A Chapter Is Born - History of AIA Potomac Valley

While boxing up old files as part of our effort to have LEAFHouse look less like an office and more like the thoughtfully designed solar house it is, I was continually drawn off-task by the fascinating look back at the chapter’s history contained in some of the files. It reminded me of something I (and thousands of others) learned from the Broadway show Hamilton – the cast of characters may change throughout history, but the challenges they face and the questions they debate don’t change all that much.

The article below, transcribed verbatim from the Potomac Valley Architect, Vol I, No. 1, published October 1, 1956, reveals the early crisis of identity faced by the architects of “the two counties” vis a vis the Baltimore and DC chapters, while also foreshadowing the similar challenges of architects in Western Maryland as the Potomac Valley Chapter has expanded.

I hope this glimpse into the past, besides just being interesting to know, can help today’s members and leaders continued to build a chapter that is resilient and responsive for all its members into the future. - Renee Catacalos, Executive Director





Editors’ Note: Much of the following historical summary was contained in an address delivered by Mr. Bien before the Washington Chapter in 1953. It is regretted that, in the necessary condensation to fit limited space, the flavor of many of the director’s personal and humorous comments have had to be omitted.

IN MARYLAND the prelude to any architectural organization came with the state registration law enacted June 1, 1936.

     Those of us then practicing were granted registration under the “grandfather clause”—an implication I and others rather resented. By July, we had set up the Maryland Society of Architects with Frederick A. Fletcher, President; John J. Zink, Vice President and F.L.W. Moeble, Secretary, all of Baltimore.

     The constitution provided for sections and I found the 40 to 50 architects who resided here, or had their offices in the two counties, were immediately interested in a section to give attention to our local problems. In no time we had organized the Washington-Metropolitan Section of the state society and I had the honor of being its first president.

     In 1939 we had an exhibit which more than proved the talented work of the frogs in our puddle matched the architectural designs being created anywhere. We had a high grade jury including Clyde Fritz, Baltimore; William Dewey, Cleveland (now Washington); and R. Stanley-Brown. Arthur L. Blakeslee had designed a fine certificate and presented it to the winners at a “Court of Awards” meeting attended by more than 100 people. The pictures and drawings remained on exhibit at Silver Spring’s Blair House for some time.

     In 1940 I persuaded the parent society to hold a state-wide exhibit which brought out a larger showing of fine work.

     A number of members served in the war and all had their war-connected activities but we continued to hold meeting and, as did other state societies to gain strength and influence. These societies might well have dominated the profession except that the Institute began to recognize the situation and to make proposals for “unification.”

     First proposal of the exclusive A.I.A. provided only for representations at conventions and Maryland only had one delegate as compared with 10 or a dozen from the Baltimore chapter though our numbers exceeded theirs. Even our one member had to be a corporate A.I.A. member. This was flagrantly unfair. Un-American!

     In fighting for a more equitable solution we developed the “Maryland Plan for Unification,” then abandoned it to support a similar plan of Pennsylvania architects who were farther along in their negotiations. Our Free State group especially felt A.I.A. should represent all architects registered to practice. Finally, in 1943 the Institute agreed to recognize registration (along with character and professional qualifications) as gratification for corporation membership.

     With this and other A.I.A. encouragement, the M.S.A. put on a vigorous campaign to induce architects to join up. By January, 1947 all, or nearly all of our members were in the Institute and the Maryland Society was disbanded.

     When this came about, however, we of the two counties found ourselves back just about where we were 10 years before. Our business was nobody’s business and I and several others began to do something about it. We ultimately proposed a separate chapter for our group. We found that in an area like our two counties, if under another chapter, we must be released by it. We were included in the Baltimore Chapter’s jurisdiction. Baltimore objected.

     The Washington Chapter came up with the suggestion we become a Division of that Chapter. This did not give us all we had set out to get but, at the time, it was in many respects a happy solution. We could have our own officers, conduct our own meetings, handle our own affairs and the parent chapter paid our bills. We accepted the proposal and elected Ronald S. Senseman as President and to be a member of the executive committee of the Washington Chapter. I was the secretary.

     We continued as a Division until about a year ago. We had increasingly felt the handicaps inherent to just being a branch. This was particularly frustrating in dealing with public bodies such as county officials and the legislature. Larry Johnson, of Bethesda started to get signatures for a charter. We were at first opposed by our parent D.C. Chapter but, later, some of its most influential members swung over to our side. So we became a chapter. The charter was formally approved April 1, 1955.

     Dana B. Johannes continued to serve and so was our first president, an honor we all felt he richly deserved. At the next regular election of officers in June, 1955, Ronald S. Senseman was made president with present slate of officers which was re-elected to serve during A.I.A.’s 100th anniversary year.

     The Chapter had thrived beyond my fondest hopes, and we are still solvent. Long live the Potomac Valley Chapter of Maryland, A.I.A.!

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