Why Did Henry Kamphoefner and Crew Leave OU?

by Lynne Rostochil

This is the fourth and final installment about Kamphoefner’s career.  You can read all about his professional life beginning with the first post.


During my research on the career of Henry Kamphoefner, I learned that there’s always been a big question mark as to why Kamphoefner, James Fitzgibbon, Terry Waugh, George Matsumoto, and Duncan Stuart made the exodus from OU to North Carolina State University.  Here are a few theories:

Kamphoefner vs. Bruce Goff

goff-bruce-illinois - Copy

While it is true that the move from OU to NCSU would nearly double Kamphoefner’s salary from $4,600 a year to $9,000 and give him the rare chance to create his department almost from scratch, it is also true that OU’s reigning star professor was not enamored with newcomer and fellow spotlight grabber, Bruce Goff, who arrived on campus in January 1947.  While many have suggested that Kamphoefner and his fellow departing professors had a problem with Goff’s sexual orientation, maybe Kamphoefner just figured that one big fish on campus was enough…

… or maybe he was ready for a new challenge …

… or maybe his reasons for leaving were a combination of all of the above.

I did find an interesting quote that makes me think it was more the challenge that sent Kamphoefner on his way.  An article in the May 16, 1948 edition of The Oklahoman discusses the improbability of someone like Goff, who did not have a degree in architecture or in any other field, becoming chairman of OU’s School of Architecture.  Here’s what the reporter claims happened: “We understand it took considerable talk on the part of Henry L. Kamphoefner, former head of the department, to convince President Cross that such a concession as to degrees would not jeopardize the scholastic standing of the department.”  If this statement is correct, the resigning chairman actually fought for Goff despite their supposed enmity toward each other.

Here’s another interesting tidbit I found about the Kamphoefner/Goff relationship.  According to the National Register nomination for the Ledbetter house, which was prepared by Goff scholar and Professor Emeritus of Architecture at OU, Arn Henderson, it was Kamphoefner who recommended Goff for the commission.  “Goff was recommended for the commission by Henry Kamphoefner, a colleague instrumental in Goff’s return to Oklahoma.”  So, apparently there was a mutual respect between Goff and Kamphoefner, even though there may not have been a friendship between the two men.

As further evidence that Goff may not have been the big reason he left OU, Kamphoefner had been looking for a way out of Oklahoma for perhaps a year before the NCSU offer.  Even though Kamphoefner thought that OU had a great school in the making, “he felt that the philosophical weight of the Beaux-Arts was still too oppressive at Oklahoma and he still dreamed of a chance to revise fully the teaching of architecture.  Kamphoefner had applied to Yale for a professorship and had heard rumors that he was in the running to be head of Yale’s architectural program.”*  He had also looked at going to other universities when the offer arrived from NCSU, which came with the promise of complete creative control, a much higher salary, a new car, and other too-good-to-be-true amenities.

More Thoughts On Kamphoefner and Goff

Mod Squadder James David Barnes kindly added his insightful recollections about Fitzgibbon’s take on the mass exodus of Kamphoefner and his crew from OU in 1948 and gave me permission to share them here.  Thank you!

It was my privilege to have been an architecture student once enrolled in studio courses taught both by James W. Fitzgibbon (spring, 1972) and Bruce Goff (fall, 1976). Both were great story-tellers. I don’t remember Goff ever talking about his years at OU, but I can well remember Fitzgibbon talking about Goff and about the Kamphoefner group’s decision to leave O.U. Jim Fitzgibbon had been on the architecture faculty since the early 1940s, and left with Kamphoefner to go to North Carolina in 1948.

For the most part, what I remember of Fitzgibbon’s version of the 1948 split of the O.U. Architecture faculty is the same as what Lynne Rostochil’s blog reports in its history of Henry Kamphoefner. There are differences in emphasis, as follows.

Fitzgibbon told us that Goff’s rise to chairmanship and control of the OU Architecture program was the reason that the dissident group of faculty (and a few students) left for North Carolina. Fitzgibbon’s objections to Goff were architectural: Goff approach to building design was too purely graphic and too devoid of interest in, or knowledge of, practical building construction. Goff’s approach to clients was too single-mindedly manipulative. (Goff would open a drawer and show his fellow architectural faculty members house plans already drafted to minute detail – even naming the type of grass in the yard – but he would not show those drawings to his clients. Instead, Goff would slowly “sell” the plan verbally. If his clients objected as he described their new home, Goff refused to change a single detail — unknown to them, their house design had already been completely determined.) On the other hand, Fitzgibbon’s stories had ample room for praise of Goff , his inventive imagination, his native gift for creating intriguing designs from scrap materials. Goff’s love of music was also praised. Nevertheless, the definite feeling I recall is that the architecture teachers who left O.U. simply did not wish to be led by Goff – they did not embrace his design principles, they did not respect his methods. In short, I believe that they thought they were better architects than Goff. That they were academically trained, and Goff was not, must surely have been a point of further contention.

It is also my recollection that the group had “given-up” on the University of Oklahoma when they realized that Bruce Goff had won the support of the university president (I presume that being George Lynn Cross, who served as president of OU from 1943 to 1968). The O.U. president saw Goff as his “star architect”, the native son of Oklahoma whose genius should be given upper reign. After the other faculty members realized that Goff was the new prophet of favor, Kamphoefner’s group banded together and decided to leave.

It is also my recollection that the dissenting OU architecture faculty group decided to leave long before any offer from North Carolina surfaced. Fitzgibbon recalled them talking about possibly going to New Mexico and opening a “building-design laboratory” (a sort of Los Alamos of architectural design). My sense is that they had been casting around looking for something, and what surfaced was the offer from the North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, to come and open a new design department there. They grabbed it.

Goff’s homosexuality was known to architecture students in 1971. As a young anxiously-closeted-homosexual myself, I listened to Fitzgibbon’s criticisms of Goff with an ear for the slightest nuances of anti-homosexual moralizing, and I can only remember noticing that he made none. In an era when homosexuality was still typically considered a psychological illness, Goff’s sexuality was absolutely never maligned by James Fitzgibbon. But while Jim Fitzgibbon scrupulously avoided hitting his architectural opponent “below the belt” I do recall Jim Fitzgibbon’s wife telling one malicious tale. Margaret Fitzgibbon, herself a some-time OU art faculty assistant, one day told me about a building construction contractor (whose name I cannot remember) who wanted to be the builder of one of Goff’s residential designs. Margaret told me that the young builder “knew what Bruce wanted”, and he did “what it took” to get the job. Clearly the insinuation was that Goff and his ilk were bad people, engaging in sexual misconduct. (Margaret tended to play a Gracie Allen role, the scattered-brained female — she and Fitz would publicly argue in a comic style. I knew Margaret well enough not to give her story too much credence ). I don’t think the architecture faculty split away because Bruce Goff was gay; plus I think they had decided long before 1971 that Goff’s homosexuality should not the issue of their complaints. (It is noteworthy that the University’s public concern about Goff’s sexuality did not surface until 1955, seven years after dissenting architecture faculty members had left.) But during the late 1940s I can not imagine that Goff’s sexual orientation would not have been used privately by his opponents’ allies trying to smear his reputation, or by Goff’s allies trying to portray him as the unjustly persecuted.

I had great admiration for Jim Fitzgibbon. After his unexpected death in 1985 (heart failure during sleep), I advised the Missouri Historical Society to investigate his memorabilia. Margaret Fitzgibbon gave them his entire archive, including a great deal of information about the various versions of Fuller’s geodesic dome. Fitzgibbon wrote private diaries, and though I have never seen these journals, it is possible that the “James W. Fitzgibbon Collection” in St. Louis includes a written account of the great 1948 split of the O.U. Architecture faculty.

Kamphoefner vs. Joseph Smay


Joseph Smay was the first chairman of the School of Architecture at OU and had served in that capacity since 1929.  After Pearl Harbor, Smay took a leave of absence from the university to serve in the military, and Kamphoefner became the acting chairman of the department.

According to the OU Board of Regents meeting notes from June 1, 1944, Smay received a medical discharge and was back home in Oklahoma and ready to get to work.  According to the notes, “Professor Smay and Professor Kamphoefner will begin work on building plans far the Medical School, Hospitals, and the Norman campus. Recommended that Professor Smay be paid his regular salary beginning June 1 – $ 423.00 a month – to September 1, 1944; also, that Professor Kamphoefner be paid his regular monthly salary – $ 364.00 – for July and August, 1944. Professor Kamphoefner is on the pay roll at the above rate during the month of June, but would normally not be on the payroll for July and August.”

So, not only does it look like Kamphoefner’s salary was impacted upon Smay’s return to the university, but it also appears that the two were thrown together to design new buildings on campus and beyond.  Since Kamphoefner had already begun rethinking campus design and was now the university’s new Coordinator of Campus Planning, I can see where this would have been a big problem.  While Kamphoefner was looking at designing modern buildings for OU, Smay embraced the traditional Collegiate Gothic tradition and had even designed two buildings, Adams Hall and Richards Hall, in the style there in 1935.  Here’s a photo of Adams Hall:

smay Adams-Hall-300x199

Photo: Charles Swaney
© Creative Commons BY-NC-ND

Kamphoefner wasn’t a very subtle man — when he liked something, you knew it and when he hated something, you REALLY knew it.  Kamphoefner emphatically did not like Collegiate Gothic architecture and didn’t have a problem saying so.  Instead, he wanted to go in a bold, new direction at OU, which completely confounded the more traditionally minded Smay, who said this in the 1945 Architectural Forum article about the post-war plans for the campus:

“I am not in accord with a radical departure from Collegiate Gothic. I think that if Modern has something to justify it, I am strong for it. Merely to say `Modern’ for the sake of being different or being modern … I don’t quite see it … The more I study it the more I commence to wonder whether I know anything about architecture.”

With their strongly differing opinions, it’s very possible that Smay and Kamphoefner’s professional conflict was so heated that Smay discouraged President George Cross from appointing Henry Kamphoefner as the School of Architecture’s official second chairman.  Cross might have agreed because he had his own problems with the outspoken modernist.

Kamphoefner vs. George Cross

Although Kamphoefner arrived at OU in 1937, his golden years there began when Joseph Brandt became president of the school in 1941:

kamphoefner - joseph brandt

Both men were energetic, outside-of-the-box thinkers who wanted to make big changes at the university … and fast!  Just one of the university’s many issues, the lack of adequate student housing, was a top priority for Brandt, and according to the aforementioned Architectural Forum article:

“President Brandt set about to rectify this situation, but before constructing new dormitories in the University’s watered Gothic manner, he wanted to know how the eastern colleges were building their new ‘house’ plans: Accordingly, a young Professor of Architecture, Henry L. Kamphoefner, was dispatched in the spring of 1942 on a tour of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Virginia. This tour resulted in designs by Kamphoefner for a completely modern men’s dormitory, embodying the best features of the eastern ‘houses’ adapted to the Oklahoma environment.”

Brandt loved Kamphoefner’s plan, but many on the board and faculty shared Smay’s incredulous consternation at the new architectural direction the acting chairman proposed.  This, along with Brandt’s other actions that forced an often kicking and screaming OU into becoming a more modern university, led to his resignation in 1943.  You can read more about Brandt’s interesting two years as president here.

Exit Brandt and enter George Cross:

kamphoefner georgecross

Like Brandt, George Cross wanted big changes at OU, but he was much more diplomatic about it, which endeared him to faculty, alumni, board members, and students alike.  Always a careful man, he ultimately supported Kamphoefner’s plan but only after receiving a stamp of approval from the Board of Regents.  So, building moved forward — here’s the women’s dorm along (top photo) what later became known as Cross Center (bottom photo):



While Cross ended up endorsing Kamphoefner’s plan (all of the buildings in the Architectural Forum article were constructed), it’s possible that the brash, young, and always outspoken architecture professor and the thoughtful, more contained president didn’t get along.  Many have surmised that when Cross hired Bruce Goff, who arrived in Norman in early 1947, he promised the newcomer the Chair of the department, something that I don’t believe Kamphoefner ever officially received, even though he had been acting chairman since 1944.  After all of his hard work, this could have been the final straw that sent Kamphoefner looking for work elsewhere.


One or even all of these assumed conflicts may have played a role in the mass exodus of OU’s architecture professors to NCSU.  Someone with a lot of gumption and time will need to go through the papers of all of the principal players to find the true story; in the meantime, we can have all kinds of fun speculating about these events and even wondering what Oklahoma’s architectural landscape would look like today if both Kamphoefner and Goff had remained at OU.


* Quote came from David Louis Sterrett Brook’s dissertation, “Henry Leveke Kamphoefner, the Modernist, Dean of the North Carolina State University School of Design, 1948-1972.  Go here to access it — the dissertation provides a very detailed biography of Kamphoefner and his years at NCSU is quite an interesting read.