Edward P. White Memorial Plaza Dedication
The University of St. Thomas President Robert R. Ivany led the dedication ceremony for one of the last creative designs of world-renowned architect Philip Johnson on Tuesday, Sept. 25 in front of the University’s Link Lee Mansion, 3800 Montrose Boulevard. The Edward P. White Memorial Plaza completes a series of campus beautification projects.
“The University of St. Thomas has been blessed with some of the earliest and the latest Philip Johnson designs,” said Dr. Ivany. “During the middle 1950s, the late Houston arts patron Dominique de Menil brought a virtually unknown Johnson to Houston to design her own home, then to create what would become the Academic Mall here at the University. His influence on Texas, Houston and St. Thomas campus has been a lasting one.”
More than 50 years ago Philip Johnson drew plans for the new University of St. Thomas campus at the behest of philanthropist and art collector Mrs. Dominique de Menil. The first buildings on the Johnson-designed Academic Mall were completed in 1958. On the new Mall, the Jones Hall auditorium/lecture hall as well as the exhibition gallery became the heart of the cultural and artistic activities on campus. The last of the Mall buildings, Malloy Hall, was dedicated in 2001. Johnson came out of retirement during the mid-1990s to design the Chapel of St. Basil, dedicated in 1997. Located at the north end of the Mall, the Chapel faces the Doherty Library at the south end, an architectural arrangement that represents dialogue between faith and reason. Thus, the architecture embodies the philosophy of UST’s patron, St. Thomas Aquinas. The Philip Johnson design, with classrooms opening onto a lush, green lawn, resembles Thomas Jefferson’s design of the University of Virginia.
Just as Johnson came out of retirement to design the Chapel of St. Basil, the architect also rendered a “landmark” design to herald the University as a gateway to the Houston Museum District.
Construction on the Edward P. White Memorial Plaza began in 2006. Turner Architects, a local firm that handled much of Johnson’s Houston-based work during his lifetime, is coordinating the details of the landmark design and construction with the offices of Johnson Ritchie in NYC and local builder Linbeck Construction. Louis Nelson, a well-known New York artist who designed the commemorative wall mural for the Korean War Veterans Memorial, designed the landmark plaques.
The Johnson landmark consists of a granite-clad reinforced concrete structure with a studded cross attached at the same angle of repose as the cross in the west wall of the Chapel of St. Basil. The black granite monument, also called a stele, which stands about 36-feet tall and 14-feet wide, alludes to the black granite plane that bisects the campus Chapel. The white granite plaza around the landmark is made of the same material as the plaza in front of the Chapel. Additionally, the landmark has a 17- x 32-foot reflecting pool tiled with a blue glass tile. A water wall, standing 6-feet in height, is erected on the plaza’s west side. The water cascades behind a set of aluminum letters that spell out “University of St. Thomas.”
The site of the Philip Johnson work is named in memory of Edward P. White, a major University of St. Thomas benefactor. He was born on Feb. 20, 1927 to Frances C. Vogtner and John Joseph White. He spent his childhood in Mobile, Ala. He graduated from high school at McGill Institute in Mobile in 1945 and from Southwestern University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1949. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, retiring with the rank of Commander. After 42 years, he retired from General Motors Acceptance Corporation where he was employed in various management capacities.
Download hi-resolution photos of the plaza here.