Professor Robert Winter leaves his legacy and historic house to Occidental

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The front of the Batchelder house in Pasadena, CA, built by Ernest A. Batchelder in the early 1900s. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

It should come as no surprise that professor Robert Winter’s legacy endures even a year after his February 2019 passing. In addition to teaching for 30 years at Occidental College, where he was honored as the Arthur G. Coons Professor of the History of Ideas, Emeritus, Winter was known as “Bungalow Bob,” an architectural historian and tile aficionado who welcomed everyone into his historic 1910 home, the Batchelder House.

The house was once the home of famed tile maker Ernest Batchelder and is adorned with his work, according to Laura Verlaque, the director of collections at the Pasadena Museum of History (PMH). Verlaque said while Batchelder’s career originated in Pasadena, his contributions spawned the golden age of California tiles. Winter ultimately left the Craftsman-style bungalow to Occidental.

Batchelder tiles are relics of the Arts and Crafts movement, an artistic trend at the turn of the 20th century that rejected the increasingly technical industrial age in favor of handmade craftsmanship. According to Verlaque, Winter’s scholarship played a pivotal role in creating name-brand recognition for Batchelder tiles.

“The book that Winter wrote was really the first scholarly book to come out about Ernest Batchelder, and that really put his work on the map,” Verlaque said.

Window and tile detail on the guesthouse. Pasadena, CA. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

Verlaque, who worked with Winter to curate the “Batchelder: Tilemaker” exhibit at the PMH, said Winter’s passion rubbed off on her.

“He had this twinkle in his eye, and he sucked you into his orbit,” Verlaque said.

According to Bob Gutzman ’87, a former student of Winter’s at Occidental who later became a close friend and neighbor, Winter taught with both passion and theatrics. Gutzman said in one class, Winter retold his first time seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House in real life. Winter explained how, overwhelmed at the sight of the art, he collapsed to his knees in front of dozens of architects and exclaimed, “Now, I can die!”

Winter has been called the “father” of Los Angeles architecture due to the many texts he authored or co-authored on the subject, such as “An Architectural Guide to Los Angeles,” “Batchelder Tilemaker” and “The California Bungalow.” Winter also donated over 200 tiles to the PMH. After Winter’s death, Batchelder’s descendants donated their family papers to the museum’s collection.

Winter also contributed to Occidental by giving to its Special Collections and College Archives department. According to Dale Ann Stieber, Special Collections librarian and college archivist at Occidental, Winter donated over 2,500 of his own photographs of California architecture to the college. The photos have since been digitized.

Winter took the lead on organizing and preserving past materials from Myron Hunt, the principal architect of Occidental’s campus, Stieber said. According to Winter’s essay, “Myron Hunt at Occidental College,” Hunt was an astute businessman less concerned about making an individual building eye-catching and more focused on ensuring the cohesiveness of the whole campus.

Driveway leading to the additional buildings on the Batchelder House property. Pasadena, CA. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

According to Stieber, having access to the college’s architectural history and evolution gives insight into then-available resources and what the college’s priorities were throughout its history. It also provides an idea of the degree of equity and diversity on campus at a particular time.

“People and their places are tied together,” Stieber said.

Occidental’s Special Collections department is currently processing Winter’s accumulated research, which his niece, the executor of his estate, provided to the college. According to Stieber, there are currently 33 record boxes of material from Winter that will be shaped into a research collection for the Academic Commons. Gutzman said Winter’s emotional ties to Occidental likely inspired him to leave so much to the school.

“He just had a really deep connection with Occidental,” Gutzman said. “He loved his students, loved the administrators and he loved the campus.”