Charles Ewing Waterhouse, Jr.—A Twentieth-Century Man

By on October 25, 2012

Charles Ewing Waterhouse was born in El Paso in 1905; after a long life working as a musician, artist, photographer, and architect, he died in the same city in 2000.  Shortly after his death, his family approached the University of Texas at El Paso about his papers.  They eventually came to the University Library’s Special Collections Department where they are now a fascinating resource for researchers in many different fields.

Ewing Waterhouse (second from left) with a Dixieland jazz band

C. E. Waterhouse, known as “Bill” to many of his friends, had wide-ranging interests.  As a young man, he played banjo in a Dixieland band.  An accomplished photographer, Waterhouse documented his various interests and friendships.  Born about the time that aviation was beginning, he spent much of his spare time at the air field taking photos of the new-fangled flying machines that passed through the area.  Waterhouse and some friends made a nationally reported discovery in 1927 when they were exploring a fumarole in Aden Crater in New Mexico:  the well-preserved remains of a giant pre-historic sloth. (http://www.desertexposure.com/201205/201205_swwildlife_sloth.php)

A close friend and classmate of artist Tom Lea, Waterhouse was also an artist, particularly skillful in creating block prints.   He was a childhood friend of Jake Erlich, tall man and circus celebrity.  Jake Erlich painted, too, creating colorful scenes of the circus life he came to know.   Among the photographs in the Waterhouse papers are snapshots of him with Jake Erlich.  Waterhouse documented much of Tom Lea’s early art projects, including the ink drawing he did for the stone carving above the entry to the University’s Centennial Museum.   Waterhouse’s documentation of Tom Lea’s work on the murals in the El Paso Federal Courthouse gives a detailed picture of the artistic process.

Tom Lea in front of drawing for the stone carving above the doors of the Centennial Museum

Working first as a draftsman and then training as an architect, C. E. Waterhouse was associated with some of the most prestigious architectural firms in El Paso.  He worked with architects O.H. Thorman (and later persuaded Thorman’s widow to donate his architectural records to the UTEP Library) and William Wuerhmann.   Even without university training in architecture, Waterhouse became a member of the Texas Society of Architects (affiliate of the American Institute of Architects), having learned the profession on the job as was common at the time. Waterhouse worked for the U.S. Army as a civilian employee during World War II, and he recounted his experiences in an oral history interview that may be read online at http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/interviews/882/.  He worked at the firm of Carroll and Daeuble for thirty-five years before his retirement in 1980.  The Native American motifs that decorate the El Paso Public Library downtown are one of his many contributions.  Always interested in vernacular and regional architecture, Waterhouse designed the adobe home of Tom Lea and his first wife Nancy in Santa Fe, and many El Pasoans still live in houses he designed here.

C. E. Waterhouse behind the counter at the Desert Art Shop

Traveling widely (often with his wife Lucille), Waterhouse followed his interests in archaeology and Meso-American civilizations.  He documented examples of pre-Columbian, Spanish, and Mexican buildings with photographs and sketches.  His measured drawings are often the best documentation available of isolated churches in the mountains of northern Mexico.  His notebooks, however, were organized according to how far the structures were from El Paso, and in what direction:  El Paso was always his base.

The career and contributions of C. E. Waterhouse, Jr. will be the subject of a panel discussion on Friday, October 25, at 5:30 p.m. in the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center on the UTEP campus.  The panel, moderated by Claudia Rivers, will include presentations by archivist Laura Hollingsed, artist Russell Waterhouse, and architect William Palmore.  The public is invited.   Models of some of his buildings and examples of his drawings will be on display before the presentation.

Invitation for event with Waterhouse’s designs for the El Paso Public Library decorations

Sources: 

Palmore, William.  “Charles Ewing Waterhouse, Jr., Architect and Renaissance Man for the Borderland,” in Texas Architect, 9/10/2012.

Charles Ewing Waterhouse, Jr., papers, MS458.  C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department, University of Texas at El Paso Library. 

Posted in: Centennial Stories

Claudia Rivers is the head of the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. She earned both her BA and MLIS degrees at the University of Texas at Austin, and worked at the Benson Latin American Collection there before coming to El Paso in 1992. Her interests include the history of the Southwest and Mexico, ancient Meso-America, and detective fiction.