The American Institute of Architects was founded in New York in 1857. The Western Association was organized in the Midwest in 1884, and three years later a local chapter of that association was formed in New Orleans as the Louisiana State Association of Architects. Thomas Sully became its first President.
At the 1889 AIA Convention in Cincinnati, the Western Association and the AIA were merged, and all Western Association members became fellows of the AIA. In 1905, fourteen architectural draftsmen formed the Louisiana Architectural Association, and, in its first year, it was instrumental in establishing an architectural course at Tulane University, night classes for draftsmen in its offices, and the City’s first architectural magazine, Architectural Art and Its Allies. Another accomplishment was the development of regulations for local design competitions, a common means of awarding architectural commissions at the turn of century.
The New Orleans chapter of the AIA was formed in 1909 as a direct result of flagrant deviations from these regulations by one of the City’s largest banks in conducting its design competition for its main office on St. Charles. Allison Owen, editor of Architectural Art wrote:
“One result of the Whitney-Central National Bank competition, upon which competition this magazine felt constrained to comment adversely… has been crystallization of the feeling among some architects towards the foundation of a chapter of the American Institute in New Orleans…, a local association or club of active men engaged in the practice of the same profession is, of course, productive of much mutual benefit, but it can never have such an extended sphere of influence as it would assume when it becomes part of a great national body of men who stand for all that is highest and best, not only for themselves, but for those whom they serve and those whose service they require in their practice.”
The chapter was formed and Guy Stone was its President. It was the thirtieth chapter nationwide and only the second in the South.
It is worthy of note that the Chapter, like the city in which it was founded, had a large personality and a proclivity for combining its serious intellectual and ethical agenda with a good time.
The Chapter’s first social event was a day-long excursion across Lake Ponchartrain on Walter Jahncke’s yacht on September 10, 1910. “Blue Roof” Mackenzie had his pants run up the mast; S. Labouisse climbed the mast to escape the inebriates below; and Charles Favrot, the “pilot”, almost beached the boat.
On January 26, 1911, in the courtyard of the Paul Morphy House (now Brennan’s), the Chapter held its first large meeting. True to form, the Chapter had a festive time, with everyone proposing a toast to outgoing President Guy Stone. Some business was conducted though, including a proposal for the creation of a downtown atelier to be associated with the Beaux Arts Society of New York.
In 1920 a serious blow was dealt the chapter when the prohibition amendment was passed. Chapter parties just went underground, however, reflected in these bizarre directions to a chapter meeting by Secretary, H. M. Favrot, in 1930:
“Tuesday, October 21, 1930, 6:00 p.m. sharp there will be a dinner meeting to entertain visiting architects and other distinguished visitors; as well as to discuss important topics. Sneak up the winding stairway at Galatoire’s, rap three times, then duck, but don’t run. If the countersign has been directly delivered the other boys will be found waiting. After dinner, we will all go and see the exhibit (Hospital Association exhibit).”
Activities and accomplishments of the Chapter over the years have included:
- Working with the Fire Prevention Bureau on a Building Code for the City of New Orleans, creating a fire district and limiting the height of buildings.
- Locating the 1915 World’s Fair in New Orleans to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal.
- Hosting the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans to celebrate the waters of the Mississippi.
- Creation of the Department of Buildings for Code enforcement.
- Removal of responsibility for design of public buildings from the City Engineer’s office and establishment of a reasonable method of selecting an architect.
- Creation of a Board of Appeals, to which the Chapter would have an appointment.
- Creation of a State licensing law.
- Developing a greater influence in the Legislature, the City Council, the Construction Industry and Tulane University.
- Convincing Tulane to keep its architectural program and subsidizing its deficit – Nathaniel C. Curtis was made head of the faculty.
- Hosting the National AIA Convention in 1919, 1938, 1959, 1984, and 1997, and 2011.
- Recognizing the importance of historic preservation, saving Gallier Hall, the St. Louis Hotel and parts of Jackson Barracks, working on a map of the City identifying noteworthy buildings, and preserving the Vieux Carre.
- Supporting the creation of the Louisiana Architects Association.
- Urging the City to establish the Vieux Carre Commission.
- Advocating for Congo (then Beauregard) Square as a site for the Municipal Auditorium where it was eventually built in 1930 as a World War I memorial.
The Chapter continues today with strong ties to the state and regional chapters and the national association. It continues a tradition of dealing with serious civic and architectural issues, with an emphasis on service to its membership, while still finding ways to distinguish itself as the New Orleans Chapter.
This history was condensed by Creed W. Brierre, AIA from notes for a series of talks on the history of the New Orleans Chapter of the American Institute of Architects prepared by Robert J. Cangelosi, Jr., AIA.