Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Former University of New Mexico architect Van Dorn Hooker Jr. may not have designed any of the buildings on the sprawling campus, but his imprint is everywhere.
A large part of Hooker’s legacy was his success at preserving the Spanish pueblo revival, or pueblo revival style, of architecture that prevails on the UNM campus and which was championed by his mentor, John Gaw Meem, who preceded him as the university’s consulting architect.
Hooker, however, was the first person to hold the official title of UNM architect, a position he filled from 1963 to 1987. It was a time “when modernism in architecture had displaced an interest in regional design,” said Chris Wilson, the JB Jackson chair of Cultural Landscape Studies at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning.
Hooker assembled the teams of architects and engineers to design buildings, but it was his big-picture oversight that ensured “adherence to the basic palette of form, material and color,” even with contemporary interpretations of the regional Spanish pueblo revival style, Wilson said.
Ultimately, Hooker is credited with “maintaining the coherence of the UNM campus when other universities across the country lost that in favor of a modernist disrespect for the traditions that held their campuses together,” Wilson said.
Van Dorn Hooker Jr., who was also an expert in historic preservation of old adobe churches, an author and a well-known painter, died June 14 in a local hospital. He was 93.
His son, Albuquerque architect John Hooker, said that in artfully carrying out the university’s master plan, his father used landscape as the medium to tie the various buildings together. Streets that cut through and intersected in the heart of the campus, as well as parking lots, were closed, excavated and reconfigured to promote a pedestrian-only campus center. The focal point of that landscape design is the UNM duck pond, which Hooker fought to get built.
After he retired, Hooker collaborated with former UNM president William Davis, photographer Robert Reck and others to produce “Only in New Mexico, An Architectural History of the University of New Mexico” (UNM Press, 2000). There had been no written history of the university quite like that before this account, said UNM archivist Terry Gugliotta. “It was a history of the campus buildings, but also the politics surrounding the construction of those buildings.”
Hooker was born in Carthage, Texas, and attended Marshall College. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and then the 25th Bombardment Squadron. A staff sergeant, he was stationed in the China-Burma-India and the Asia Pacific theaters. In his spare time, he painted nose art on bombers and drew cartoons for Army news publications. He never participated in combat and years later wrote a memoir of his military experience, “The War In Which I Did Not Fight.”
Rejoining post-war civilian life, Hooker met Marjorie “Peggy” Mead while both were studying architecture at the University of Texas. They married in 1947 and honeymooned in New Mexico before moving to Berkeley, where Hooker studied under well-known expressionist architect Erich Mendelsohn. The couple later moved to Santa Fe, where Hooker worked in Meem’s architectural office.
Hooker then helped to establish his own firm in Santa Fe – McHugh, Hooker, Bradley P. Kidder and Associates. At the same time, he became a noted expert in the restoration of old adobe churches for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and served on the archdiocese’s building committee.
He advised on the restoration of the St. Francis of Assisi Church in Ranchos de Taos, the church whose profile was famously captured by American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. In 1996, he and Corina Santistevan published “Centuries of Hands, an Architectural History of St. Francis of Assisi Church” (1996, Sunstone Press). Hooker also consulted on the restoration of the San Ysidro Church in Corrales, the San Augustine Church on the Isleta Pueblo and the San Ignacio Church in Albuquerque.
Hooker’s daughter, Ann Clarke, a lawyer and mediator now living in California, said the family’s home while growing up was filled with art and crafts created by New Mexico artists and craftspeople.
Her father, she said, was “very curious about the world, so our home was also filled with books and magazines on architecture, the natural world and history.” That curiosity extended to innovation and technology. “He was forward-thinking, even about historic preservation,” she said, noting that, after he retired, her father consulted on a major renovation of the state Capitol building in Santa Fe.
In addition, her father and mother were both longtime supporters of the Animal Humane Association of New Mexico. “Every pet we ever had was either a foundling from the neighborhood or came from the humane association,” she said.
In addition to son John and daughter Ann, Hooker is survived by four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Peggy, who died in 2006 after 59 years of marriage, and their son Van Dorn Hooker III.
A memorial service for Hooker will be held on Nov. 14, 10 a.m., in the UNM Alumni Memorial Chapel on the UNM campus.