Monday, May 24, 2010

Remembering an adventure of fate....

This evening (I'll probably finish this tomorrow, so perhaps I should say, "Monday evening"), I went to a choir concert at my ninth-grader granddaughter's school.

As I sat there waiting for the show to start, I thought about how times had changed since I was in ninth grade. In MY day, performances were staged in the gymnasium. Some gyms even had a stage built into one end for the times when the space was used for a play or concert. The acoustics were usually insufferable.

The theater at the ninth grade center where our granddaughter goes to school this year had a nicely functional space, with a large stage, sloped floor, and fixed seats. Looking up, one sees some acoustical devices which someone once told me were called "clouds". The "clouds" reminded me of a period in my life which I thought was somewhat anecdotal.

For my design thesis for graduation from the University of Texas School of Architecture I decided to design a "Fine Arts Center" for a particularly attractive site at the confluence of Bouldin Creek and The Colorado River (which later became Town Lake and is now Lady Bird Lake).

It was not until I started researching my project that I found that, in those days, Fine Arts Centers were not a regular fixture of virtually every reasonably sized city. I found, among the meager resources of the Architecture Library, only a single Fine Arts Center, the one in Colorado Springs, designed by John Gaw Meem.

I feel that I did a very mediocre job with my thesis project, and was quite disappointed with the way it turned out. Often I'm my own worst critic, and perhaps someone saw some merit in my design that I didn't, because I got a passing grade, and left The University, to go out into the world and complete my education in Architecture with a correspondence course to remedy a failing grade in American History.

During my first summer of working for an architect in Baytown, Texas, we made a trip to Albuquerque to visit some of my wife's relatives who lived there. We vowed to move to Albuquerque as soon as we could.

It happened that we were free to move to New Mexico in December of that year, and we promptly did so. I'm sure that it was sometimes, even usually, done differently, but I was accustomed to "pounding the pavement" looking for work. That's what I did (however, I drove around in my new VW instead of actually pounding the pavement). After looking unsuccessfully in ABQ for more than a week, Uncle Bill, who was making a trip up to the Taos area, offered to drop me off in Santa Fe to check around there while he went up to Taos, and would pick me up on The Plaza in the afternoon. sounded like a plan to me. I had been to Santa Fe the day before, and was quite impressed with it, although it was snowing just enough to keep me from seeing more than a block or so in any direction.

At the second place I visited, the architect looked at the work samples that I presented (featuring my Fine Arts Center), and made a phone call. I heard him say that the person to whom he was talking might be interested in my work. I asked him how far it was, because I was on foot, and he called up one of his employees, asking him to "take this fellow to Meem's office".

It turned out that the firm of Holien and Buckley, John Gaw Meem's successors, was working on.....A FINE ARTS CENTER for the University of New Mexico!

One of the very first things that I worked on at Holien and Buckley was the suspension for the concrete acoustical clouds in the recital hall, using steel rods. I doubt that those clouds weighed more than five or six thousand pounds (some details can be lost to time when you're an old guy), but a couple of boisterous Okies who worked in the office made up a rowdy story about a heroine opera singer on the stage, and a villain standing on the cloud above her head with a hack saw!



Anonymous said...

Interesting story! When I was associated, as actor and playwright, with Santa Fe's Theater Arts Corporation in the 70's, we once put on a play at UNM. Wonder if that stage was part of your project? --La Joya Gal

Willie C said...

I can't really say, Gal, but it certainly could have been

I think that perhaps the fine arts center was maybe very slightly larger than La Joya...¦*) The Recital Hall of which I speak is a small auditorium adjacent to the main performance space (somewhat larger than your current La Joya project, but not nearly so large as the main auditorium).

I also worked on that area too (there were only seven of us in the office at that time, so we all were involved in just about everything).

Let's say that it's a good possibility that you have first hand knowledge of the Fine Arts Center!