As mentioned previously, John Meem was in 1961 recently retired from active architectural practice. His firm had been passed on to Edward Obert Holien and William R. Buckley, who had both already worked for some years under Meem, and it was Holien and Buckley who were hired to draw up the plans for the new campus, which would need to be built from the ground up. But of course John Meem—who was himself the primary land donor, an immediate neighbor, a strong community advocate for the College, and soon to become a member of the College’s Board of Visitor’s and Governors—also maintained a keen eye on and firm hand in the quality of the project.
The original campus plan included what is now the core of the Santa Fe campus: the Student Center, the Science Laboratory, and the main classroom building (Santa Fe Hall). It also called for men’s and women’s dormitories, an administration building, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a rooftop observatory, a chapel, and, as befits a College whose very raison d’etre is the reading of good books, a substantial library. All of these were to be built in keeping with the traditional regional architectural styles of which Meem was such a strong local advocate, styles rooted directly in both the Native American pueblos and in the early days of colonial settlement in the region, which had first seen Europeans in 1541 during Coronado’s fruitless search for the rumored Seven Golden Cities of Cibola and which had not entered into American statehood as what we now call “New Mexico” until 1912, just fifty years before the new Santa Fe campus was constructed.
Meem, in an article about the architecture of the new campus for a college brochure, described it as follows:
The “Territorial” style takes its name, obviously, from the period when New Mexico was a frontier Territory rather than a state. During that period innovations were made in the regional indigenous style. Among them the protection of the exposed wall parapets with a brick coping, the covering of the walls with stucco, the introduction of wood mill work and glass brought over the Santa Fe Trail and finally the use of paint….
The buildings at St. John’s College in Santa Fe will reflect practically all the historical phases….Their terraced flat roofed masses recall their ancient aboriginal American origin; the balconies, portales and patios recall the Spain they came from and the stuccoed walls with their brick cornices will remind us of our Territorial past.
However, these buildings will reflect still another phase in the development of the style for they will be completely contemporary in meeting the standards of living and scientific requirements demanded of a modern, advanced educational institution like St. John’s College. For example, the windows and doors will be of aluminum for efficiency in maintenance and their sizes and number will be far greater than in the original style; nevertheless, the walls will dominate rather than the openings, and the portales and balconies will be of concrete instead of wood for maximum fire protection. Such changes occur throughout the buildings especially in plan. The architects, however, have managed them in such a way as to make this campus, cupped in the pinon covered foothills of Santa Fe, completely contemporary and yet reflecting the rich inheritance of the past. Perhaps, in a small way, this may be a worthy symbol of the way St. John’s College looks at its task in the world.