Among the numerous imaginative architects who practiced in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early twentieth century was Mary Rockwell Hook. Her style was reflective of her travels and education; the substantial houses she designed have contributed to the enduring character of some of Kansas City’s most beautiful areas.
Born in 1877 to a prosperous family in Junction City, Kansas, she was afforded an education at Wellesley College and the opportunity to travel – both at home and abroad. It was on a return trip from the Philippines in 1902 that she resolved to study architecture; she felt that the facilities used by the U. S. government there were insufficient and in need of improvement.
Studying architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1903, she was the only woman in her class. She was an anomaly in a field populated by men, and suffered for it from the start. Her experience is described by Wikipedia in this way:
“In 1905, Rockwell (later Hook) went to Paris to study in the atelier of Marcel Auburtin, an admirer of her sister Kitty, as a prerequisite for being admitted at the École des Beaux-Arts. As a female student in a predominantly male school, Rockwell (Hook) faced gender discrimination. In 1906, after her entrance examinations at the École des Beaux-Arts, French male students intended to fling buckets of water at her as she fled through the courtyard. She did not pass the exam nor repeated it as other students did and thus did not study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Instead, she explored French architecture on bicycle trips with her sister.”
This informal continuation of her education may have contributed to the characteristic warmth her work exudes; a more formal education may very well have stifled her natural talent.
Two years after her family moved to Kansas City in 1906, her first three designs were built; one in California for a sister and two in Kansas City – one for herself and one for her parents. Beginning in 1914 she designed the campus for the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Kentucky.
She married attorney Inghram D. Hook in 1921 just as her practice experienced growth. Her husband encouraged her career, a somewhat unusual thing for a man of that time period to do. In 1923 she partnered with Eric Douglas Macwilliam Remington to create the Hook and Remington architectural firm. It lasted until 1932 when Remington moved to California.
Often ahead of her time, she has been credited with having designed the first house in Kansas City to have an attached garage as well as the first to have a swimming pool (though it appears that Louis Curtiss may have beat her with a pool at the now-demolished 1899 Rule residence known as Oaklawn). She was also ahead of the pack in her occasional use of salvaged materials in her designs. She was fond of designing houses for sloping lots where she took full advantage of the terrain. She is said to have been the first in Kansas City to use a poured concrete foundation. She led a full and adventurous life, practiced into her 70’s, and lived to the age of 101.
The house she designed for herself has been on the market, allowing us to admire some rarely-seen interior views of one of her many fascinating and beautiful houses. This house will be followed by exterior views of a few other examples of her work. Enjoy!
Now let’s take a look at some other houses designed by Hook:
Now, a look at her earliest houses: