Robert H. H. Hugman (1902-1980)


Hugman, Robert H. H. (Robert Harvey Harold)

Personal Information

Birth/Death:    1902-1980
Occupation:    American architect
Location:    San Antonio, TX

AIA Affiliation

Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 1939-1960

Biographical Sources

American Architects Directories:
Biographical listing in 1956 American Architects Directory

Biographical information:
Contributed by the Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas:
Robert H.H. (Harvey Harold) Hugman (1902-1980) left a lasting mark on the city of San Antonio with his plan for the beautification of the San Antonio River. Born in San Antonio, Hugman attended University of Texas at Austin and MIT. From 1924 to 1927 he lived in New Orleans, where he was impressed by the preservation of the French Quarter.
Hugman returned to San Antonio to open his practice. His major early work was the Spanish-colonial-revival residence of William A. Turner (1928). Hugman's practice suffered with the onset of the depression; he worked for the Works Projects Administration and began thinking about the endangered San Antonio River.
Following a series of disastrous floods, including one in 1921 that killed 50 people, city officials built Olmos Dam and removed several meanders from the river downtown. Plans called for redirecting the flow of the biggest bend in the river and paving it over. The San Antonio Conservation Society, however, recognized the river's potential and had been working to save it. In 1929, Hugman provided them "The Shops of Aragon and Romula," a flood-prevention proposal that not only allowed for commercial development, but maintained the natural beauty of the river and its flora. For the next six years, armed with Hugman's seductive drawings of quaint, winding streets filled with shops and pedestrian activity, they lobbied city officials and property owners along the river. Funding did not come until 1938, however, when Congressman Maury Maverick secured partial assistance from the WPA. In a 1978 speech Hugman recalled how a bond election for the remaining funds was rigged by the Plaza Hotel manager (and future mayor) John White and compliant city officials to exclude property owners opposed to the project and to include the residents of the hotel who "owned as much as a watch."
Hugman was appointed architect for the project and work began in 1939. Although not as extensive as his original proposal, the WPA project resulted in the improvement of more than 21 blocks along the river including the construction of 17,000 feet of walkways, 31 stairways leading from 21 bridges, and the planting of more than 11,000 trees and shrubs. The construction of the Arneson River Theater, located alongside La Villita, represented the picturesque vision of what the Paseo del Rio could become.
Nevertheless, things did not proceed smoothly. Hugman was dismissed from the project in March 1940 on the premise that he failed to hire a landscape architect at his own expense and to supply certain plans. He moved his office to the river level of James Riely Gordon's 1891 Clifford Building hoping to encourage others to locate along the river. But the Riverwalk began deteriorating in the mid-40's, a process that continued until Hugman's original vision was rediscovered by a new generation of conservationists and city official in the 1960s.
From 1957 until his retirement in 1972, Hugman was employed at Randolph Air Base. He was honored in 1978 with the dedication of the five bronze bells in the Arneson River Theater. The Paseo del Rio was cited as a Distinguished Achievement in the 1984 AIA Honors program.

Related Records

Archival Holdings

The American Institute of Architects Archives
      Membership file contains correspondence about resignation/termination. His membership application is not in the file.

Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas
      Robert H.H. Hugman drawings, San Antonio River Walk, San Antonio, Texas, 1938-1939
This record group contains 63 working drawings (1938-1939) showing Hugman's Plans for the Improvement of the San Antonio River (Paseo del Rio), Fourth Street South to Villita Street, San Antonio, Texas.
Hugman began work on the design for the project in 1929 in an effort to save the river from being paved over as a flood prevention plan. Completed in 1941, the project spanned 21 blocks of downtown San Antonio and has served as a model of success in urban planning.
For more information https://www.lib.utexas.edu/about/locations/alexander-architectural-archives