|04/2006||1917-1926: A New Power Structure: World War I, Pageantry, and the Power of the Press
by Tony P. Wrenn, Hon. AIA
It came as no surprise to architects that with the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as president on March 4, 1913, ready access to the power of the presidency ended for architects. Wilsons opponents, President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt, whom the Republican Party split to nominate, were respected friends of architecture and the arts. Both also were AIA members: Taft was elected Hon. AIA in 1907, Roosevelt in 1909. Clearly, they had had the support of the art community, and Scotch Presbyterian Wilson was in no mood to forgive architects for their lack of support for him.
Wilsons first wife, Ellen Axson, an artist, involved herself in the plight of the alley dwellers of Washington, seeking decent housing and other help. The AIA allied itself with her cause, and she attended at least one AIA convention before her death after a short illness, on August 6, 1914. The second Mrs. Wilson was Washington socialite Edith Bolling Galt, whom Wilson married in December 1915. Her interests did not include the arts or welfare work, and the deepening war in Europe increasingly required her husbands time. There was subsequent access to the White House, but never again would there be relationships to equal those of the AIA and presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, and Taft.
With the election of Warren Harding in 1920, Herbert Hoover became Secretary of Commerce and worked closely with the AIA in problems of housing, appointed architects to Commerce committees, endorsed AIA programs such as the Architects Small House Service Bureau, and addressed the AIA Convention in 1921. He worked closely enough with the Institute to earn him an Hon. AIA in 1922.
President Harding spoke at the AIA Convention in Washington in 1923 in ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial, when Henry Bacon was presented the AIA Gold Medal, and, in 1926 at the 59th AIA Convention, President Coolidge received AIA members attending at the White House.
Great War and an Institute nadir
This was a legitimate interest of the AIA, which had planned for its members to go into professional positions in the military, Red Cross, or similar organizations. The British and French warned the U.S. against sending technically trained men to the trenches. One British architect noted that We should indeed be fortunate if today we had in technical service one-tenth of the architects who lie buried on foreign soil.
To forestall that possibility, the AIA set up a card catalog of architects and drafters who desired technical service and furnished them with letters requesting that they be used in such service, but the results were less than satisfactory. In these days of stress and patriotic endeavor, asked AIA President John Mauran at the 1918 Convention, when one of the principal activities of a government at war is building, why are the architects idle? That is the insistent question on the lips of every member of our profession and of the intelligent citizens who stand amazed in the face of such an anomalous situation.
tender of service
Mauran continued, The all-explaining truth is that West Point and Annapolis have no courses in architecture, but they have courses in engineering, and the training thus acquired has created a tradition which seems to blind the Army engineer to the existence of another profession, equally or better qualified to plan and design. (Architecture still is not taught at either West Point or Annapolis.) Mauran assigned a larger fault to the architect, though, asking Have we stood shoulder to shoulder with the budding politician in civic activities, showing that executive, constructive grasp of civic problems which is the heritage of every architect worth of the name; or have we held aloof?
The Journal also published lists of architects serving in The U.S. Housing Corporation of the Department of Labor and the Housing Division of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and the annual list of members for 1920 carried an asterisk by members who served, though if any necrology was ever published, one cannot find it. Whatever the survivors brought back from the war, it was what they did not bring back that Lorado Taft found disturbing. In Chicago in 1922 he said, You and I feel this great dearth, the lack out here in the west of things beautiful and things significantin short of the background which Europe possesses. But even worse is our lack of appreciation. I realized this as never before, realized it poignantly, in the months that I was abroad with our boys. The majority of them registered complete indifferenceimmunityto the appeal of art in whatever form. For them the inheritance of the ages does not exist.
The introspection begun by President Mauran and Lorado Taft was continued by AIA President Thomas R. Kimball, who noted in reporting to the Convention in 1920 that the AIA was far from being numerically representative of the profession ... Why call ourselves a National Society on hardly a ten percent representation? Why attempt a comprehensive program with a Country Club organization? Kimball noted that the AIA had lived through seven lean war years and predicted the Depression, suggesting that seven more lean years were to come.
Lincoln Memorial and a Roaring Twenties heyday
Nothing any of them could have said would have matched the spectacle of the pageant that preceded the presentation. Members and guests dined in a marquee at the Washington Monument end of the Reflecting Pool, but attention was focused on the softly lighted Lincoln Memorial and its reflection in the pool. A soft rain began to fall. Harry F. Cunningham, then a member of the AIA Washington Chapter, viewed the marquee across the pool from the Memorial and described the event. The lovely music of the Marine Band came softly across the smooth water. Everything was smooth and still and fairylike. People came and had to be seated, but one was not conscious that they were people. The soft kindly rain seemed to flutter down, hesitate, and then lay itself softly on the paving. All who were there unconsciously spoke in whispersand that is a significant thing.
At one stage in the dream a portly gentleman appeared from nowhere in particular and the chief usher directed him in a whisper to a seat on the right. The portly gentleman came out of the dream and was discovered to be Mr. Taft, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court ... He smiledhe can do it so beautifully ... The usher apologized for the informality of his reception and informed the Chief Justice that he was expected to come in a burst of gloryNo, said Mr. Taft, I came in a Dodge.
A little later a fine big car, brilliantly lighted and very real, came up to the foot of the steps and the Dream having been suspended for the moment in the ushers mind, the President of the United States was properly received. He was escorted to the steps of the Memorial and between the two central columns he awaited the ... climax of the picture. There appeared away off, at the far end of the Pool, a little speck of light that separated itself from the luminous line of the Marquee. Slowlyoh so slowly, it seemedit grew bigger and perhaps brighter. There was musicbeautiful musicsoft and slippery like the rain ... I sensed rather than felt or saw, a glowing, burning something that came quietly and surely on, and on, and seemed ready to burstbut without noise, without any noise whatever ... The burning, glowing something grew bigger, and brighter, and stopped!!!
Bacon, the Gold Medalist, and AIA President William Faville had been polled down the center of the pool on a barge, while members and guests, costumed in colorful felt and carrying banners, paced the barge on either side of the pool. Members Howard Greeley and Monroe Hewlett had designed the lighting, the costumes, the banners, and the procession. Cunningham noted that the 56th Convention of the AIA, Opened with a mallet 150,000 years old, it was concluded with a glimpse of the Beauty that was born with the Worlds and will die with Time. Other Gold Medals were awarded during the era, to Victor Laloux in 1922, to Sir Edwin Lutyens and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in 1925, but no ceremony would ever again match the Bacon one.
Publications live though legends
Sullivans practice was moribund. He was broke and living on the goodwill and funds of those who believed in him. Sullivan was no longer a dues-paying member of the AIA when, in 1921, Charles H. Whitaker, editor of the Journal asked him to pen book reviews for the magazine. When this fell through, Whitaker asked for other ideas, finally settling on a Sullivan autobiography, to be written in the third person. It ran initially in the AIA Journal, but it was soon clear it would be a book, along with the drawings Sullivan was doing showing the manner in which he developed a germ of an idea into architectural ornament. It is said that The Autobiography of an Idea had not been out of print since, and A System of Architectural Ornament, also reprinted, remains a much-studied and prized volume. Sullivan saw both books a few days before his death and was pleased.
At the 1924 Convention, President William B. Faville announced, at the end of his address: At New York on the 16th day of February 1924, in the fifty-eighth year of his age, Henry Bacon died. At Chicago on the 14th day of April, 1924, at the age of sixty-five, Louis H. Sullivan died. At New York on the 24th day of April, 1924, when only fifty-five years of age, at the very zenith of his usefulness, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue died. Those losses, in such a short period of time, weakened the profession and, even though almost a century has passed, must still be mourned.
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