Patrick James Nicholson.

William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute online

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WiUiam Ward Watkin 's
first architectural mentor,
circa mid- 1930.


Dr. Edgar Odell Lovett, first
president of the Rice Institute,
as he looked as he began his
presidency in 1912.


"The Gables" boarding house, Houston, 1910.
Watkin and his mother stayed here on their arrival
from Boston in 1910. Located on the south side of
McKinney between Caroline and Austin Street, it was
considered one of the finest boarding houses in
Houston at the time. Photo from the collection of Max
Roy, Rice Institute Class of 1930.

Mary Hancock Watkin (in large hat) and

Mrs. John T. (Julia) McCants on the

boarding house porch, Houston, 1911.

A group of boarders in
front of The Gables, 1911.
Mary Hancock Watkin,
William Ward Watkin 's
mother, is shown in the
lower right-hand corner of
this photo.


Mrs. John T. (Julia) McCants, right,
wife of one of the earliest faculty

members at Rice, and Mary Hancock

Watkin, left, Watkin 's mother, in

Houston, 1911.

The flooding encountered by Watkin when he
arrived in Houston was much like this. Looking north
on Main Street from the Harris Bayou bridge,
April 16, 1912.

The first construction office for the Rice
Institute, August 1910. Courtesy of the
Rice University Archives.


A gasoline tank is put into place for the Power Plant
in 1910, using one of the means available at that
time — manpower. Courtesy of the Rice
University Archives.

zr. tfi^^ur^ £:

Excavation for the Mechanical Engineering
Building was begun in 1910 or early 1911.
Courtesy of the Rice University Archives.


In 1910, mules provided the
needed muscle to excavate

^ the foundations for the
Administration Building.
^ Courtesy of the Rice
University Archives.



Conducting a test on the cloister slab,
south wing of the Administration Building,
May 6, 1911. William Ward Watkin is in
the coat and hat in the foreground.

T^^^^^S^ f »

Putting the marble columns of the
Administration Building in place, 1911.

Here you can see the first floor arcades.

Courtesy of the Rice University Archives.

Raising the marble columns of the Administration Building to
the second-floor level using a winch, 1911.






The marble capitals, finally in place at the
third-floor level of the Administration
Building, 1911. Courtesy of the Rice
University Archives.

Watkin (in bowler hat)
supervising the setting of the
cornerstone of one of the
original buildings. Courtesy of
the Rice University Archives.

The construction site of one of the original Rice buildings being
inspected by the meticulous Mr. Watkin, circa 1911.




Watkin towering over Captain James A. Baker (at center), President
Lovett (to the right of Baker), and other members of the first board of
trustees as he supervises the laying of the cornerstone of the
Administration Building, March 2, 1911. Courtesy of the Rice
University Archives.

Watkin inspecting the construction of the
Residential Halls in early 1912. Note the
Campanile in the distance.


r/ze Administration Building, close to completion, in July 1912. Photo
courtesy of the Rice University Library.

Several of the first trustees and faculty members of the Rice Institute
standing in front of the new Administration Building, September 1912,
just before the Institute officially opened. Left to right: W.F. Edwards,
F.E. Johnson, T.L. Blayney, P.H. Arbuckle, E.O. Lovett, B.B. Rice,
W.W. Watkin, E. Raphael, G.C. Evans, J.E. McAshan, J.T. McCants,
J. A. Baker, H.A. Wilson. Photo courtesy of the Rice University Archives.



,T",^,*.-.*f^"r*^ *.^

r/ze Administration Building completed, October 1912. Courtesy of the Rice
University Archives.

The main entrance gate of the Rice Institute as it looked on
October 10, 1912, the day of the opening ceremonies for the
Institute. The culvert on Main Street can be seen in the
foreground. Courtesy of Rice University Library.


"i liiTf I "i I III I n T'l «'?'^"' ^i"

m II III 11

I "' ■


^J .J,

r/i^ Residential Hall completed, October 1912.

Opening day ceremonies , October 10, 1912.
Both of the main Houston newspapers carried
special supplements celebrating the opening of
the great, new institute. Captain Baker is seated
to the left of President Lovett, who is speaking.

Part of the Houston Chronicle 'j- Sunday, October 7,
1912 special "Rice University [sic] supplement,"
celebrating tne opening of this grand new Institute.


William Ward Watkin at his desk in his architectural office in the Scanlan
Building, Houston, probably the early 1920s.

The Rice Institute in the 1920s. Oak trees have already been planted
all around campus by Tony Martino.


The Administration and Physics buildings completed and the landscaping in
place, circa 1919.

Ip - ^^'"

Another view of the Administration and Physics buildings, circa 1920.


,^— > T'Sf

Autry House, designed by Watkin in 1921, was the first formal student
union building for Rice students. From The Campanile, Vol. 36,
1949/50. Courtesy of the Rice University Archives.

El i^ ' J J cy i^ I

[f; if .': fi ^

The elevation for the Chemistry Building, drawn by Watkin in 1923 or
1924. Watkin was able to locate ' 'Brady-pink ' ' brick to match the
Administration Building.

The new Chemistry

Building can be seen in

the background of this

photo of the Rice

campus in 1925.


A stone carving of William

Ward Watkin on one of the

capitals of the Chemistry

Building. The carving shows

the long-legged Watkin with a

T square, accepting the

homage of his students.

Laying the cornerstone for Cohen House, 1927. Left to right: William Ward
Watkin, George Cohen, Mrs. George Cohen, Mrs. Robert I. Cohen, B. B.
Rice, Edgar Odell Lovett, unidentified, Robert I. Cohen, unidentified.


Dr. Edgar Odell Lovett, first president

of the Rice Institute, circa mid- 1930.

He would stay at Rice as president

until 1946.

The Cohen House of

the Rice Institute,

designed by William

Ward Watkin, opened

in 1927.

m Iff


I li iiif ntf



Rice University's Lovett Hall (formerly the Administration Building),
in 1972. The library can now be seen through the sally port; there
was originally an unobstructed view of the flat land beyond the
Administration Building. Photo by Thomas C. LaVergne.


Chapter Seven 215

tural alumni in Paris that summer. Bill McVey was studying sculpture
there at the time, and would remain in Paris until his return to
Houston in the early 1930s. Other Rice architects abroad that summer
included Francis Vesey and Claude Hooton, and the Rice group
arranged to have a lively reunion in Paris.


By July 1928, the months of preparation for the trip that Watkin
had looked forward to for so long were finally at an end. The Rice
Institute's first traveling scholar in architecture was on the high seas.
The family residence at 5009 Caroline, completely remodeled in
1926, had been leased for a year to good friends, the DeWitt Dunns,
with their daughters Bessie and Dorothy. The original New England
front of the residence had been restyled, with graceful Southern
Colonial columns added. The new design was reminiscent of a home
in New Orleans (on St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District) that
Mrs. Watkin had seen and admired. The antebellum style reflected
her strong ties to the Old South.

Clarence Sanford and Stayton Nunn would be in charge of Watkin' s
private practice at the office in the Scanlan Building while Watkin was
abroad. Jimmy Chillman had been approved by President Lovett as
acting departmental chairman for the interim. John T. McCants was
the new head of the Committee on Outdoor Sports. The Committee
on Buildings and Grounds, which Dr. Lovett had decided to keep
under Watkin 's care indefinitely, would operate for a year under the
supervision of the other committee members.

By July 1928, passports were in order, detailed travel arrangements
and accommodations were confirmed, and the many bags were
packed. Six trunks had been sent ahead, filled with enough clothes
for an entire year. The sabbatical, so carefully planned and so long
anticipated, began with the trip to the old Southern Pacific Depot in
Houston, and then on to New York City and the S.S. Berengaria.

But what began in happiness was to end in tragedy.

From the busy port of Cherbourg, crowded with arriving and
departing transadantic liners, the Watkins went direcdy to Paris for a
brief stay at the Hotel Crillon. Watkin had arranged for the children

216 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

to stay with a Mademoiselle Marie Oelker, who opened her summer
home to children for the summer. Her home was located in the Forest
of Compiegne, about 40 miles northeast of Paris. They stayed in the
little village of Vieux Moulin, population 300, near the restored castle
of Pierrefonds and only 10 miles from the town of Compiegne. It was
also near the battlefields of World War I. "Xante Marie" had taken in
French children during the summer months for some time, but Ray,
Rosemary, and Billy were the only American children she had taken
into her home. Consequently, and by deliberate plan of their parents,
the young Watkins were forced to learn to speak French in order to
communicate with Mile. Oelker 's other guests.

For their entertainment, Watkin had also arranged to make it
possible for his daughters, then 13 and 1 1 , to rent horses from a stable
in nearby Compiegne. Billy, still only eight, had not had riding
lessons. The girls would ride through the Forest of Compiegne,
through the imposing "allees," or formal avenues cut through the
woods. The avenues had been cleared by French royalty, who had
enjoyed hunting with horses and hounds there for centuries. One
special day, Ray and Rosemary, accompanied by Tante Marie's
nephew, had ridden from Compiegne to Vieux Moulin and back, a
round-trip of 20 miles through the forest. It was a long-remembered
and beautiful experience for the two young Texas girls.

For the Watkin children, the cool, dark Forest of Compiegne was
their playground. Every afternoon they enjoyed "gouter" (a snack of
bread and chocolate) in the woods. A favorite excursion for them was
a brief train ride from Vieux Moulin to Compiegne, where they found
wonderful patisserie shops filled with delicacies. It was a glorious
summer, as they quickly learned French and formed close friendships
with Tante Marie Oelker's other children.

Meanwhile, their parents were enjoying an extensive tour of France
and Italy. Annie Ray did seem to tire easily, as she had on the 1925
trip when she had been forced to remain in Paris to regain her
strength. Meanwhile, she now had some concern over the children,
though she knew that they were safe with Mile. Oelker and there was
every indication that they were happy at Vieux Moulin. Nonetheless,
she missed them. For one of the few times in her life, Annie Ray's
children were not with her.

Chapter Seven 217

Watkin was happy to be at last beginning his long-awaited tour of
Europe. He had written his good friend Edgar Odell Lovett the
week before the departure from Houston, "to thank you for the
kindness and enthusiasm with which you make it possible for me to
take a sabbatical year."

In the letter, he shared his plans and ideas with Lovett. He felt
there was a need for a further understanding of the "romance of
medieval architecture," of its detail and symbolism and architec-
tural quality. "Modern work in a medieval style," Watkin main-
tained, "has remained medieval— it has not been modern." He told
Dr. Lovett in conclusion: "I feel that if the romance of medieval
composition could be clearly understood, it is one of the most
directly suggestive fields in which the modern imagination can
create new and excellent buildings."

This thesis was central to Watkin 's 1936 book, The Church of
Tomorrow. He also wrote to President Lovett about a continuing
fascination with the monastery of St. Luke's in Greece, which related
to the design of the original buildings at Rice, and which he hoped to
visit. This isolated complex of buildings in the prehistoric district of
Phocis dated from the 10th century. A striking example of medieval
architecture, it had been described in detail in 1901 in a treatise
published in London under the sponsorship of Oxford University's
Bodleian Library.

Watkin had used a copy of the treatise, replete with drawings, in
preparing the presentation sketches of the general plan for Rice.
Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue had taken the
sketches, his first major assignment at Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson,
to Houston for a crucial meeting with the trustees on November 30,
1909. The meeting was instrumental in the granting of a contract to
Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson.

The detailed study of St. Luke's had remained in Cram's
personal library long after its drawings had influenced the architec-
tural plan for the Rice Institute. Before leaving for his 1928-1929
sabbatical, Watkin wrote President Lovett of requesting Cram to
send him the treatise on the Greek monastery — ". . . the work . . .
which I used to such a considerable extent in the first drawings of
the Institute." Watkin felt that the monastic center at Stiris, near

218 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

Mount Parnassus and the Gulf of Corinth, "... still suggests an
infinite freshness of further design possibilities in architecture on
the Institute campus. We have not reached the maximum color and
texture possibilities in this architecture."

What Watkin had in mind in 1928 was the possibility of a personal
inspection of the remote St. Luke of Stiris while he was in Europe.
This emerges at the end of the letter to Dr. Lovett:

"I am not anxious to try to get to that rather inaccessible
portion of Greece . . . where the monastery of St. Luke lies, but
I feel one of us ought to go there for first hand information
concerning that remarkable piece of work, which is the direct
background of the style in which the Institute buildings have
been studied.

"If my confidence grows as to remote travel in rather
uninviting foreign countries, I would like to try to get to this
monastery at Stiris in Phocia. lln that event] it might be
necessary for you to get either the American consul or some-
body in Athens to arrange for safe and comfortable travel in that
section of Greece for me."

Watkin would not be able to make the difficult journey to Stiris to
study St. Luke's firsthand. In an excellent treatise {Monograph 29),
Stephen Fox has pointed out the overall influence of the medieval
Greek monastery on Rice's architecture, as well as specific instances
of its style appearing on campus. For example, the arched openings
in the cloister of the Physics Building were filled with marble lunettes
"of plate tracery Istone open-work] adapted from ... St. Luke of
Stiris." Fox, a knowledgeable architectural critic, has written more
generally on architecture at Rice of "a variety of ornamental bands
and marble panels, column shafts and carved bands" in Rice
buildings that "were appropriated" from drawings of the monastery.

Watkin was considerably influenced by St. Luke's in designing the
striking ornamental patterns of the exterior of Cohen House, one of
his favorite designs in 1927. Fox cites the multicolored cloisonne
enamel base, the "bands and fields of ornamented masonry," and the
voussoirs of brick and stone forming a wedge-shaped arch on the
north elevation of the faculty club. These and other elements of the

Chapter Seven 219

exterior were derived, according to the critic, from the medieval
Greek monastery at Stiris.

The influence of St. Luke's lives on in another location at the Rice
Institute, in the Byzantine style of lettering on the cornerstone of the
Administration Building. Watkin was the only nontrustee present
when President Lovett and the other six members of the governing
board formally sealed the cornerstone in place on March 2, 19 11.


With the children safely entrusted to Mile. Marie Oelker in the
little village of Vieux Moulin, Mr. and Mrs. Watkin had the
remainder of the summer and early fall to tour France and Italy. There
were postcards to President Lovett from Avignon, deep in southern
France near Marseille; from the "chateaux country" along the River
Loire in north central France; and from St. Jean de Luz, in the ancient
region of the Basques on the southwest border with Spain. It was a
carefully planned itinerary that would combine relaxation and view-
ing some of France's most pleasant and interesting areas with the
opportunity for Watkin to study timeless examples of the very best of
European architecture.

Avignon, the seat of seven popes during a troubled era for the papacy,
was a historic nucleus of memorable architecture and art. Watkin
examined the 14th-century Palace of the Popes [2] and a 12th-century
cathedral (Notre Dame des Doms) in detail, together with late medieval
churches and chapels richly adorned with ancient frescoes.

Along the Loire, in an area centering upon Tours and nearby Blois,
the Watkins enjoyed the masterworks of the chateaux country. There
they saw the beautiful chateaux of Blois and Chambord. These two
national treasures were especially interesting to Watkin. They illus-
trated the historic transition from the late Gothic at Blois to the French
Renaissance style at Chambord 13] .

Late in the summer of 1928, Mr. and Mrs. Watkin went on to St.
Jean de Luz. Here they made the final arrangements to lease "Villa
Lalo," a delightful residence overlooking the harbor and lovely beach
of the little French town just south of Biarritz and a few miles from
the Spanish border. The plan was for the entire family to return there,

220 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

after Xante Marie, who would accompany them, had closed her home
in the Forest of Compiegne for the winter. In the interim, the parents
would complete their tour of France and go on to Italy. Christmas was
to be spent in St. Moritz.

Unfortunately their plans were changed. Mrs. Watkin had become
quite tired during the trip through France. In September, she suffered
what seemed to be an inflammation of the liver or gall bladder. This
improved somewhat, but it was decided to forego Italy for the time
being. Mile. Oelker came to St. Jean de Luz with the children from
Vieux Moulin, and would remain with them until late November.

Watkin wrote Edgar Odell Lovett soon after they had settled in at
"Villa Lalo":

"We are here in a charming villa, with good weather and
beautiful surroundings. However, Mrs. Watkin continues to
suffer from the liver attack of September and does not improve

"I had hoped to avoid winter [by remaining] here, and to read
and write, which I have found to be quite possible. But I also
want to use this as headquarters for several Spanish journeys. As
yet, I have not found Mrs. Watkin well enough to warrant my
going. We are still hoping her strength will return, and after our
winter here to go in February to Florence and back to France for
early spring before coming home. The children all speak French
constantly in the household.

"Should Mrs. Watkin continue depressed by failure to recover
her strength, I feel I will be back by mid-year [of 1929]."

President Lovett was of course distressed to hear of Mrs. Watkin's
illness. Earlier, he had sent news of the campus: "Chillman says you
need have no anxiety about the conduct of the department. We are
making preparations for the installation of our Phi Beta Kappa
chapter with appropriate ceremonies." There was other news of
colleagues, and of campus happenings. It was quite characteristic of
Dr. Lovett that he said little about the chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, with
his typical modesty [4] .

Chapter Seven 221

Watkin continued to hope that his wife would regain her health in
the beautiful surroundings of St. Jean de Luz. As the signs of autumn
deepened in the nearby Pyrenees, however, her condition became an
increasing concern. Watkin had written Dr. Lovett earlier of "trying
to cover my Italian and Spanish journeys— [even if] hurriedly." Soon
Mrs. Watkin's health overshadowed everything, although both par-
ents continued to look forward to her recovery and to emphasize the
well-being and happiness of the children.

Early in December 1928, as the first snow of the usually mild
winter appeared atop the "Pic du Midi d'Ossau" (the 10,300-foot
peak dominating the Basque region), he decided to take Annie Ray by
overnight train to the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of
Neuilly-sur-Seine. The hospital was recognized as among the best in
Europe, with a staff of France's leading specialists.

Watkin then returned to the children in St. Jean de Luz. "I have
come from Paris," Watkin wrote President Lovett from St. Jean de
Luz on December 19, 1928, "where I left Mrs. Watkin at the
American Hospital with excellent care — but with littie progressing
recovery." He mentioned again the "most charming" Villa Lalo, a
"delightful house with abundance of room ... a certain charming
quiet and restfulness amid beautiful scenery and Old World life,
where we had hoped to continue until March. I am here only for four
days now to close the house, discharge the servants and pack up to go
back to Paris with the children.

"We shall stay at the [Trianon Palace] Hotel in Versailles for some
weeks, depending on Mrs. Watkin's progress— and in all likelihood
be on our way home across the Atlantic in the month of January."

These were obviously difficult times. Annie Ray seemed to im-
prove on occasion, only to "fall back further on succeeding days."
She was comforted, of course, by the love and attention of husband
and children, and by the presence of the dependable Tante Marie
Oelker. Mile. Oelker had become virtually indispensable, looking
after the children, as a companion and interpreter, and always as a
trusted friend.

Fortunately, Mrs. Albert Guerard, a close friend of the Watkin
family, was in Paris at the time with her son, Albert Joseph, age 14.
Her husband, Albert Leon Guerard, had been a distinguished member

222 William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute

of the Rice faculty from 1913 until 1924, when he returned to
Stanford University to continue a notable career as a French profes-
sor, scholar, writer, critic, and speaker. The Watkins and Guerards
had lived as neighbors for almost a decade in Southmore, with lasting
friendships developing between parents and children alike [5].

In the summer of 1928, Albert Leon Guerard, his wife, their son,
Albert Joseph, and daughter, Therina, came to Paris, where
Guerard was working on his hook UAvenir de Paris, a study of city
planning that put him in contact with the leading architects and
planners in the city. Professor Guerard had returned to Stanford
when classes resumed in the fall of 1928, but Mrs. Guerard and
Albert Joseph remained in Paris at the Victoria Palace Hotel. Her
daughter Therina had been diagnosed as tubercular, and had been
taken to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland 16]. They would visit
her there on holidays, while Albert Joseph attended a French elysee
in Paris. The three had a joyful reunion during the 1928 Christmas

Both Guerard and his wife had many friends and important
connections in Paris. Mrs. Guerard and her son Albert Joseph (a
friend and playmate of the Watkin children during his years in
Houston) were naturally distressed to learn of Annie Ray's hospital-
ization, and anxious to do whatever they could to help their friends.
A letter to Guerard at Stanford advised him of the situation, and his
reply to Madame Guerard expressed not only his sympathy and
concern, but included a number of suggestions as to introductions to
Parisians who might be helpful. His wife already had a number of
these under way as she did more and more to help.

Through the Guerards, an introduction to the mayor (prefect) of
Paris, Monsieur Bouju, was quickly arranged, and an invitation to tea
with Prefect and Mrs. Bouju in their private apartments at the
Hotel-de-Ville (City Hall) followed. Watkin and his children, along
with Tante Marie, Mrs. Guerard, and young Albert, attended. The
Watkin children were much impressed, not only by the pomp and
circumstance of the liveried guards at the prefect's door, but by

Online LibraryPatrick James NicholsonWilliam Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute → online text (page 19 of 31)