The Opening of the Campus and its First Library Space

The new campus formally opened in October of 1964. Richard Weigle describes the inaugural Friday night lecture by Dean Clarence (“Corky”) Kramer in the Great Hall as follows:

In his lecture the dean said that technique threatens to outstrip knowledge and that the scientist and layman have become estranged. But science and the liberal arts have a “common dedication for freedom.” Mutual distrust has arisen because science has become something of a “veiled” activity and has taken over, partly by default, the kind of authority once held by churches, courts, and universities. Kramer said that the liberal arts institution has both the ability and the duty to inquire where science encroaches on the political and social order. It must find a new common language to deal with the distrust.

Kramer discussed the role of the St. John’s Program in a nuclear age. He compared contemporary disorders to similar events in the history of the world and noted that works of literature and philosophy, influenced by historical events and movements, have applicability to the present day. He said that serious conversation must be restored to resolve modern problems and to re-establish communication among differing groups. The alternative would be a return to barbarism, a tendency to seek immediate remedies to conflicts by violence. Through serious dialogue, he said, human beings can accept their limitations and learn to reconcile their differences. He called serious dialogue our “way of saluting each other as humans,” and said that the role of the liberal arts is to fight against barbarism wherever civilization is in jeopardy. A lively question period followed the lecture, as is the St. John’s custom.

And so the Santa Fe campus was off and running. As for the library—with no dedicated building of its own yet, it was temporarily sited in the first-floor space of the student center, in what was intended to be (and is now) the location of the campus Bookstore.

The original Student Center Library in what is now the campus Bookstore space, on the weekend of the formal campus dedication, October 1964
Another view of the Student Center Library in what is now the campus Bookstore

But even this was not sufficient to store its relatively meager initial holdings, which soon began to spill over into unused spaces in other campus buildings, as this excerpt from the 1965-1966 Student Handbook already shows:

The college library has two locations. The Main Library, main floor of the Student Center, offers a variety of current periodicals and newspapers in addition to the book collection, indexes, and other reference works.  Besides its book collection, the Music and Science Library, Room 127 of the Laboratory Building, includes musical scores, records, and tapes.

Library hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and Sunday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m….

Looking back in The Colonization of a College, Weigle states:

Efforts were made to fund a library building in 1966 and 1967. As early as 1965 my annual report to the Board stated that space had become a problem for the library. Temporary quarters in the future bookstore, a large basement room in the student center, and a laboratory and preparation room in the laboratory building were not sufficient to see the needs of the burgeoning collection. Thanks to Buddy Fogelson, detailed plans and specifications for the library building were ready to go out to bid, but a donor for the building was lacking. In February 1967 the Board authorized an application to the New Mexico State Commission under Title I of the Higher Education Facilities Act. The sum of $311,000 was sought for the library, conditional upon the College’s raising $622,000 in matching funds. The application was approved, but no matching funds were found to enable the College to claim the proffered grant. Pressure was brought to bear to release the Federal funds so that they could be made available to another institution. In the spring of 1968 the College accordingly surrendered its claim to the funds in the hope that they might be claimed again should matching funds become available. No assurances were given to the College on this score. Meanwhile, the collection had grown to exceed 15,000 books, phono-discs, phono-tapes, and musical scores. The main library still occupied space in the student center planned for the bookstore, but the mathematics, science, and music collections were moved to a new temporary home on the first floor of Calliope House in the women’s dormitory complex.

Elsewhere, Weigle writes:

Unfortunately, Buddy’s proposal for a library never materialized because it conflicted with the fundraising for the Western Consolidation Campaign.

That campaign was the first part of a larger and more encompassing campaign with a ten-year fundraising goal of $16,850,000 “to meet the building and endowment needs of the College on both its campuses.” The construction of a Santa Fe library building thus became bound up with this College-wide fundraising effort, to be completed in 1975. It is likely that, when that campaign was launched in 1965, no one ever imagined that it would take another 25 full years for this library building to actually come to fruition.

John Knego, the First Santa Fe Campus Librarian

Construction of the new campus had begun in earnest. But just as vital as the actual physical construction of the new campus was the selection of the faculty, staff, and students who would people it. The first slate of ten tutors for Santa Fe, as recommended by the two deans and the Instruction Committee, was comprised of two women and eight men, several of them (Clarence Kramer, William Darkey, Curtis Wilson, and Thomas Slakey) with a significant number of years of teaching on the Annapolis campus already under their belts, and one of them (Ford K. Brown) with a tenure at the College going all the way back to the founding of the New Program in 1937. A timely article published in March of 1963 in the widely read magazine Saturday Review, along with a newly released St. John’s admission film, brought the College a large wave of applicants for the fall of 1964, resulting in an incoming inaugural freshman class for Santa Fe of 84 students, 33 of them women and 51 men.

And along with these cohorts of faculty and students, to round out the academic side of the house, was the hiring of the campus’s first librarian, John Knego. In The Colonization of a College, Richard Weigle describes the campus library’s earliest beginnings:

Priority was given to the library for the new college, since it would take time to assemble a collection of reference works, class copies of Program books, and books on general subjects. Books had been given by a number of friends, but the first actual step was the appointment of John M. Knego as librarian at the May meeting of the Board in 1963. Knego was the first choice of the faculty committee. He held an M.A. degree in library science from Indiana University and had a working knowledge of the Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Russian, and Croatian languages. At the time of his appointment he was serving as reference librarian at the Kresge Science Library of Wayne State University, in Detroit. He spent the months of December and January 1963-64 in Annapolis acquainting himself with library needs and procedures before moving to Santa Fe at the beginning of February. Meanwhile the Annapolis librarian and the Library Committee of the faculty had been compiling titles of volumes which should be purchased for the Santa Fe library, primarily class copies, texts, and references and secondary books for the Program as a whole. The most helpful source of titles was found to be the Annapolis shelf list.

Temporary space for the library staff to work at accessioning was provided on the second floor of a building across San Francisco Street from the entrance to the La Fonda, a donation from the law firm of Seth, Montgomery, Federici, and Andrews. Four new appointments were made: Mrs. Florence van Dresser, secretary; Mrs. Margaret Frazier, library assistant; Mrs. Diana Chaffee, library assistant; and Ruby Rubideaux, cataloguer. My annual report at the end of the College’s first full year of operation pays tribute to the tremendous feat of building the new library’s book collection:

“John Knego, the Librarian, and his staff have wrought miracles in bringing the new library into being and in acquiring and cataloguing 6,675 volumes during this first year. An additional 7,000 volumes have been received, mostly by gift, and are yet to be acquisitioned. It would be impossible in this report to acknowledge the many donations to the Library, but mention should be made of the gifts of all publications by the Bollingen Foundation and of reprints of the Southwestern Classics by the Rio Grande Press of Chicago. Notable bequests of books were received from the late Edith Ames Crosley, Kenneth Foster, Grace Guest, and Robert Hunt.

The volunteer Library Committee of Santa Fe citizens and others, under the honorary chairmanship of Witter Bynner and the general chairmanship of Mrs. Alexander Girard, contributed importantly to the development of the Library. Through sponsoring benefits and through seeking Friends of the Library, this Committee obtained gifts of nearly $5,000 to endow the purchase of books and $4,360 in memberships for current book acquisitions.”

Greer Garson, a member of the Library Committee, had suggested the idea of making a gift to the College to endow purchase of a book each year forever. As a result there were fourteen perpetual book memorial endowments by the end of 1964 and twenty-two life memberships. Those figures nearly doubled in the first year of the College’s operation.

From an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, May 10, 1964:

During one of the most delightful parties of early Spring, more than 400 friends of St. John’s College in Santa Fe were introduced Thursday to John M. Knego, librarian for the college, and his young charming wife, Mrs. Knego. Setting for the reception was The Palace with the two private dining rooms in use as well as the brick-paved, walled patio despite the gale-like breeze and its accompanying dust….Mrs. Alexander Girard is serving as chairman of the library committee with Witter Bynner as honorary chairman….The tea table in the gold room held an arrangement of Tropicana roses in an heirloom footed container while the table in the other room held a magnificent display of long-stemmed white roses with small pots of grape ivy encircling the base….Librarians from throughout the area were among the 400 or more guests attending the Thursday afternoon reception….Among the guests were members of the Scientific Library staff at Los Alamos, the Mesa Library there, the Public Library here, the Supreme Court Law Library as well as many who have extensive private libraries.

Also notable in this article is a photo of renowned painter and longtime New Mexico resident Georgia O’Keeffe, seen in attendance and mingling with the other guests.

Diana (Chaffee) Amsden, a Northern New Mexico native and UNM and Harvard-trained anthropologist and archaeologist who was one of that first cadre of librarians to catalogue the books that would become the initial library collection, recalled in an email to Meem Librarian Inga Waite in 2001:

The first librarian was John Knego. He was originally from Croatia, from which he and his wife were refugees; she had terrible memories, and his health was still affected….Mr. Knego was wonderful to work with. Charming, educated, and his English was entertaining; he always said “wolume” rather than “volume”. It was at this time that I learned to drive and he enjoyed jumping with alarm and running when he saw me approach in the driveway/parking lot. I still remember him with affection.

We used IBM typewriters with the type on a rolling ball; this was state-of-the-art. On rare occasions a gear would slip and all of the letters would come out wrong. The books were chosen by the faculty and Mr. Knego, and I suspect that the list was a copy of the card catalog at St. John’s at Annapolis.

At first we started in an upstairs room across the street from the La Fonda. Then we moved into what would become the cook’s apartment [now a storage area in the basement of Peterson Student Center], downstairs under what would be the library [now the Bookstore]. One of my fondest memories was our opening ceremonies. Mr. Meem took me into the dining room and turned on the [Alexander Girard designed] chandelier, a beautiful thing like a Swedish Christmas tree. He looked as happy as a little boy with a new toy. He was an endearing man. They were painting Mr. Girard’s symbols on the wall outside the library. Mrs. Girard was head of the Library Committee and was an elegant-looking and sweet-natured woman whom I liked very much.

I recall that the dining hall had a rule about wearing a necktie, so one student came in wearing his tie around his leg. There were some delightful students.

Another memory is our going for quite a few days to the home of someone (who shall remain nameless) who had bequeathed his library to St. John’s. We cataloged the books, each on a separate slip of paper. It was an impressive library—and we also found a few pornographic books!

Another happy memory is the films shown upstairs [in the Great Hall] periodically. There I first saw Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent film so taut that sound would have broken the intense mood. Later I saw it in Los Angeles at the Shriners’ Auditorium with orchestral accompaniment, and it was not nearly as effective as when silent.

Also, I had the privilege of taking a couple of seminars from Dean Kramer, and discovered how cheated I had been that the classics had not been part of my required curriculum. I had graduated with highest honors from UNM, then earned a Master’s at Harvard. I now have six degrees and know I am not educated by my standards because the classics were not there, and they are not only the foundations, but also the best thinking. 

Alexander Girard and Garrett Eckbo

Richard Weigle and John Gaw Meem

Construction began apace, with President Weigle and the Board continuing their work towards financing the new campus while John Meem kept a close eye on the physical details. As related by Richard Weigle:

John Meem was not satisfied with the rather heavy treatment of the interiors of the buildings, notably the student center. He therefore proposed that the College retain the interior designer Alexander Girard to do the work. Girard had designed furniture for Herman Miller. One of his recent commissions that attracted attention was La Fonda del Sol in the Time-Life Building in New York….Simplicity of design was the keynote. The effects achieved in the student center were most pleasing. Square bricks were used to advantage in certain walls and simple vertical paneling in others. Chandeliers were imaginatively designed for the dining hall. Most of the furniture, executive and student desks, dining room and coffee shop tables, and common room furniture, were designed by Girard and constructed locally. Use of laminated wood block tops throughout resulted in significant economies and produced a harmony of appearance. Appropriately enough, there was a tie with Annapolis tradition, for Clore chairs were used everywhere, the same kind of chair that has endured thousands of hours of seminar dialectic over the years. Walls were painted white, except for bright colors here and there. On the first floor of the student center a door, a fire extinguisher, and a register were hidden by the way the wall was painted into sections, each part filled by some appropriate educational symbol, such as the Mendelian inheritance formula, Shakespeare’s signature, Einstein’s famous formula, an Egyptian eye, and the like. Paneled doors were painted in bright colors so that they added life to the interiors. All of this Girard accomplished well within the budget given him.

Alexander Girard in the Student Center Art Gallery, circa 1969
Painting the Girard Mural, 1964
College advertisement in Time magazine, 1967

Weigle continues:

A similar wise suggestion was made by John Meem with respect to the landscaping of the buildings. Garrett Eckbo of Los Angeles was doing some work for the University of New Mexico, and Meem prevailed upon him to visit St. John’s. The result was a commission…to develop the patio between the student center and the academic complex and to plan the landscaping for the rest of the campus. Eckbo took advantage of the difference in elevation between the student center and other buildings. He constructed two walls of lichen-covered stone for one-third of the area, a pool and rock garden for another third, and broad steps for the remaining third. Wide concrete walkways were installed in a brownish hue to combat New Mexico glare from the sun. Only in two places were grass plots installed. The balance of the campus was left in natural ground cover, thus simplifying the task of maintenance. Trees and bushes were attractively placed around the campus and in the dormitory areas, initially small but soon to grow to sizable proportions. Most of the stones and giant rocks came from the College’s own hillsides, many of them still covered with green lichen. They were beautifully used in stone walls or gently heaved unto position by a crane under the watchful eye of Mr. Eckbo.

Original campus landscape design by Garrett Eckbo
Close-up of Nina Garson Reflection Pool

Campus Construction Begins

In 2018, fifty-five years after John Meem ceremonially broke the ground he and Faith had donated for the new Santa Fe campus, College custodial staff cleaning out a storage space in the basement of Evans Science Lab turned up a stash of old boxes. No one knew for certain how long they had been there, but in addition to the layers of dust accrued on the boxes themselves, the items they contained suggested it had been for some time. One box held vinyl record albums from 1976. Another included a government civil defense pamphlet providing detailed instructions for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Two boxes included original architectural correspondence going back to the earliest days of campus construction.

And among all of this material was a single film reel labeled simply “Cornerstone Ceremony.” With no certainty, given its age and its unknown history, that this reel was even still viewable, but sensing the possibility of something extraordinary, the Library used funds provided by a generous alumna for the preservation of deteriorating audio-visual media to have the fragile film professionally restored and digitized.

And it turned out that the Librarians’ intuitions were correct, for these twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds of silent film are pure archival gold.

The film is comprised of a series of short clips, shot by hand and often shaky, recorded over the course of roughly a year and a half. It opens in the winter of 1963 at the intersection of Camino de Cruz Blanca and Camino del Monte Sol, a location every Santa Fe Johnnie knows by heart. Everything at that point is still familiar. And then, moments later, we suddenly find ourselves just up the road in a place we all know intimately, but—before, as it were, the place was ever there.

The film shows a scene of the newly bulldozed dirt campus entrance road, leading in to the fresh construction site. It shows the just-installed culverts that were necessary to allow for safe year-round passage of a road over Arroyo Chamisa, essential during the summer monsoon season when the ordinarily dry arroyo can fill within minutes after one of our frequent mountain thunderstorms. It shows the extent of the heavy machine work that went into preparing the hilly ground at the site for construction. It shows the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new student center, which according to Weigle’s account occurred at 4:30 on Friday, September 27th, with “some 300 people gathered to watch officials of the Board, the College, and the city wield the trowel to mark the occasion.” It shows the extensive ongoing construction as the campus rises from the earth against the backdrops of Atalaya and Monte Luna and Monte Sol. It includes a shot of the burned-out contractor’s trailer following the explosion one late November evening of a kerosene stove, which started a fire that demolished both the trailer and all of the contractor’s project plans and shop drawings inside. It briefly shows the Santa Fe airport and then views of the growing campus from the window of a small plane. And it shows the College’s temporary office space in the Nason building at 202 East Palace Avenue in downtown Santa Fe, which served as the administrative headquarters until the move to the new campus at the end of August in 1964. And all of this appears before us in silence, as if we are both present in the moment and also impossibly far away. Which, in a sense, we are.

To revisit this legendary period of College history one has traditionally had to rely on Weigle’s own two memoirs, The Colonization of a College and Recollections of a St. John’s President: 1949-1980. Here in this film, however, we see the campus take shape before our very eyes, and in living color. We see, back across a gulf of nearly sixty years, the very individuals who planned and funded and built it—Dick Weigle and the Board members and the architects, the Caterpillar drivers and the carpenters, the plumbers and the bricklayers. And we see, for a few moments, John Gaw Meem himself, surveying the ongoing work.

For any who know our College, viewing this film makes for a powerful and poignant experience. For in seeing that year and a half of construction compressed into just twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds, we begin to truly comprehend just how much labor went into the creation of this haven for serious reading and conversation we know as St. John’s. We see the Santa Fe campus’s embryonic beginnings there before us on the screen. We see the faces of the very men and women who brought it into being out of nothing. We see it coalesce from a vision into a full-fledged campus. And we see vividly—we cannot help but see —just how much this life of the mind to which we dedicate ourselves here owes to the labor of so many different hands.

The Construction of the Santa Fe campus of St. John’s College, 1963-1964

Santa Fe Campus Groundbreaking

Richard and Mary Weigle boarding TWA plane to Santa Fe with the groundbreaking shovel used previously for the Key Memorial and Mellon Hall

Meanwhile, work on the new campus had begun in earnest at the start of the new year in 1963, beginning with the installation of the eight-foot culverts that would enable the campus’s access road to bridge Arroyo Chamisa, followed by the laying of the water and gas lines. On April 22nd an official groundbreaking ceremony was held, with John Meem using the same shovel that had been used in 1956 when ground had been broken in Annapolis for the Key Memorial and Mellon Hall.

In The Colonization of a College, Richard Weigle quotes from a letter Meem wrote later that week describing the event:

There were about 60 persons there; they parked on the causeway and slowly climbed the hill to the designated spot—it was like a pilgrimage and perhaps that set the tone for the event—that and the fact that the site looked particularly lovely, in spite of a chill wind blowing.

Meem himself made the following remarks at the ceremony:

This simple ceremony has a three-fold significance. In the long history of St. John’s College in Annapolis, it marks the moment when, because of a sound and successful program in liberal education under dynamic leadership, it has outgrown its physical limitations and must expand. This ground-breaking is a symbol of that growth.

It is also an historical event for the City of Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico. One of the oldest colleges in America and one of its most distinguished is about to construct a campus on our soil, thus increasing our educational facilities and immeasurably enriching our culture.

And, finally, it is an important event in the history of education in the United States of America for here—for the first time in our country—a college has adopted a policy of expanding, not by enlarging its local facilities, not by constructing regional branches, but by establishing extensions of its campus throughout the nation. Santa Fe has the honor, in response to our invitation, of being chosen for the first campus extension to be so established.

Ladies and Gentlemen: By virtue of authority invested in me by the Board of Visitors and Governors, I hereby break ground for the first group of buildings to be constructed on the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe.

Financial Support and the First Library Plans

The future Library as envisioned in 1963

The business of building an entire campus from scratch meant not just the design and construction of the campus. It also involved the vital and equally complex work of the fundraising necessary to bankroll it. Santa Fe had been chosen by the Annapolis Faculty and by Weigle and the Board for a clear and explicit list of academic, cultural, and historical reasons. In The Colonization of a College, Weigle recounts the six criteria that led to the committee’s choice of Santa Fe. The first was the city’s parallels with Annapolis, both being small capital cities of about the same size, one in the Spanish colonial and the other in the British colonial tradition. The second was the rich cultural life of Santa Fe, with its many museums, its opera, its symphony orchestras, and its many arts galleries. A third was the proximity of Los Alamos National Laboratory, with its world-class scientific facilities and staff, who had extended a warm welcome to St. John’s. A fourth was that, at the time, neither New Mexico nor Arizona were home to any other independent liberal arts college. A fifth was the warmth extended by the entire Santa Fe community at the prospect of having the College’s new campus sited here.

But also paramount among these was the sixth—the prospect of good financial support for the campus in Santa Fe. As Weigle pointed out to the members of the Board of Visitors in 1961, he had drawn a circle with a radius of twenty miles around Santa Fe and could count at least that number of millionaires within it. For a new campus that was to be built 1,500 miles from its sister campus and from the ground up, that was an auspicious sign of the financial resources the College would have among its neighbors in this ancient but also cosmopolitan city. For Richard Weigle, an energetically driven man who was in his own way as visionary as Buchanan and Barr had been in theirs, was a ceaseless fundraiser, one who sought support for this small College from any and all possible sources: foundations, philanthropists, alumni, campus neighbors, his own college classmates, and just about anyone else he thought might take an interest in its program. And more often than not, his overtures were successful, because the simple fact was that, two and a half decades into the New Program, no other college in the county was doing what St. John’s had been doing with ever-increasing success since 1937.

Among these early donors to the Santa Fe project was Tom Evans, an old Yale classmate of Weigle’s who gave the money to construct the campus science lab (Evans Science Lab, or ESL) that now bears his name. Another committed donor in these early years, and someone who would continue her financial support for several more decades (she lived to be 102), was Baltimore-based philanthropist Clementine Peterson, whose recently-deceased husband Duane had been a Board member, and after which couple the Peterson Student Center was ultimately named. And, as always, there were the ever-supportive John and Faith Meem, who in addition to donating most of the original 260 acres of land (worth over $750,000 in 1960’s dollars) had also committed another $500,000 in direct financial support. Also in the ranks of these founding campus donors were newspaper publisher Robert McKinney of Nambe, oilman Robert O. Anderson of Roswell, Oscar B. Huffman of Nambe (at the time the owner of much of the Valle Grande in the Jemez Mountains), retired businessman Marshall McCune of Tesuque, and Annapolis alumnus Walter Paine of Vermont, all of whom were later honored in the Upper Dormitories that still bear their names.

In addition to all of the above, there was another couple of renown who were also early and significant donors to the College: actress Greer Garson, winner of the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in the film Mrs. Miniver, which won the award for Best Picture that same year, and her husband Buddy Fogleson, a Texas businessman who also owned the 13,000 acre Forked Lightning Ranch on the Pecos River outside of Santa Fe, where he raised Santa Gertrudis cattle.

Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice (public domain)
Buddy Fogelson and Greer Garson (public domain)

As related by Richard Weigle:

E.E. Fogelson, better known as Buddy Fogelson, and his wife, Greer Garson, owned a ranch near Pecos, New Mexico, named Forked Lightning. I had hoped to meet them, and Fletcher Catron, their local attorney, promised to let me know the next time that they were in town. One afternoon I was surprised to receive a phone call from Buddy, who said that he was staying at La Fonda and that he would be glad to have me show him the plans for the new college. Buddy introduced me to Greer in Los Angeles over the long distance telephone. Soon thereafter, while I was staying at the Meem guest house, Buddy telephoned to ask me to spend the weekend with them in Beverley Hills. I accepted with alacrity and was put up in the Bel Air across Stone Canyon Road from the Fogelsons. At breakfast the next morning Buddy made a gift for the preparation of architectural plans for the new college’s library and music and fine arts building.

A July 22, 1963 letter to Richard Weigle from Buddy Fogelson illuminates just one of the many practical and financial challenges that went with building a new campus from scratch, and also illustrates the high standards of this group of founding benefactors:

Dear Dick:

I am dictating this letter from the ranch at six o’clock on Sunday morning to a machine. Although we discussed several things about the College yesterday, we did not go into one of the questions I had in mind regarding air conditioning. In your letter of July 11, you attached a memorandum dated July 5, which relates to the library plans and revisions. On page 2 of this memo it specifies “40% humidity controlled”. I am not sure what this means. What I am concerned about is whether you will have first class modern buildings with regard to air conditioning, so that summer classes can be conducted in comfort. I feel that the time is fast passing when first class construction should be done without fully air-conditioned premises.

When air conditioning is provided for during initial construction, the cost is relatively reasonable. When it is added after construction, the cost is high, and the operation is usually inefficient as compared to the construction-designed air conditioning. This is not intended to refer only to the library, but to the entire school….


Nor was Buddy the only one of that well-known couple to make a lasting contribution to the new campus (though, as we shall see later, it would be nearly three full decades before his vision would come to fruition). Greer, who served on the very first campus Library committee, left her own calm and quiet mark in the very heart of the Santa Fe campus, for it was she who funded the installation of the small green oasis off the Peterson Student Center placita we now know informally as the “Fish Pond,” the actual name of which is the Nina Garson Reflection Pool, given to the Santa Fe campus by Greer in honor of her mother.

Greer Garson and Buddy Fogelson at a Reception for the Greer Garson Film Festival, St. John’s College, Santa Fe (1970)
Greer Garson Signing Autographs at a Reception for the Greer Garson Film Festival, St. John’s College, Santa Fe (1970)
Students by the Nina Garson Reflection Pool, aka the “Fish Pond” (1990s)

Designing a New Campus

Richard Weigle and original Santa Fe campus architectural rendering
Close-up of the architects’ vision of the new Santa Fe campus’s projected layout, from a vintage College postcard

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.