Matsen House - 1953

Stacks Image 889
Stylistic influence(s): Mid-Century modern, International, Shingle-style
Architect/Builder: Carlton Brush
Historic Use: Residence
Current Use: Residence
Historical designations:
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
City of Austin Historic Landmark
Building History
The Matsen House was built by Frederick A. Matsen and Cecelia K. Matsen for their home from 1952 to 1953. They lived in the home until they died whereupon it was purchased by their daughter Megan Meisenbach in 2006.

Two Oakhill limestone walls go through the house to the 2 southern rooms (up and downstairs) A third limestone wall extends into the living room and becomes part of the chimney-fireplace and a ledge to sit on.
The Matsens were influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright (being from Racine, WI, where Wright was active) and the entry way opens to the large living-dining room (high ceilings) with a beautiful effect (a Wright idea). Metal gutters have been added. No changing of porches. The house makes great use of cross ventilation and sits on the lot in a diagonal in order to receive the breezes.It is spit level to reflect the slope. Large overhangs and a large screened porch on the back, a large cement terrace on the south.

The Julia Vance house was at 1802 San Gabriel when the Matsen house was built. The cement (Matsen) driveway, lined with elm trees, follows the route of the road to the stables of the Vance estate. Four old horseshoes were found at the site.

Significant Persons Associated with Building
Frederick Albert Matsen, Professor of Chemistry & Physics at the University of Texas at Austin died on May 30, 2006. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 68 years, Cecelia Kirkegaard Matsen in January of 2006. He is survived by two children, his son Frederick Albert (Rick) Matsen III and daughter Megan Cecelia Meisenbach, Rick’s wife Anne Lovell Matsen, their children Susanna Lovell Matsen, Frederick Albert Matsen IV, Laura Jane Megan Matsen and his son-in-law Albert Meisenbach.

He was born on July 26, 1913 in Racine, Wisconsin to Danish immigrant parents Frederick Albert Sr. and Karen Madsen. Al was the only surviving child of his seamstress mother and his barber father. He was the first college graduate in the family, earning his BS degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1937. He went on to complete his PhD in both Chemistry & Physics at Princeton University. After a year at Bucknell University as an Associate Professor, he joined the staff of the University of Texas at Austin, where he did research and taught for over 50 years. He was the pivotal force in convincing the UT's administration to establish their first computer center in 1950, and had much later influence, also.

Scientific lectures and conferences necessitated many trips to Europe to confer with colleagues there. In 1950 Matsen received a Guggenheim Fellowship to Oxford, England where he studied under the renowned Professor Charles Coulson. He arranged perhaps the first quantum chemistry conference, in 1956 at UT. In 1961 he received a National Science Foundation Senior post-doctoral Fellowship to the Institute Henri Poincaré in Paris, France. There his paper entitled “Sous-Algèbre de Complexes Associés in Spectropscopie Théorique” was communicated to the French Academy by the Nobel Laureate Prince Louis Broglié.

Matsen published over 200 papers and was the author or co-author of six books: Premedical Physical Chemistry (with Hackerman and Meyers (1950); Quantum Chemistry Integrals and Tables (with Miller and Gerhauser); Vector Spaces and Algebras for Chemists and Physicists (1970); The Unitary Group in Quantum Chemistry (with Ruben Pauncz, 1968); Algorithms, Architectures and Scientific Computation (with T. Tajima); Science Tales, a popular overview of great accomplishments in science.

He pioneered a unique undergraduate honors chemistry course first called "The Vector Space Theory of Matter" and later "Theories of Matter." There for more than three decades he taught, using an iconoclastic choice of algebraic quantum mechanical ideas – the course was often described as "mind-expanding" by the students exposed to his teaching. During the 1970s he pioneered use of the computer in teaching, especially in the context of his freshman chemistry course. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, and an Exxon consultant for 35 years, helping to develop the processes for the liquefaction & gasification of coal.

He was a valued advisor to Professors John Silber & Norman Hackerman during their administrative careers at UT, and he was much involved in developing chemistry & physics at UT, particularly in choosing & recruiting candidates for chaired positions there. Professor Matsen personally endowed two graduate fellowships in Physics and Theoretical Chemistry. In 1988, colleagues, family, friends and former students endowed a Regents Lectureship on Theories of Matter to honor Matsen’s outstanding contributions in research & teaching.

His research was primarily in chemical physics, with much early interest in molecular electronic spectra. Upon his visit to Coulson in 1950 he became an early advocate of first-principles computational quantum chemistry, and published electronic-structure papers through the 1950s & 1960s, first on atoms, then on diatomics, especially LiH and numerous states of He2, as well as some smaller species. This multi-configurational electronic-structure computation occupied much of his group's efforts through the 1950s on into the 1960s. With his visit to Paris his interest in group theory was heightened, so that he pursued some ligand-field theory for transition-metal complexes, but mainly it culminated in a long series of papers on "Spin-free Quantum Chemistry." Some of this concerned the clarification of the idea & role of spin, while some concerned related novel group algebraic ideas & techniques. This spin-free & symmetry-related research occupied much of his group's efforts from the 1960s on through the 1990s, with initial work focused on the symmetric group of permutations, and later work (especially after a short visit with Marcos Moshinsky in Mexico) focused on the unitary group, and related Lie algebras. This work was marked by a strong focus on the formal mathematics translated into a convenient but still abstract physical form, much of which could also be discerned in his freshmen chemistry course. From his group came a four-decade long string of more than 3 dozen PhD students in Chemistry & Physics (and occasionally in Computer Science), who went into both industry and academia (in physics, chemistry, & computer science).

Professor Matsen was the embodiment of a committed deep-thinking researcher, with interdisciplinary interests, and he exemplified a unique teacher, with a style, methods, & course-content unmimickable by those with a purely educational focus.