Kamrath, Karl Fred (1911–1988)

By: Stephen Fox

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: April 7, 2017

Karl Kamrath, architect, was born on April 25, 1911, at Enid, Oklahoma, the son of G. A. and Martha (Kreplin) Kamrath. He spent his boyhood in Austin and attended the University of Texas (B.Arch., 1934). Between 1934 and 1936 he worked in Chicago for the architects Pereira and Pereira, the Interior Studios of Marshall Field and Company, and the Architectural Decorating Company. In 1937 he and another graduate of the University of Texas who worked in Chicago, Frederick James MacKie, Jr. (1905–1984), moved to Houston to open their own architectural firm, MacKie and Kamrath.

MacKie and Kamrath were among the first Houston architects to design modernist buildings, and they swiftly obtained national recognition with such projects as a small house for Kamrath's family (1939), the City of Houston Fire Alarm Building (1939, demolished), the Covington and Kivlin houses (1941, 1942), and San Felipe Courts (1942, 1944), the largest federal public-housing complex built in Texas. Between 1942 and 1945 Kamrath served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a captain. He and MacKie resumed practice in Houston in 1946, the same year that Kamrath first met the Wisconsin architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Kamrath was so moved by this meeting that he devoted himself to Wright's Usonian architecture. MacKie and Kamrath's buildings were consistently Wrightian in character; they displayed a predilection for horizontal alignment, dramatic structural engineering, and finely executed material and ornamental detailing.

The firm's major buildings were Phyllis Wheatley High School (1948), Temple Emanu-El (1949, with Lenard R. Gabert), the Contemporary Arts Association Museum (1949, demolished), the Dow Chemical Company complex, Freeport (1953), the Schlumberger Well Surveying Corporation complex (1953), Humble Research Center (1954), St. John the Divine Church (1954, with H. A. Salisbury), the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute (1954, with Schmidt, Garden, and Eriksen, altered), the Champlin Oil Company Building, Fort Worth (1956), the Commercial Standard Insurance Company Building, Fort Worth (1956), the Farnsworth and Chambers Building (1957), Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, Bunker Hill Village (1957, 1973), Temple Rodef Shalom, Waco (1962), the Pasadena State Bank Building, Pasadena (1962, with Doughtie and Porterfield), the Science and Research Building, University of Houston (1968), the Big Three Industries Building (1974), and the University of Texas School of Public Health Building, Houston (1975). Kamrath's houses were especially compelling demonstrations of Usonian design principles. These included a second house for his family on Tiel Way in River Oaks (1953), where he also designed the Keating (1951), Gonzalez (1957), and Ballantyne (1961) houses. Elsewhere he designed the George P. Mitchell house, Piney Point Village (1963), the Walsh house, Bunker Hill Village (1965), the Campbell house, Hunters Creek Village (1970), and the Lott house, Sugar Land (1976).

Kamrath was married to Eugenie Sampson in 1934, and they had four children. They were divorced in 1975, and Kamrath married Gardina McCarthy in 1977. He became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1939 and was elected to fellowship in the institute in 1955. He served a term as president of the Houston Chapter of the AIA in 1960 and was chairman of the AIA's Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Committee (1960–62). From 1949 to 1955 he was a visiting critic at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), and the University of Oregon. He was a founder of the Contemporary Arts Association and served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum from 1948 to 1952. He also was a member of St. Luke's United Methodist Church and of the River Oaks Country Club.

From his childhood Kamrath played tennis competitively, and from the age of sixteen he ranked nationally in United States Lawn Tennis Association events; he won in boys' doubles (1927), intercollegiate doubles (1931), and father-and-son doubles (1952). He was a member of numerous local, regional, and national tennis organizations and was a founding member of the Houston Racquet Club. He was elected to the University of Texas Longhorn Hall of Fame (1978) and the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame (1984). He died in Houston on January 29, 1988. His papers are deposited at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and the Houston Public Library.

American Architects Directory, 1955, 1962, 1970. Gerald Moorhead, "MacKie & Kamrath," Texas Architect, November-December 1989. Who's Who in America, 1988–89.

  • Architecture
  • Architects
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Tennis)
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Stephen Fox, “Kamrath, Karl Fred,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kamrath-karl-fred.

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February 1, 1995
April 7, 2017

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