William Ward Watkin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 21, 1886. His parents were Fred W. Watkin and Mary Hancock Watkin. Watkin grew up in Pennsylvania, the home state of his mother's family. He graduated from Danville High School in 1903 and entered the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing the study of architecture under Paul Phillipe Cret. Following his graduation in 1908, Watkin spent one year traveling in Europe, principally in England.
Upon his return from Europe, Watkin joined the Boston office of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, then one of the most prominent architectural firms in the United States. At the time of Watkin's employment, 1909, Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson had received the commission to produce a campus plan and to design the initial buildings of the Rice Institute in Houston, Texas.
Watkin worked on the development of both the campus plan and the building plan in the office; when construction was to begin, in the summer of 1910, Watkin was sent to Houston to serve as Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson's representative supervisor. In this capacity Watkin not only oversaw the construction of the initial Institute group--the Administration Building, the Mechanical laboratory and Powerhouse, and the North and South residence halls - but most of the Institute's subsequent development: the Physics laboratory (1913-1915), east Hall (1913-1914), West Hall (1915-1916), three proposed President's houses (1913, 1915, 1923-1924), the Field House (1920), the Chemistry Laboratory (1923-1925), a proposed Alumni Hall (1927), two proposed libraries (1927, 1940-1941), and the Founder's Statue (1927-1930). Watkin himself was to design the Faculty Club - Cohen House (1927), Rice Stadium (1938), and the Naval ROTC building (1941). He also served as consulting architect to Staub and Rather in the design and construction of the Fondren Library (1946-1949), M.D. Anderson Hall (1946-1947), and the Abercrombie Laboratory (1947-1948).
As supervising architect, Watkin worked closely with Dr. Edgar Odell Lovett, president of the Rice Institute. Lovett offered Watkin a faculty appointment and the Institute opened in the fall of 1912 with Watkin as instructor in architectural engineering. In the summer of 1916 he was made an assistant professor and in 1922 he became a full professor. In 1914 the architecture faculty expanded to two, and to three in 1915. Rice awarded the first professional degrees in architecture in 1917. Watkin's efforts to provide his students with a thorough course in architectural studies led him to organize a traveling fellowship in 1928. Watkin's academic duties were not restricted to the Architecture department. He was also Curator of Grounds, Chairman of the Faculty Committee on Buildings and Grounds, and Chairman of the Faculty Committee on Outdoor Sports, a position which resulted in his serving a term as president of the Southwest Conference in 1920. At the time of his sabbatical in the 1928-1929 academic year, Watkin resigned the athletic committee post. He remained, however, head of Buildings and Grounds, as his resignation of this post was not accepted by Dr. Lovett. During World War II, Watkin chaired the Committee on Air Raid protection and Civilian defense.
As early as 1912 Watkin was accepting independent architectural commissions. Between 1913 and 1915 he entered into partnership with George Endress of Austin, practicing under the name Endress and Watkin. This firm was dissolved at the end of 1919 and Watkin thereafter practiced under his own name. Also in 1919 Watkin ceased his affiliation with Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, though he continued to operate, on a commission basis, as supervisor for their Texas projects. In addition to practicing architecture, Watkin consulted on projects, and in 1933 he was appointed to the Board of Architectural Consultants, an advisory group connected with the design of the Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C.
During the teens and twenties, Watkin wrote articles for journals, primarily dealing with Houston, its growth and development, and the implications these held for the city's architecture. Watkin contributed descriptive pieces on the Rice Institute to Progressive Houston and the Southern Architectural Review, Houston's short-lived architectural magazine. Not until the late twenties did he become more involved in research and writing. In 1930 the Rice Institute Pamphlet published a series of lectures Watkin had given on the new architecture in Europe; Pencil Points reprinted these in 1931. Watkin wrote two additional essays for Pencil Points, one published in 1931 on new directions in ecclesiastical architecture, and another in 1932. This former essay was something of a prolegomena to Watkin's first book, The Church of Tomorrow published in 1936. In 1951 Watkin's second book, Planning and Building the Modern Church, was published. At the time of his death he was planning to write a book on architecture in Texas.
Watkin had numerous academic and professional associations. He was a member of the Houston Philosophical Society, the Texas Philosophical Society and the Houston Country Club. Watkin was a charter member of the Rice Institute Faculty Club. He had become a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1913, and was elected to the College of Fellows in 1949. Watkin was a communicant of Trinity Church.
William Ward Watkin died on June 24, 1952 from complications following surgery for a broken kneecap. He was survived by his wife, Josephine Cockrell Watkin, whom he had married in 1933. Watkin had previously been married to Annie Ray Townsend Watkin, who died in 1929. Their three children were Annie Ray Watkin Biehl Hoagland, Rosemary Watkin Barrick, and William Ward Watkin, Jr.
Excerpted from Stephen Fox's 1976 unpublished Guide to the Papers of William Ward Watkin in the Woodson Research Center of the Rice University.
Ray Watkin Strange was born Annie Ray Watkin, May 11, 1915, in Houston, Texas. She is the daughter of William Ward Watkin (1886-1956) and Annie Ray Townsend (1892-1929).
For further information on Ray Watkin Strange and husband Harry Hoagland, see Christopher Hartman's Advance man: The life and times of Harry Hoagland, Boston : Newbury Street Press, 2005.