Robert Rodes McGoodwin was one of a group of very successful early twentieth-century architects who concentrated on residential design. Like his contemporaries Edmund D. Gilchrist
and H. Louis Duhring
, McGoodwin profited from the philanthropic estate of Dr. George Woodward
, who was instrumental in the development of the St. Martin's area of the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia and who himself had studied the English architectural precedents which these architects often employed. McGoodwin, the son of Isaac D. and Virginia Wooten McGoodwin, and brother of architect Henry K. McGoodwin
, was born in Bowling Green, KY, but graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia in 1902 and received his B.S. in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 1907, followed by an M.S. in 1908. McGoodwin's skills as a designer were recognized early in his career, and he was awarded the Arthur Spayd Brooke Medal for Design (1907) as well as the Cresson Traveling Scholarship administered by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1908). With the Cresson Scholarship he traveled to England, Belgium, France, and Italy, including Sicily. He remained for some time in Paris, enrolling in the Atelier Duquesne
in 1908/09 and then moving to Rome, where he undertook studies at the American Academy.
Before leaving for Europe, McGoodwin had worked for Horace Trumbauer, and upon his return to the States, he briefly renewed that arrangement. However, in 1910 he and Samuel D. Hawley, another University of Pennsylvania graduate, who had also worked for Trumbauer, established the partnership of McGoodwin & Hawley. While engaged in the designs for Queen Lane Manor, the young firm attracted the attention of Dr. George Woodward, who was also developing residences on Navajo Street and Willow Grove Avenue in Philadelphia. Thereafter, Dr. Woodward used the services of the partners in his own projects.
In 1912 the McGoodwin & Hawley partnership dissolved, but McGoodwin retained his ties to Woodward and continued to design residences for the Woodward Estate in Chestnut Hill. He developed a flourishing office in which his versatility as a designer could be exercised -- so much so that when he published his 1942 Monograph, he chose to arrange it by themes ("Influence of Colonial America," "Influence of England," "Influence of France," "Influence of Italy," "Low Cost Housing Projects," "Work of a Public Nature") rather than chronologically. In the Monograph are paraded a series of large, but rarely ostentatious, houses for clients such as John F. Steinman of Lancaster Co., PA (1939), Persiflor Frazer, 3d, Chestnut Hill (1921), and Herbert S. Welsh, French Village, Chestnut Hill (1927), all testifying to McGoodwin's abilities to provide, as George Edgell asserted, "picturesqueness, charming composition, and the suggestion of solid modern comfort."
Limiting a discussion of McGoodwin's architecture to his residences, however, would overlook his importance both outside of Philadelphia and outside the realm of single residence design. In fact, he did build upon his ties to the South (cementing these ties by marrying Kate Bryan of Charleston, SC) and provided plans for the Charleston Society Library in Charleston, SC (1912) and a hotel and civic center at Chimney Rock Mountain on Lake Lure, NC (1926). When housing projects rose in prominence in the 1930s, McGoodwin embraced their design as well, occasionally associating with other architects in projects for the Philadelphia Housing Corporation, but also designing some groups on his own, as in the "Tohopeka" project for Mrs. Samuel F. Houston in Chestnut Hill (1938), or the Houston Estate work on Graklyn Lane in Roxborough (1940). Nor did he neglect his alma mater. McGoodwin touched the Furness Libary, Houston Hall, and the University of Pennsylvania hospital and dormitories, among other buildings on the campus.
By 1911 McGoodwin had returned to the University as an instructor; he would continue to teach architectural design through 1925. He also served on the Board of Trustees for the School of Fine Arts from 1925 to 1959. Other occasions of public service included serving on the board for the Chestnut Hill Academy, 1930-37, on the executive committee of the Philadelphia Chapter, AIA, 1935-40, as vice-president, 1940-43, and president, 1943, for the Chapter.
Robert Rodes McGoodwin retired from practice in 1967 and at the time of his death was residing in Portland, OR, with his son Daniel.