AIArchitectInstititute News
12/2005 1877-1886óWestward and Upward

by Tony P. Wrenn, Hon. AIA

The AIA’s first organizational decade, 1857-66, was truncated by four years of Civil War into a decade of six years. Yet, during those missing four years, one of the AIA’s founding architects, Thomas U. Walter, completed his design and construction of the iconic U.S. Capitol dome, which symbolized then, and now, the supremacy of the Union.

During its second decade, 1867-’76, the AIA attracted members from beyond the New York, Boston, and Philadelphia area, finding favor in the Midwest and upper South; held the first AIA convention and published its proceedings; and oversaw the establishment of the first AIA chapter and the first collegiate schools of architecture. At the end of that decade, in 1876, leadership passed from Richard Upjohn, in whose New York office the Institute was founded in 1857, to Walter. Those two, with another founder, Richard Morris Hunt, who followed Walter as president, led the AIA to the threshold of the 20th century.

Upjohn died Aug. 17, 1878, having survived barely into the Institute’s third decade. Walter, in turn, barely survived into the fourth decade, dying on Oct. 30, 1887. Hunt almost survived through the fourth decade, dying July 31, 1895. These three, adult and even-handed, yet ready to listen and open to ideas, must be given credit for maturing the small—often uncertain of direction—AIA.

As unlikely as it might seem that the AIA would survive its earliest years without the perseverance of these three founders, it is equally unlikely that it could have orchestrated or sustained its Golden Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries without two men who became members during this third decade: Charles Follen McKim, of New York, who became a Fellow in 1877, and Glenn Brown, of Washington, D.C., who became a member in 1882.

McKim, born in 1847, grew up in rural Pennsylvania, attended Harvard for a year, then studied in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He returned to this country in 1870 to work in the office of Henry Hobson Richardson, who had become an AIA member in 1866. McKim founded his own firm in New York in 1872, which became McKim, Mead and White, probably the best-known American architecture firm of the 19th and 20th centuries. McKim moved, once he was a member, almost immediately into leadership, being elected AIA secretary for the term of 1877-1878. In the 20th century, he would become AIA president.

Brown, born in 1854 in Fauquier County, Va., spent much of his childhood at his grandfather’s house, Rose Hill, in Caswell County, N.C. His grandfather, Bedford Brown, a U.S. senator from North Carolina, had opposed North Carolina’s secession from the Union, though his father, Bedford Brown Jr., served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. After studying architecture at MIT, Glenn Brown too became associated with Henry Hobson Richardson—through Norcross Brothers in Worcester, Mass., Richardson’s master builders, where he served as draftsman and paymaster. Brown opened his own office in Washington, D.C., in 1880. Both McKim and Brown survived into the Institute’s sixth decade. McKim died in 1909 and, although Brown survived until 1932, his AIA leadership ended in 1913 with an AIA reorganization. How incredible it would have been to listen in on the conversational flow of ideas when, during its third decade, these five, Upjohn, Walter, Hunt, McKim, and Brown—often together with others who were then members and whose names we recognize instantly today—came together in AIA meetings and conventions. The existing record indicates that architecture and the fledgling organization seem never to have been far from their minds.

Founders remembered
Upjohn’s memorial, after his death August 17, 1878, was entered in the Minutes of the Trustees in several black-bordered pages and read by AIA President Walter at the 12th Convention in New York on November 13, 1878. Upjohn’s early life was noted, as was his arrival in New York where he designed Trinity Church (1841-46). “In the preparation of the designs for the new edifice, the power and scope of the genius of Mr. Upjohn were first made apparent, and from that time the success of his professional career was assured. He dreamt,” Walter noted, “not of a perishable home, who thus could build ... His works speak for him all over the land and illustrate by graceful and enduring memorials the taste and genius that placed him in the foremost rank of our profession.”

Upjohn’s activities, Walter said, had raised “the social and moral standard of the Institute ... placing it in the advance position it now occupies in the public estimation ... During all these years he was untiring in his efforts to establish good fellowship throughout the profession, to raise the standard of practice, and to promote the progress of our art.”

Other founders would die during the decade. Of R. G. Hatfield, who was AIA treasurer from 1860 to his death in Feb. 1879, the trustees “gratefully call to mind the fact that all Mr. Hatfield’s intercourse with its members has been marked by uniform courtesy, and that his temperate counsel and consideration had earned from them unqualified regard and respect.” Of all the decade’s memorial statements, none is more touching than that for Henry Fernback, who became a member in 1866 and died in November 1883. Emlen L. Littell, who became a member in 1860, and served as AIA secretary from 1862-64, wrote of him: “It is rare indeed to find a man combining, as he did, such large proportions of wit, kindness, energy, integrity & intellect. It is rare to find an architect holding ground among the foremost of his profession & practicing it actively and widely for so many years having, as he had, not an enemy, but hosts of friends among his employees, his clients and his professional friends.

“He was devoted to his art, & his help in all matters which tended to elevate it & further its higher aims, with his ready sympathy for its practioneers, & especially for the members of this Institute, were marked features in a character illuminated by the genial glow of a warm heart.”

These statements represent perhaps the greatest effect of the AIA on the profession, for, even if it were only a “gentleman’s club,” it changed the relations of those gentlemen one to the other. Reminiscing at the 11th Convention on Oct 18, 1877, E. C. Cabot, president of the Boston Society of Architects, an AIA chapter, noted “Thirty years go, when I commenced practice in this city, there were but half a dozen architects, and several of these had been bred as engineers. There was but little sympathy between them, their designs were carefully guarded from each other, and their libraries kept locked. We had few books of reference, and photographs were almost unknown. Twenty years later ... About 50 assembled, some articles of association were drawn up, a portion of those present signed them, and formed the Boston Society of Architects ... The result of all this has been to promote amongst us the most friendly professional relations. As artists we cannot live without sympathy, and through the earnest love of our work, and this cordial intercourse, we must look for the elevation of our professional practice.”

In fellowship, all for one …
The decade was not an easy one economically. The absence of work or personal tragedy often brought petitions to the Trustees from members who could not pay their dues. One member, from Cleveland, wrote on December 29, 1877, “pleading for an extension of time in the payment of dues owing to prolonged sickness in his family followed by the death of three of his children.” The Secretary moved, and the Trustees approved unanimously that “the sympathy of the Trustees by conveyed ... that an indefinite extension of time for the payment of dues by granted ... and that his name be retained on the rolls.” One future president of the AIA was reported that year as delinquent and, more shocking, as not having abided by the Bylaws in not having “forwarded credentials of his professional work.” Nevertheless both were overlooked—after all, three trustees, including the AIA secretary, knew and endorsed him—and he was advanced to Fellowship. Though the policy had already been breached in that that member’s name was on the record, others were protected for the trustees’ voted that the “list of delinquents not be read into the minutes.” When, at the February 15, 1877, trustees meeting, the treasurer reported a long list of delinquents, a blank page was left in the minute book where the secretary wrote in pencil “don’t insert names until it is seen who pays.” Members experiencing difficulty were not to be embarrassed in perpetuity.

As the AIA established contacts and its activities were reported in the press, it received letters from all parts of the country, Canada, and abroad, some 200 the trustees reported in 1884. The secretary sent such documents as had been adopted by that time—a standard contract, a schedule of charges, a pamphlet on competitions, the constitution and by-laws, and perhaps convention proceedings. In 1881, when a letter came from a foreign architect asking for information with a view to possible emigration, President Upjohn noted caustically that it was not “one of the projects of the Inst to form an Immigration Society.” Trustee Hatfield, however, thought such letters should not be ignored, but be referred to architects who had written the AIA seeking “first class assistance.”

The move westward
At the April 16, 1884, meeting, the St. Louis Chapter was admitted, bringing the number of chapters to 11, and “papers relating to the Bartoldi Statue of Liberty” were examined and “laid over to the next meeting.” The Bartoldi Statue Committee requested funds and after prolonged discussion at its June 20 meeting. “It was moved, seconded, and voted, that in view of the low state of the funds in the Treasury of the Institute, that the request for funds be laid on the table.” The AIA was not to be denied participation, however, for founder and member Richard Morris Hunt designed the pedestal on which the Statue stands.

Membership, which had long since included mid-Americans, reached the West Coast in 1870 when Augustus Laver of San Francisco was elected to Fellowship. Laver actively recruited new members, writing in February 1878 about forming a chapter. At first, it was to be a Pacific Coast chapter, but when it gave its first chapter report, at the 16th Convention, October 25-26, 1882, in Cincinnati, it was as the “San Francisco Chapter.” The American Institute of Architects finally reached from coast to coast.

Yet there were those who felt ignored and deprived of positions of leadership. In 1884, some 100 architects from 14 Midwest states met in Chicago and organized the Western Association of Architects (WAA). Their’s was to be a classless membership, all were to be Fellows, each a “professional person whose sole occupation is to supply all data preliminary to the material, construction and completion of a building and to exercise administrative control over contractors supplying material and labor ... and the arbitration of contractors stipulating terms of obligation and fulfillment between proprietor and contractor.”

Many WAA members were also members of the AIA, creating a problem that the AIA would have to solve in its next decade or face stiff organizational competition. Almost immediately, the WAA formed a Southern Chapter and actively sought members in the South, an area then sparsely represented in the AIA; offering immediate membership, without question, to anyone already an AIA member.

At heart, the good of the profession
A. J. Bloor of New York, who had become an AIA member in 1861 and served 12 years as its secretary, attended the founding convention and the second, which he described to the 20th AIA Convention in 1886. He told of the election of a woman, Louise Bethune of Buffalo, N.Y., to the WAA and reported “In private, I was asked my views on the question of her admittance, and, as an individual, I expressed myself in favor of it.” He was less approving of Louis Sullivan, who “read an original and charming paper of fine literary quality, (though personally I do not altogether agree with all his deductions), on ‘Characteristics and Tendencies of American Architecture.” Bloor concluded “The impression made upon me during the performance of the mission you entrusted to me is that the Association, equally with the Institute, has the good of our art and of its professors at heart, and that it is our duty to work cordially with it. The more closely we are united, the speedier will be the realization of our common objects. Those who are not with us are against us, and we have worked too long and too hard to see complacency the fruit of what we have sown scattered abroad.”

Up, up, and away
William LeBaron Jenney, of Chicago, who had become an AIA member in 1872, participated actively in the migration of the Institute westward and, in many ways, presaged its future as well, by participating in organizing the WAA to challenge the national supremacy of the AIA. The character of his architecture embodied in the design and construction of his Home Insurance Building in Chicago, 1884-85, would eventually challenge even the then prevailing concept of building. Of skeletal construction, the Home Insurance Building, initially 9 stories high, was raised to 11 in 1891. It has long been touted as the first “skyscraper,” but there are other claimants. One is the New York Produce Exchange, designed by George B. Post, who became a member of the AIA in 1860. The Exchange, with a plaque that identified it as the first skyscraper, was earlier, 1882-84, than Jenney’s building in Chicago.

Jenney had studied in Paris, choosing engineering at the Ecole Centrale des Arts et des Manufactures, and not architecture in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In spite of this, and in recognition of his professional accomplishments, the AIA advanced him from Associate to Fellow in 1886, one small step in dealing with competing organizations and highrise buildings in its tricky architectural future. Both would figure prominently in the AIA’s fourth decade.

Copyright 2005 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved. Home Page Home Page

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

Tony Wrenn, Hon. AIA, who retired as the AIA’s archivist in 1998 after 18 years of service, is now a researcher/writer based in Danville, Va.


Thomas U. Walter

The hand inscribed memoriam to Richard Upjohn, left-bordered in black, was entered into the 1878 Minutes of the Trustees.

“Truth and Unity” marked the 20th AIA Convention in 1886, as did a sumptuous dinner.

Jenney’s Home Insurance Building. Drawing by Timothy B. McDonald.

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