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Banking on KC – Amanda Loughlin

 

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Amanda Loughlin of Rosin Preservation: Mary Rockwell Hook Blazed Trails for Women Architects

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Amanda Loughlin, the historic preservation specialist at Rosin Preservation. She's here today to talk about one of Kansas City's pioneering women, Architect Mary Rockwell Hook. Welcome, Amanda.

Amanda Loughlin:

Thanks, Kelly, for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

I know that you're a fan of Mary Rockwell Hook, and we're so happy to have you here to talk about her work, her impact and her legacy. But first, tell us a little bit about what you do at Rosin Preservation. What does an historic preservation specialist do?

Amanda Loughlin:

Well, we are a preservation consulting firm, so we help a lot of property owners, developers take their historic buildings, and give them new life. So we help them access historic tax credits. We help get things listed in the National Register for honorary purposes, but also for that access to tax credits. So if you see a lot of historic buildings around town that have been rehabbed, we have probably been part of that team to help get those projects going.

Kelly Scanlon:

One of the interesting things that I found out, was that it was a trip that inspired Hook to become an architect. So tell us about that trip, and how it changed the course of her life, and really, kind of shaped Kansas City architecture.

Amanda Loughlin:

Yeah. So, Mary Rockwell Hook actually grew up in Junction City, Kansas. It kind of was on the edge of the frontier at the time. She was born in 1877, but her parents were from the East Coast. And they were very well-read. They were highly educated, and they really loved traveling. And so, they sent Mary and her four sisters back east to go to school, and it was after she graduated from Wellesley College that her family decided to take a trip abroad, to see an uncle who was stationed in Manila at the time.

Amanda Loughlin:

So, they headed over there. She did a lot of traveling throughout that region of the world, even going down to Malta on her way home. But it was really that trip back that she decided, "You know what? The architecture that the US government's putting up over here is pretty terrible." And so, she kind of wanted to learn how to design buildings and design a better way of designing buildings that represented the United States a lot better. But interestingly, she never did that, but it was that inspiration, what she saw overseas, from the US government, that really spurred her to have a career in architecture. In the late 1800s or early 1900s, I guess, when she was over there.

Kelly Scanlon:

She was working in the very early part of the 20th century. You mentioned that she didn't go on to design government buildings. What area of architecture was her specialty?

Amanda Loughlin:

It was really residential architecture, and it was more the high-end, custom built, custom designed houses, but she really specialized in residential architecture.

Kelly Scanlon:

And, what influenced her style? Obviously, it wasn't the government building that inspired her to go into the profession, but what actually inspired her style when it came to residential buildings?

Amanda Loughlin:

She really loved the architecture from Spain, from Italy. So, some of those stylistic, those old rustic types of architecture that she would find. But there was also that element, she was huge into the outdoors and hiking, horseback riding, and she really loved the outdoors. And so there's always this mix of that beautiful rustic nature that she kind of harnesses the beauty of a site and brings that in. So it was this blending of the elegance of the old world architecture with nature of the environment that she's designing in. So it was this really nice blending of the two.

Kelly Scanlon:

If I were to go on an architectural tour, and it was mixed architectures, how would I be able to pick out her work? What are some of the little things that I would see that I could go, "Ah, that's got to be Mary Rockwell Hook's."?

Amanda Loughlin:

She loved asymmetry. If she saw a hillside, which you see in some of the houses that she designed there in Sunset Hill, she loved a hillside. She loved the challenge of a hillside. So she would design buildings with multiple different facades so that no elevation will be the same. There's a lot of stone, a lot of brick that's used in there. She loved outdoor spaces, so lots of indoor-outdoor spaces, so covered patios, sleeping porches, very large windows, and balconies. Red clay tile roofs became kind of a thing. Again, that's kind of referencing that Italian-Spanish architecture, but she really loved the red clay tile.

Amanda Loughlin:

Reusing materials, so if you're going through and you see, well, that looks like a railroad tie, that's probably a railroad tie that you're seeing. Or steel windows. She loved... If a factory was coming down, she would go and salvage the metal pivot windows, and she would use those in her buildings. And so a lot of her houses do have those metal windows that are in there. And so just looking for the asymmetry, kind of that tucked away storybook almost, if you will, rustic combined with the architecture of Italy and Spain.

Kelly Scanlon:

And where can we see some of her notable works in the Kansas City area?

Amanda Loughlin:

It's interesting. I was just reading up. I think there's only about nine that are in this area, but there's such iconic buildings that you think that they have to be a lot more. But, a lot are in the Sunset Hill subdivision development, just south of the plaza. Her first one was at 53rd in Brookside. That was a really interesting one, because her father actually bought that lot. Arman and was like, "Hey, go ahead. Try building a house." So this was 1908. She designed this house. She actually had her sister, Bertha, who was an artist, and had her put a mural in, in the dining room area. She and her aunt actually lived there for a month to kind of test drive, if you will, the house. And so, there's that small little bungalow. She called it a California cottage bungalow. And then, up on Sunset Hill, you have more of her grand houses. So 53rd Street, Sunset Drive. She even has a street named for her, Rockwell Drive.

Kelly Scanlon:

There's other places in the US as well, where you can find her work. Tell us about some of those.

Amanda Loughlin:

Well, she had... One of her other sisters had moved out to California, and that was her largest property that she designed. It was a largest estate basically, a kind of French-inspired estate in Santa Rosa, California. She had a little log cabin in Colorado. Down in Florida, she did design a neat little hotel, where she used some existing barracks that were down there as the guest rooms. She even put a solar system in to heat the water. And this was the 1930s, so that's pretty amazing.

Amanda Loughlin:

And then, one really cool thing that she did was, through her connections with Wellesley, she connected with a group of people in Eastern Kentucky and designed the Pine Mountain Settlement School. So it was actually a big development within the Appalachian mountains with several different types of houses in there. So, she's kind of all over.

Kelly Scanlon:

She represents from the East Coast to the West Coast, certainly, and then right in the center as well. Did her architectural style influence other architects? Was her style considered innovative or ahead of her time? Some of the things you're talking about, and we're talking about the early 20th century up through the thirties, is it already sounds pretty remarkable from what you've just said?

Amanda Loughlin:

I think that she had more of an impact on the women in the architecture field here in Kansas City. I'm not sure that... When she turned a hundred, American Institute of Architects kind of acknowledged her as being this amazing architect and designer, and they did a tour of some of her homes. She also wrote an autobiography, kind of bringing out some of the aspects of the houses she designed.

Amanda Loughlin:

For instance, the home up on 53rd Street that she designed for her family, her father and mother, 11 rooms. But, one of the innovative features of that one, besides end porches, sleeping porches, she was really into indoor-outdoor spaces. But she had a port co-share, so a covered drive on the back of the house, and actually, garages inside the house in the basement, which is something like, we see that all the time today. But at the time, insurance agents were like, "We don't know how to insure this. There's gasoline in the house. How are we supposed to insure this?" And so, she kind of chuckled about that, that like, "Well, it was just a great idea. We had the garage on the back, but it was just using some of those interesting tidbits."

Amanda Loughlin:

She also, I would say, before reusing materials is a big thing, she would salvage unused materials. Or, if a church came down in KCK, she took the slate off of that church and used it on her house. So she's kind of this very early preservationist, if you will, or restorationist. So there's some innovation in that, I think, that you could say influences some of the designs today, but maybe a little more subtly than we realize.

Kelly Scanlon:

And from what I understand in some of what I read about her background, she also used materials in what, at the time, would've been considered different kinds of ways. We might be used to seeing materials used in these ways now, but then, oh, it's kind of eye-opening. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Amanda Loughlin:

Well, I think one great example of that would be her reuse of railroad ties. It was a bridge across the Kansas River that was coming down that she salvaged those railroad ties and used them for ceiling beams. So we see her using something that was definitely not used at the time in housing construction, but she would take those materials and put them in the house in a different way. She would take fireplaces out of houses that were coming down and refit those into houses that she was designing.

Amanda Loughlin:

So I think it was more of taking building materials, salvaging those, I think there were blocks from streetcar aligns, the streetcar paving that she would take and reuse in houses for paving materials within the house itself. So it was really taking those materials that you don't think about using in a certain way and putting them in the houses kind of an innovative way.

Kelly Scanlon:

How did she manage to make inroads into the industry? Because at that time, and again, just a reminder, we're talking about the period from about 1910 through the '30s, and, not just architecture, but really all industry was dominated by men. And as I recall, there were actually five women architects in the Kansas City area at the time. But Hook was the only one who was able to achieve that wider recognition beyond our city. How did she manage to make those kinds of inroads?

Amanda Loughlin:

That's, I think, a really interesting question. She came from a family that was very well-off, so she already had a lot of those connections. But besides that, I think it was just her tenacity and her nature. She was the second woman to sit at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to do her entrance exam. The first woman being Julia Morgan, who designed the Hearst Castle. But after taking those exams, she got wind of the fact that the French male students around her were going to ambush her and dump buckets of water on her. And so she figured out a way to get out of the building and into a taxi before they could ambush her, if you will.

Amanda Loughlin:

And so I think that she kind of always had this little smirk on her face to kind of, "Oh, I'm just going to do it." And I think a great example of this is when she came back to Kansas City, she applied actually for White and White to work in their office as a draftswoman. And they said, basically, "No, we can't have you here, because we're not going to be able to swear at you. And, with your dress on, you can't climb all over these tables and draw these full-scale details." And she's like, "Okay, fine." So she goes over to [How, Hoyts & Cutler 00:11:23], try saying that five times fast. And they said, "Sure, come on in. We're great. Yeah, we'd love to have you."

Amanda Loughlin:

And, I think it was just finding that, being persistent and not taking no for an answer, and she was able to go in. She collaborated with Mr. Hoyt. Some of the designs, he would call her into his office and ask for her opinions on things. And she said, "They never had to curse at me, and I did just fine with those full-scale details." And so, I think it's that lesson of just being persistent and being obstinate, if you will, or finding that way around the system.

Kelly Scanlon:

She even eventually started her own firm.

Amanda Loughlin:

Yeah. She had a friend, Mac Remington. She asked him, "Hey, you want to pair up and join a firm." And he's like, "Sure." And I think she also... Part of it, her father was super supportive. Her family was very supportive of her working in the industry. And, I think that goes to show that family support and family background really if you have supportive parents or supportive environment, that really helps you out. And, I always loved that anecdote with her husband. She was married for two years before she got the nerve to ask him if he minded her going back to work. And he was very supportive of her as well. So unlike Nelle Peters, who basically got divorced because her husband didn't want her working, Mary was lucky in having a very supportive husband and family.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've told me that Hook inspired you as a student. In what way did she do that?

Amanda Loughlin:

My background is in architecture. And, I remember just feeling elated, I guess when I learned about these female architects that paved the way for me to be in the architecture field. But also, when I was in grad school, I mentioned Pine Mountain Settlement School earlier, I went to the University of Kentucky for grad school, and we spent a weekend at Pine Mountain. And I had just done a bunch of reading about Mary Rockwell Hook and realized that she had designed the campus. And so, my classmates that weekend, got really annoyed with me describing this setting and how everything comes back to Kansas City. And so, it was really neat to be able to live in her environment for a little while, but also have that connection to her. So, she's always kind of been that little smiling angel, if you will.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned, the AIA, on her 100th birthday, acknowledged her. I mean, one of the things that we didn't talk about was that, she was denied admission to the American Institute of Architects because of her gender. But then, there was a reference letter that I found when I was doing some background work here. And, it said that the AIA did eventually acknowledge her in a newsletter article, in the International Archive of Women in Architecture, I believe it was. And it was on her 100th birthday. It stated, "Mary Rockwell Hook will be remembered, not because she was a woman working in a man's field, but because she was a successful designer who made her mark in the field of architecture." And, while that is true, I mean, her work stands for itself, there's no question about that, I think it will be a great day when the so-called first can stop happening because people just, they just do judge you on your work and your character.

Kelly Scanlon:

But I do think that there are lessons to be learned from her struggle to be accepted. So, what lessons can women today draw from Hook's persistence, and you'd said she was persistent, from her persistence to leave her mark on an industry that initially did not embrace her?

Amanda Loughlin:

Wow. What a question. I think, maybe kind of just going back to what I said a little while ago, just being tenacious, just not taking no for an answer. There's no reason why women can't do the same things that men do. And it just may be that educating, finding the allies in the field and educating others who may not be as open to us, educating them with our persistent spirit, with our good work that we do, that just don't give up. Just because we're told no, it doesn't mean that's the final, the end all be all. Find that support system.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. And I like what she ultimately did and it was like, she built her own table. She went and started her own firm. If you can't get what you want with what already exists, just go build your own. You mentioned that her biggest influence was probably other female architects of the time, especially the other five working female architects in Kansas City during that period. In what way did she influence them?

Amanda Loughlin:

I think she was the first, I think I can say, that she was the first female architect in Kansas City. And I think just having that background, just knowing that there was somebody else before you, they all did interesting work in their own right. A lot of it was residential architecture, but just, I think, knowing that somebody came before them, having that mentor, having that buddy, if you will, in this system was really influential. And then, you get onto later, in this day and age, we have a lot more female architects that are in Kansas City. So it's not just on that time period, but paving the way that if they could do it then, then we can do it now.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely. Yeah. We stand on the shoulders of a lot of women who came before us. That's for sure. Amanda, thank you very much for being our guest today, because so many people, we look around, our environment, as we're walking or driving around Kansas City, and sometimes we just really don't stop and really look at what we're passing through. And now, thanks to you, and people hearing this, they just might stop and say, "Oh, there's some really interesting architecture by Mary Rockwell Hook." So thank you for bringing that to light and for giving some of the interesting background, how she paved the way for women architects.

Amanda Loughlin:

Absolutely. And thank you for letting me talk about her for a little bit.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Amanda Loughlin for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC.

Joe Close:

Throughout our history, Kansas City has been home to many extraordinary women. These trailblazers have been entrepreneurs and artists, philanthropists and scientists. Some worked subtly behind the scenes. Others were activists. The legacies of these remarkable women lie, not only in the landmark work they produced but also in the paths they paved for the women who followed them.

Joe Close:

Among the women who made significant contributions to our community, Mary Rockwell Hook literally helped build Kansas City. And, as Amanda notes, she continues even today to inspire female architects across the country. At Country Club Bank, we salute the contributions Kansas City women have made throughout our history. And we thank those in our community who work to empower women and expand their opportunities.

Joe Close:

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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