Serious Accomplishment: The Life and Legacy of Architect Kemper Goodwin, FAIA
James Logan Abell, FAIA
Jumping on rail cars to travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of work, this man was no ordinary 1930’s “hobo.” Already a skilled draftsman, this “twenty-something” kid from Tempe was bursting with ambition and drive. Just how this young man, a vagabond wanderer, became one of the Salt River Valley's most accomplished citizens is a great Arizona success story.
Born at home in 1906, Kemper Goodwin lost his mother, Jennie Mae Kemper Goodwin, to tuberculosis in 1912. He was raised by his father, Garfield Goodwin, and a family friend, Carl Hayden, who would become the longest-serving member of the U.S. Congress. Garfield ran G.A. Goodwin Novelty Store, an Indian curio shop and electronics store on Mill Avenue, and young Kemper and his sisters experienced much of Arizona's Native American communities traveling with their father before World War I.
Short in height and medium build, Kemper had experienced youthful character-building employment working in the mines in Globe. He later did technical drawings for freelance projects while studying drafting away from home at Long Beach Polytechnic High School and worked as a set designer for Los Angeles department stores. Kemper returned to Phoenix to become an architectural draftsman for Lescher and Mahoney Architects. In his spare time, he and a buddy made adobe blocks from the dirt they excavated on a lot Kemper had purchased at the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Thomas Road, where he built a modest house.
At age 23, Kemper experienced the stock market crash in the fall of 1929. He was not able to pay his property taxes and lost his land and house. So, he took to the rails, a “hobo,” riding between the coal car and the first passenger car under a rubberized cover called “the blinds.” He would emerge from these travels chilled, or sometimes seared, and always covered in coal dust. Kemper kept moving and worked as many as 80 different drafting jobs for $4 per week all across the South, according to his son, Michael Goodwin, also an architect.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Sep/Oct 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 5.