A fond farewell to a master interpreter of Salk's architecture
Looking back, it was perhaps inevitable that Kendall Mower would find his way to the Salk Institute. A retired architect who had traveled much of his life, Mower not only was a longtime fan of Louis Kahn, the architect of Salk's famed buildings, but often found himself retracing the steps, after a fashion, of various Salk luminaries. Whether he was designing buildings for the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where Roger Guillemin worked before coming to the Salk or, later on, creating pen and ink drawings for the La Jolla Historical Society, which helped support Suzanne Bourgeois's history of the Institute, his connections to Salk kept surfacing at various times in his life.
In 1997, when Mower retired, he and his wife, Kathryn, moved to La Jolla, setting the stage for over a decade of direct involvement. He began devoting significant time to volunteer work, and in 1998, after taking a tour of the Salk, he decided to become a tour guide there. With his architecture background and voluminous knowledge of Louis Kahn's contributions, Mower quickly became one of the Institute's most active and accomplished guides.
"I think I understood Jonas Salk's idea that the discoveries at Salk belong to humanity," he says. "And in much the same way, I believe that the buildings belong to humanity, and it's my job to educate and promote these fantastic buildings to the public."
Over the years, Mower introduced countless people to the Institute and its stunning architecture. Among the most memorable was Sue Kahn, Louis Kahn's daughter, who was especially interested in the details of the Salk buildings because at the time she was working on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York's East River, which her father had designed. Another time, Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times architecture critic, requested a tour, and Mower led him and his son around the Institute on a Saturday.
Other noteworthy tour groups included the board of the Nestlé Corporation, when it held its annual meeting at Salk, and the members of the Brazilian legislature, who were interested in exploring the Institute to help inform the design of a medical research building the country was planning. Most recently, he took the artist Christo and an entourage of European visitors on a tour.
Mower is perhaps proudest of the role he played in connection with Salk's 50th anniversary celebration in 2010, leading the first and last tours. "I felt very good that I was consulted about it," he says. "We had 5,000 people in a two-week period, and I helped suggest how to do it."
His affection for the Salk has also been manifest in his commitment to its library. Early on, he was very interested in raising money for the Salk library and donated many books related to the Institute's architecture. "They have almost every Kahn book in the library now," he says with pride.
After 16 productive and influential years at Salk, however, the world traveler is now moving on. Aware of the challenges accompanying advancing age, Mower and Kathryn are moving to Orange County to be closer to their daughters. Although he plans to stay in touch with his friends at Salk, he will no longer be within easy commuting distance and is reluctantly hanging up his docent's badge.
"I'll miss the extraordinary sense of place of the Institute, and learning about scientific discovery news because you are right in the middle of it," he says. "I'll miss the sheer beauty of Louis Kahn's design, and I'll also miss the people."
While it goes without saying that the Institute will miss Mower deeply as well, his legacy will endure in the passionate insights he shared with thousands of visitors about Jonas Salk, Louis Kahn and one of the world's architectural masterpieces.