The post-war building boom that transformed the San Fernando Valley from farmland to suburbs brought an immediate need for architects. Published figures indicate that more than three-quarters of the new subdivisions created in Los Angeles between 1945 and the early 1950’s were in the new bedroom communities of the Valley.
At a dinner meeting on Friday, June 14, 1946, pioneer Valley architects met to found a new organization, The Architects of the San Fernando Valley. The Group was affiliated with the AIA, but included all licensed architects who wished to join. The first president was J. Robert Harris, AIA of North Hollywood. By the following year, there were 14 members, 11 of whom were AIA members. Two of these were women, Lucille Bryant Raport, AIA and Olive Kingsley Chadeayne, AIA, both of whom served as early presidents.
Henry F. Withey, president in 1947, was the author of the Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased), a work of national stature which has been reprinted frequently since its first publication in 1956. Robert B. Stacy-Judd, president in 1950, gained fame as an early popularizer of the Mayan style, and his books of South American travel adventures remain widely available.
Commencing in 1947, the Valley architects produced twice-yearly “home shows” at municipal buildings or furniture stores, where the members’ work was exhibited to the public. The architects joined with the Garden Center Association in 1952 to create a home show at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks with booths, materials exhibits, and architectural displays that drew nearly 20,000 visitors.
“A greater and more beautiful San Fernando Valley through better planning and construction” was the group’s motto public relations efforts in the early 1950s included a newspaper column, written each week by a different member, on topics of public interest related to architecture. The group also placed advertisements on the advantages of hiring an architect.
Years of Growth
The creators set the pattern for today’s organization. They began the monthly program meetings that have continued without interruption. They established the practice of serving the public and the profession that has characterized the group for over 50 years.
In 1960, Howard R. Lane (later FAIA) led the Valley architects into formal association with the AIA as the San Fernando Valley District of the Southern California Chapter, with a seat on the Chapter board. He later served as president of both the Southern California Chapter and the California Council. As the growth of the region caused the creation of new chapters, the Southern California Chapter became the Los Angeles Chapter in 1977, and the Valley became a “Section” of the Chapter.
By the 1980s, the Valley had become more than a residential suburb, and the Valley architects had grown in number and stature. A movement was led by Joe Jordan, AIA, president in 1984 and 1985 (and who had served as president in 1955 and 1961), to form an independent Chapter of the AIA. Under his leadership and that of his successors, the Valley architects commenced a successful campaign to prove their need and ability to be a separate chapter.
AIA officials from Washington, D.C., conducted a fact-finding visit to the Valley, and members traveled to Washington. All of the officers and board members made presentations about the group’s activities. In the end, the AIA was convinced.
A New Chapter
In July of 1987, the new San Fernando Valley Chapter received its official Charter. President Tom Layman, AIA recalls the day he and the presidents of the neighboring Los Angeles and Pasadena/ Foothill Chapters stood atop the mountain on Mulholland Drive to set the boundaries of the new chapter. The result, as confirmed by the AIA, was area encompassing all of northwest Los Angeles County to the north of Mulholland Drive and to the west of Barham Boulevard (including all of the City of Burbank).
Then there ensued a period of intense activity to create the complete range of activities and services required for an independent organization.
The foundation of a newsletter had been laid in 1985 by President-elect Lawrence A. Robbins, AIA with his memorably illustrated monthly program flyers. These were expanded by his successor, Thomas W. Layman, AIA, to include important code and City Hall news. Then in 1987, Mark L. Smith, AIA commenced a four-page monthly publication, enlarging it the following year to the Newsletter’s current eight-page format.
As president in 1988, Mark L. Smith, AIA opened the chapter’s first office and hired the first staff. The tenant improvements were executed below cost by the development firm of Chapter member Jaime Gesundheit, AIA. With good fortune, the furniture was secured as a donation from the Steelcase and Herman Miller companies was delivered hours before the open house for the members.