AIArchitectInstititute News
03/2006 1909-1917: The Institute Comes of Age in the Nationís Capital

by Tony Wrenn, Hon. AIA

As the Teddy Roosevelt era segued into the Taft and then Wilson administrations, the AIA found itself in the enviable position of advisor in the formation of a federal council of fine arts, and selection of the Lincoln Memorial and its site. During this Golden Age, the AIA held its first West Coast convention, approached a membership of 1,000, and inaugurated a feisty new Journal that took whacks at U.S. public buildings policy right on its cover. And, sadly, the Institute mourned the loss of one its most prestigious members just before he was to receive the AIA’s second Gold Medal.

1909: Toward a Fine Arts Commission
Just before the end of his term in January 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt established by executive order a Federal Council of Fine Arts. The AIA, in its turn, had been discussing a federal “bureau of architecture” since 1875, and Executive Director Glenn Brown and President Cass Gilbert often talked with President Roosevelt about creating such a group. In meetings and correspondence between the AIA and the president, the aims of such a body were discussed and potential members were suggested. The resulting Roosevelt Council of Fine Arts consisted of architects, painters, sculptors, and a landscape architect. The executive order included the AIA correspondence and White House responses and directed that “the heads of Executive Departments, Bureaus and Commissions govern themselves accordingly. Hereafter, before any plans are formulated for any buildings or grounds, or for the location or erection of any statue, the matter must be submitted to the Council I have named and their advice followed unless for good and sufficient reasons the President directs that it be not followed.”

The council met at the Octagon to organize and held a formal meeting on proposed locations for the Lincoln Memorial. The council was then invited to the White House, where it reported in favor of the Mall site, ending discussions of placing the memorial at any other site. Inaugurated in March 1909, President William Howard Taft issued an executive order on May 21, 1909, revoking the Roosevelt order. Taft assured the AIA that he was in favor of such a group, but felt it should be established by the Congress to have the power it needed. Lobbying for congressional action began. On May 17, 1910, Congress approved legislation establishing a United States Commission of Fine Arts “to advise upon the location of statues, fountains and monuments in the public squares, streets and parks in the District of Columbia . . . and upon the selection of artists for the execution of the same.” Later that year, President Taft widened the commission’s powers by executive order, giving it authority to advise on plans for public buildings erected by the government in the District of Columbia.

1909: Honoring McKim
At the 1909 convention in December, President Gilbert urged members to “nationalize your ideas,” suggesting that “We have never held a convention on the Pacific Coast. It is time we did.” The highlight of the 1909 Convention was to have been the awarding of the Gold Medal, the AIA’s second, to Charles Follen McKim, but McKim died before the medal could be awarded. Still, the event was a glittering one. An exhibition of the work of McKim, Mead and White was mounted at the Octagon. “This exhibition shows that fitness, proportion, beauty, refinement, study and striving at perfection, whether the problem be great or small, are always evident,” noted a description of the exhibition in the published proceedings of the “McKim Memorial Meeting.” Tributes of respect came from around the country, and President William Howard Taft; Senator Elihu Root; U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph Hodges Choate; Cass Gilbert; and American Academy in Rome President William Rutherford Mead (McKim’s partner in the firm McKim, Mead and White) spoke.

President Taft’s speech is remarkable for his recounting of the inside story of how McKim saved the Mall when the Agriculture Building, already under construction, was being built. Taft was then Secretary of War, under Roosevelt, and involved in the Agriculture Building controversy. He noted of McKim: “He was sensitive, as I presume most geniuses and men of talent are, and he suffered much as he ran against that abruptness and cocksureness that we are apt to find in the neighborhood of Washington both in the Executive and the Legislative branches. He was the last person to give you the impression that he had either abruptness or cocksureness, but I don’t know any one who, when he had set his mind at a thing and had determined to reach a result, had more steadfastness and manifest more willingness to use every possible means to achieve his purpose than Mr. McKim.” Taft concluded, “I am living in a house to-day [the White House] that has been made beautiful by Mr. McKim. It is a house to which you can invite any foreigner from any country, however artistic, and feel that it is a worthy Executive Mansion for a great nation like this, combining dignity and simplicity, and reflecting in all its lines (it does to me) the dignity and simplicity of the art of Mr. McKim.” (One who would understand McKim would do well to read the speeches of Taft, Root, Choate, and Gilbert.)

In presenting the Gold Medal, Gilbert said, “His monuments in bronze and marble will long enrich his native land, his benefactions, not measured alone in the standards of commerce, have laid the sure foundation of even greater monuments in the hearts of his countrymen. But it is not for these alone that we offer this token of our praise and love. The award of this medal can add nothing to his honor. Titles, nor decorations, nor medals, nor any worldly thing can add to worth. Character and merit are intrinsic. They are not conferred. Nothing we can do or say can add to their sum. Nobility is of the soul.”

Mead suggested—when accepting the medal and placing it in the hands of McKim’s daughter—that if McKim were present, he would say, “Whatever I have been able to accomplish in the field of architecture has been from devotion to a great art and in the interest of a noble profession. That my efforts have been recognized by this representative body of American architects is a reward which I shall always cherish.”

1910: Westward ho!
A major portion of the 1910 convention was given over to discussion of railways and city development, with papers presented by representatives of Wabash, Southern, Hudson and Manhattan, and Baltimore & Ohio railroads, along with papers on transportation to city development and on inter-urban stations and trolley traffic in city streets. These papers were published under separate cover as, “The Relations of Railways to City Development, Papers read before the American Institute of Architects, December 16, 1909.”

That convention did indeed meet in California, the first to go so far west. On January 17-21, members met at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. They then traveled to Palo Alto, Monterey, and Santa Barbara between January 21 and 23, and ended in Los Angeles, January 23-25. Returning home, many members went by way of the Grand Canyon for a planned stop. President Irving K. Pond, in his address to the convention in San Francisco, noted: “Our American ideal need not, must not be expressed monotonously along narrow lines, but must expand broadly under varied skies, under climatic extremes, under varied ethnic and social impulses unified by one American spirit. This must be if we are to be true to our aesthetic ideal. California is one phase of America, as New England is another, as Manhattan is another, these phases are to be harmonized and not confused, to be nurtured and developed and not swept aside for some manifestation of exotic growth. The American Institute of Architects is deeply concerned in the ethics of business and the profession, in the science of business and the profession, but its passion must be for the beauty which inheres in architecture.”

Also announced at the 1910 convention were the congressional approval of the Commission of Fine Arts, and the appointment of members Daniel Burnham, Cass Gilbert, Daniel C. French, Thomas Hastings, Frank D. Millet, Charles Moore, and F. L. Olmsted Jr. (all AIA architects or Honorary AIA members). Convention attendees approved the awarding of the AIA Gold Medal to George Browne Post at the next convention.

1911: Widespread influence and presidential praise
In 1911, AIA membership was approaching 1,000, but its press indicated far greater influence than that number would indicate. For instance, L’Enfant’s memorial, finally unveiled at Arlington Cemetery on May 22, 1911, at 4.p.m. in ceremonies arranged by Brown and various committees, Leslie’s, Collier’s, the National Press Club, and others were invited to attend and notified Brown they would. President Taft was on hand, as were students from the Colonial School for Girls in Washington. The school’s headmistress wrote Brown that, “It was an occasion they will never forget.” The impressive tabletop marker erected over the grave carried the L’Enfant Plan for Washington and a legend noting “Pierre Charles L’Enfant/Engineer, Artist, Soldier/ Under the direction of George Washington/Designed the Plan for the/Federal City . . .”

The 1911 Convention was highlighted by the presentation of the AIA Gold Medal to George Browne Post at the New National Museum in Washington on the evening of Dec. 13, 1911. AIA President Pond opened by introducing Post, stating, “George B. Post joined the American Institute of Architects in 1860, and for fifty years he has given his time and talents to building up and improving the standard of art, looking to the benefit to the public and the improvement of the artist; his efforts have been one of the factors in bringing the architect, sculptor and painter together in an effort to produce harmony in the combination of the arts.”

President Taft, in his address, said, “I count it a very fortunate circumstance in the profession of the architect that there is some material, definite printed certificate of excellence. They do not have any such provision at the bar that I know of (laughter), or in medicine (laughter), or even among clergymen (laughter): you have to gather such certificates of excellence as you can from the uncertain thing we call the public opinion of the profession. But in architecture, apparently, they have the virtues so much more solid and their standing in their profession so much more certain that they classify them as golden, and silver and copper (applause and laughter). I am glad to be here and to lend, both personally and officially, such weight as I may (laughter) to the importance and the appropriateness of this occasion of the rewarding of a man who for 50 years has labored to elevate his profession, and who has had the good fortune to live as long as Mr. Post has lived, to see his profession develop in this country and to feel that much of it has been due to his effort (applause).”

M. J. J. Jusserand, the French ambassador, gave the major address, saying of Post: “From first to last, he has acted upon a principle which may appear simple enough when expressed, but is not of such an habitual application as to have become banal; the principle that a building is not an abstract composition raised mid-air for the delectation of fleshless spirits, but is a reality holding fast to the ground, to a particular sort of ground, in the midst of definite surroundings, in view of certain uses, with all of which it must agree: there must be harmony.” Post’s response to these and to President Pond’s official presentation, was a scant 100 words that included: “This medal will be guarded always as a most precious treasure; its value will be enhanced by the memory of this night and the circumstances of its presentation.”

1912: The Institute faces a new world
1912 proved momentous for the Institute: The AIA finally accepted H. Van Buren Magonigle’s design of the seal that is still in use, approved the end of publication of the Quarterly Bulletin (which had begun publication in 1900), and in its stead approved publication of a monthly Journal of the American Institute of Architects. The Board of Directors could also report that the Fine Arts Commission had recommended and the Congressional Committee for the Lincoln Memorial (of which Taft was the chair) had formally selected Henry Bacon’s design and the Park Commission-recommended site for the Lincoln Memorial. The first issue of the Journal carried an article on the Lincoln Memorial with drawings, text, and a summary of AIA efforts to secure the design on the Mall site.

Evidently, though, not everyone was enamored of the Bacon design. The Illinois Chapter was one of the most vocal against it, noting that the design was not a product of its time and had no “connection historically, nor from the standpoint of Democracy with the work of Abraham Lincoln, nor with his life, his Country or his time; but suggests rather the age of Pericles.” The resolution adopted by the chapter on Jan 14, 1913, also noted: “Said design is of classic inspiration bearing a very close resemblance to Greek Temple Architecture of the Doric period; and ... A large bronze likeness of our beloved martyred President is to be placed in the midst of said Greek Temple suggesting of Lincoln a ‘Greek Deity.’” The resolution approved the site, but suggested rethinking the design. Nevertheless, the House approved a joint resolution on the Memorial on January 29, 1913, which President Woodrow Wilson signed on February 1, accepting both Bacon’s design and the Park Commission site.

1913: The rise of the Journal and Glenn Brown’s new legacy
1913 brought two events mourned by many. One was a change in governance policies that led to the position of secretary to be elected by the AIA Board, which effectively removed Glenn Brown from office. A long resolution, prepared by a committee co-chaired by Gilbert and William A. Boring, noted that the Institute was “deeply impressed with the notable achievements and the faithful services of Mr. Glenn Brown, who for fifteen years has been its devoted Secretary and Treasurer.” The resolution, which recounts events of the past 15 years that Brown either initiated or to which he was central, was unanimously carried. 1913 was also the year that Charles Babcock, the last of the original 13 founders who met in Upjohn’s office on February 23, 1857, passed away. The resolution on his August 27, 1913, death noted “his death marks the passing of a great period which must ever be of peculiar interest and value to American architects, for it illustrates how high ideals and confident endeavor can bring order out of chaos, confidence out of suspicion, and great accomplishment by reason of character and integrity.”

1913 marked the first year of the publication of the Journal, which was to become one of the most influential publications in its field. It published the minutes of the Board of Directors, reproduced superb graphics, and carried provocative articles, all with a point of view. Even the cover was used to editorialize. For instance, the cover of the February 1916 issue, introduced in bold type an article on “Our Stupid and Blundering National Policy of Providing Public Buildings, Showing how the city of Washington is being marred by the erection of office buildings for rental to the Government at rates based upon inflated values.” It was a topic the magazine would return to again and again. The cover of the May 1916 issue noting, in equally bold type, “Only a determined national effort, led by unceasing patience, directed by an intelligent appreciation, and inspired with the vision of Washington and Jefferson, can save the nation’s capital from the architectural desecration which has already wrought an injury greater than the nation knows.” Charles Harris Whitaker, its editor, hired Clarence Stein as an associate editor and published both Lewis Mumford’s first article and the last written work of Louis Sullivan. Along the way, dreamy photographs of New York and New Orleans, drawings and photographs of colonial mansions, and news of current events made their way into the magazine.

Glenn Brown’s relationship with the Octagon did not end in 1913, for he was hired almost immediately to do something that he had begun years before: He wrote about the Octagon and hired Frances Benjamin Johnston to photograph it. The AIA asked Brown’s firm (in which his son Bedford Brown was a partner) to make measured drawings of the house. The drawings were published in a monograph with photographs of the house and its furnishings, and a history penned by Glenn Brown. It is not praising the drawings too highly to note that they established standards for such measured drawings; standards which would be picked up a decade later when the Historic American Buildings Survey began.

The Octagon Monograph, issued in a portfolio containing some 30 folio-sized drawings, was promoted by the Journal, which noted, “One cannot enter it without unconsciously peopling its rooms with the gracious men and women of that day—there may come even a lingering regret over the changes which seem to have made that life no more than a memory—and there will surely come the devout wish that the whole may be jealously guarded and preserved as an inspiration to future generations.”

1916: The “winds of war”
In 1916, the Board of Directors could report a membership of 1,432 but note that “The architectural profession is at best a small one numerically, and the membership of the Institute does not as yet comprise a majority of the members of the profession. Until that point has been reached and passed, the Institute cannot speak with complete authority in a country where majority rule governs.”

Whatever the state of practice in this country, the coming conflagration could not be ignored. President Mauran recalled that, “At the last two conventions my predecessor touched our hearts and stirred our every sympathy with his word-pictures of the tragedy being enacted across the sea. Today the tragedy still holds sway, but we must look beyond that moment of devout thanksgiving when peace shall have rung the curtain down, to the day when war-weary Europe shall confidently demand not our sympathy alone but our sympathetic constructive cooperation. And on that day let us not be found unprepared to take up the responsibilities which belong to us by right and by training as citizens of the world.”

Those responsibilities would arrive with force in 1917.

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AIA150 Rolling History
 A Beginning, 1857-1866
 The Second Decade, 1867-1876
 1877-1886: Westward and Upward
 1887-1896: A Decade of Outreach, Inclusiveness, and Internationalism
 Women and Women Architects in the 1890s
 1897-1906: The AIA Moves to and Changes Washington
 The Institute's Influence on Legislative Policy
 At 50, the AIA Conceives the Gold Medal, Receives Roosevelt's Gratitude
 Spinning a Golden Webb
 1909-1917: The Institute Comes of Age in the Nation's Capital
 1917-1926: A New Power Structure: World War I, Pageantry, and the Power of the Press
 1927-1936: A Decade of Depression and Perseverance
 The AIA in Its Ninth Decade: 1937-1946
 1947-1956: Wright Recognition, White House Renovation, AIA Closes on 100
 The Tenth Decade: 1957-1966
 1967-1976: New HQ and a New Age Take Center Stage
 A New Home for the AIA in 1973; A Greener Home in 2007
 Diversity and the Profession: Take II
 'The Vietnam Situation Is Hell': The AIA's Internal Struggle over the War in Southeast Asia
 1977-1986: Activism and Capital-A Architecture Are Alive at the AIA
 1987-1996 Technology, Diversity, and Expansion

Image 1: Charles Babcock, the last surviving founder of the American Institute of Architects, attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the AIA’s existence in 1907. He died in 1913.

Image 2: Glenn Brown produced measured drawings of the Octagon in 1914. In the Beaux Arts style, he superimposed large-scale details on his elevations and plans.

Image 3: The Journal of the American Institute of Architects premiered in 1913.

Image 4: The Journal featured this photograph, taken from the steps of the Octagon September 17, 1915, of the construction site a block away of the U.S. Department of Interior building, designed by Waddy, Butler, Wood. In their premier issue, the editors bemoaned the loss of the “sole remaining remnant of the wide and lovely landscape which greeted Colonel John Tayloe and General George Washington when they came to choose the site of the Octagon House.”

Image 5: The impressive tabletop marker erected over the grave carried the L’Enfant Plan for Washington had a legend noting “Pierre Charles L’Enfant/Engineer, Artist, Soldier/ Under the direction of George Washington/Designed the Plan for the/Federal City...”

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