Obituary Notice: Judith Munk, Friend and Artistic Influence


Judith K. Munk, an artist, sculptress, architect and avid advocate and close friend of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego, died on May 19, 2006, in La Jolla, Calif. She was 81 and died at Scripps Memorial Hospital from pneumonia.

Munk was an active member of the Scripps and UCSD communities, where she made numerous contributions to architecture, campus planning and the renovation and reuse of historical buildings. This influence continued until the time of her death, with contributions in progress for the design of the Scripps Seaside Forum and her relief sculpture of Roger Revelle in development for UCSD's Revelle College.

She and her husband, renowned Scripps oceanographer Walter Munk, were married for 52 years and were a month away from celebrating their 53rd anniversary. Their years together were rich with research, travel, community affairs and spending time with family, friends and colleagues.

"Judith Munk's clarity of thought, artistic good sense and sheer drive were behind several elegant buildings built on the Scripps campus," said Charles Kennel, director of Scripps Oceanography. "An evening in her living room was renowned as the quintessential Scripps experience for students, scientists and legions of friends from around the world. Judith Munk enlivened all she touched. She made all lives better."

Judith Munk was born in San Gabriel, Calif., on April 10, 1925, the daughter of Winter Davis Horton and Edith Kendall Horton. Her grandparents, the Kendalls, settled in San Diego in the 1870s.

Judith was raised in Los Angeles before attending Bennington College in Vermont, where she worked under Richard Neutra and received a degree in arts and architecture. She was stricken with polio just as she began graduate work at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. As a result, she then settled in San Diego at the home of Mrs. Oscar Kendall, her maternal grandmother. The location was later donated and is now the University of California Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve.

Judith, who began sculpting at age 7, became a student of sculptor Donal Hord, whom she had known as a child.

In 1951 she was hired by Sam Hinton as an illustrator/materials assistant at Scripps Aquarium and shortly thereafter met Walter, who had been affiliated with Scripps since 1939.

In her architectural design and artistry, Judith worked with conventional materials and traditional forms, but with an original style. Some have described her building design, including her own home, as international in style, but with organic elements that address the canyons and ocean cliff terraces and unique environments of San Diego.

She had an active role in the design of the old and new laboratories of the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps. For the original building, now named the Judith and Walter Munk Laboratory, Judith approached architect Lloyd Ruocco to design the building, and she was responsible for its concept and siting. As part of the later addition, the Revelle Laboratory, Judith and Walter were fundamental contributors to the development of Scripps Crossing, the innovative cable-stayed foot bridge on La Jolla Shores Drive linking the west and east sections of the Scripps Oceanography campus. The bridge was designed by Frieder Seible, dean of the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering and professor of structural engineering, and was included in a recent international collection of the best 200 bridges.

Judith was committed to improving Scripps campus architecture and worked to save some of the early cottages on campus and transform one of them into a conference center. She was the design force in the effort to restore the old Director's House, a 1913 arts and crafts cottage also on the Scripps campus. She also was instrumental in working with Cecil Green in bringing "Spring Stirring," Judith's favorite Donal Hord statue, to the Scripps campus, now permanently situated outside of the IGPP Munk Laboratory.

Walter said Judith took a deep interest in his research. "If I described a project I was working on and she couldn't understand it, then she told me I didn't understand it myself—and she was right," said Walter.

Judith inspired Walter to take an interest in the tidal problems of Venice, Italy, and threats to its art treasures. She accompanied Walter on expeditions and scientific visits to remote locations. Their many travels included sabbaticals to the United Kingdom, visits to oceanographers in China, and a cross-country expedition across the Soviet Union. In 1963, Judith accompanied Walter to American Samoa for the Waves Across the Pacific project.

Judith and Walter were active in securing housing for international visitors to UCSD. This led to Judith's role as an early supporter and cofounder of the UCSD International Center.

With Judith's family roots in the area and her many memberships and participation in various groups, she became an important link in the region. "Judy was one of the few bridges between the old San Diego, Scripps Institution and the university," said Walter.

She was a member of the Junior League, the La Jolla Town Council, C3, the University Towne Center Task Force and the Committee on University Community Planning. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the design feasibility of a amphitheater project for La Jolla's lower Girard Avenue that would link La Jolla Cove and the ocean with the town and its pedestrians. This project failed but was later to become "The Folly" amphitheater at Judith and Walter's home.

Judith also failed the mathematic requirement for becoming a member of the American Institute of Architects and was especially pleased last year when she was voted an honorary member of the San Diego chapter. But, according to Walter, "she was disappointed that she had to buy her own martini at the induction ceremony!"

The Munks' La Jolla residence overlooking the Pacific Ocean was designed and built by Judith and Walter in 1954 and became a maintstay of Scripps, UCSD and San Diego community events. Activities ranged from annual site visits from the Office of Naval Research to "friendraisers" for local arts, theater and political groups, to welcoming events in their backyard amphitheater for UCSD newcomers. Roger Revelle wooed the first faculty at UCSD by bringing prospective professors to the Munk residence for drinks. "Here is a typical faculty house," Walter remembers Revelle promising prospective candidates. Walter said their home's close proximity to Scripps gave them a perspective of "living above the store," where they would welcome a long list of out-of-town visitors into their home.

Walter said Judith was a wonderful partner and considers himself very lucky for the nearly 53 years of marriage they shared. After a partial recovery from the polio that had stricken her at age 21, she had lately shown signs of muscle weakening, which made travel increasingly risky. It was their deliberate decision to continue their active lifestyle.

"Most of all, my mother had great style," said Judith's daughter Kendall, who noted that instead of boxing up Walter's many awards, Judith turned the awards into pendants and rings, and wore them daily as jewelry. "Whether arriving through the back kitchen with my father pushing her from behind, or being hoisted up, over and around obstacles in her wheelchair by four strapping men, my mother arrived always beaming and gracious, and ready for a good strong drink, and 'please, no ice.'"

In addition to Walter, Judith's survivors include sister Amanda Stork of Los Angeles, Calif., brothers Edward Everette of Houston, Texas, and Winter Davis of Pasadena, Calif., daughters Edie of La Jolla and Kendall of State College, Pa. and grandsons Walter, Luc and Max.

A celebration of Judith's life will be held outdoors at the Judith and Walter Munk Laboratory of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics on the Scripps Oceanography campus on June 25. For information call 858/534-3948.

NOTE: The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, gifts be made in Judith's memory to support the Scripps Seaside Forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD. Judith has been very influential in guiding the design for this planned scientific meeting and conference center and the central garden will be named in her honor. Checks should be made payable to "UC Regents-Scripps Forum Project" and sent to Edwina Riblet, SIO/UCSD, 9500 Gilman Drive-MC 0210, La Jolla CA 92093-0210.

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