designed an imposing
two-story residence of brick, with rooms of generous dimension and
careful architectural detailing. He could hardly have selected a client
with more influential ties to 1917 Houston. Hughes, the classic
entrepreneur, had left his prosperous law practice in Keokuk, Iowa
within months after learning of the great oil strike at Spindletop. He
soon made wide contacts in petroleum, industrial, and legal circles of
booming Houston [3] .

A few years later, looking back on his work at Rice with its Italian
Romanesque architecture, Watkin was to incorporate the Mediterra-
nean style into the design and decor of two large commissions in
Shadyside. The first, in 1919, was the residence of Harry C. Wiess
at 2 Sunset Boulevard, which faced Main Street directly across from
the main entrance to Rice. This two-story home of stucco, tile,
multiple windows, and interior elegance had many of the elements of
an Italian villa. The building had a sense of openness, emphasized by
four tall casement windows at either side of the front of the long,
rectangular house. The scale of the home was large and grand. Many
years later, upon the death of both Mr. and Mrs. Wiess, this home
was generously left to Rice University.

The second Shadyside residence designed by Watkin was immedi-
ately next to the Wiess home and also faced Main Street, which was
already flanked by an avenue of live oak trees. This was the
commission for the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick A. Heitmann.
Heitmann's father had arrived in Houston from Germany in the
mid- 19th century. He had dominated Houston's freight forwarding
business in the late 1850s, and opened the city's largest hardware
store in 1865. The Heitmann residence, built at 1 Longfellow Lane in
1922-1923, was even more reminiscent of some elements of the



178 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Italian buildings at Rice Institute. It, too, like the adjacent Wiess
home at 2 Sunset, would not have been out of place in some exclusive
enclave along the Mediterranean shore.

Graceful arches framed the south terrace entrance, with five tall,
narrow windows and iron grillwork immediately above on the second
floor. Beautiful tessera tile, flooring, and other special materials
were used throughout the handsome interior. A gendy curving
stairway and paneled stair hall, with a striking sun room, were among
the other features of the Heitmann home. The sun room was similar
to some of the attractive interiors at Rice. Watkin had provided a



Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 16 of 31)