St. John’s College originated in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1784 with the consolidation of King William’s School, established in 1696. By the 1960s, enrollment exceeded the capacity of the 35-acre campus, precipitating a nationwide search for a second location. In 1961, architect John Gaw Meem and four other individuals donated 260 acres two miles southeast of downtown Santa Fe, at the base of the northern slope of Sun Mountain. Following Meem’s recommendations, local architects Edward Holien and William Buckley were commissioned to design the college’s buildings, Alexander Girard designed the structures’ interiors, and landscape architect Garrett Eckbo formulated the campus master plan.
With buildings arranged to create courtyards (known locally as placitas), the campus was organized on an east-west axis: the Upper Dormitories to the east, academic buildings at the center, and the Lower Dormitories to the west. To negotiate the grade changes of the sloping site, Eckbo developed a terraced plan that included two rock walls and a broad set of stairs. At the center of these, in the placita enclosed by academic buildings, Eckbo created an open plaza ornamented with a rock garden and fish pond. With the exception of a knoll planted with turf grass, native plants such as juniper, gambrel oak, and ponderosa pine were used throughout the site. Locally sourced, lichen-covered rock was also employed in the design. The Pueblo Revival style of architecture—with flat roofs, stucco exteriors, and long, linear portals (covered patios)—unifies the campus. Adhering to Eckbo’s master plan, additional buildings were added in subsequent decades. In 2015, the 60-acre historic core of the campus was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.