Two months after the W.A.A. convention, the Illinois State Association of Architects (I.S.A.A.) was formed as the W.A.A. chapter to parallel the Chicago Chapter of the A.I.A.  Burnham seemed (or wanted) to be in complete control, as he was the first to nominate candidates to each of the Executive positions.  He first nominated Adler to be president, who quickly deferred to the candidacy of W.W. Boyington as president, dutifully recognizing him as Chicago’s leading architect, as the Board of Trade neared completion:

“I do not know that there is a member of the profession here, whose services to the profession at large have been so eminent as those of Mr. Boyington.  There is no one among us who has handled such large buildings, whose professional practice has extended over so great an extent of country, and who has been so uniformly successful in professional practice, and I think we, perhaps, owe it to one who has been the most successful among us that we recognize that success by calling him to the head of this association.”

Even Burnham had to admit the truth of Adler’s sentiments, and so seconded Boyington’s nomination.  Burnham then nominated Adler for vice-president, to which position he was elected, after which Burnham was elected second vice-president.  Burnham kept the power all in the family by successfully nominating Root to be chairman of the Association’s Executive Committee.  The I.S.A.A.’s monthly meetings provided the venue for the city’s leading architects to express and debate their viewpoints on a variety of theoretical and professional issues. Therefore, with Burnham as chairman of the W.A.A. Board of Directors, and Root as chairman of the I.S.A.A. Executive Committee, the dynamic duo was ready to dictate their agenda of the West’s direct challenge to the prestige and power of the eastern establishment.


C.A.S.C. Membership Card. (Hasbrouck, Architectural Club)

McLean appears to have been a ball of energy.  No sooner had he succeeded in getting the WAA off the ground then he turned his efforts to assisting the city’s “draughtsmen” in creating a similar professional organization.  At this time the term applied to almost everyone working in an office who was not an “architect:” from the mature, head of the drafting room to the newest hire.  In the longstanding tradition of the apprentice system, such an association would allow its members to continue working during the day while they improved their knowledge and skills during the evenings.  This was especially important at this time as the area’s universities (University of Illinois-started in 1873 with Nathan Ricker; University of Michigan-had fitfully started in 1876 with Jenney) were slowly developing their own architecture programs, but it would take a while before these programs would deliver the prerequisite new talent needed by Chicago’s burgeoning building campaign.

Other cities, noteworthy among them being New York and Boston, already had such organizations for draughtsmen and McLean published a letter from 42-year old James H. Carpenter, a local draftsman, published under the name “T-Square” in the Feb. 1885 issue of Inland Architect, inviting individuals interested in forming such a group in Chicago:

“Will you please consider the proposition to invite the draughtsmen who desire to form a sketching club, to send their names directed, if you please, to yourselves, or to “T-Square,” in care of your office?  The intention is to commence at once.”

McLean editorially followed up with: “The idea is a good one, and if properly organized and conducted by the right parties, cannot but result in a permanent and increasing good.”  He then offered his office for the group to meet that occurred on Feb. 26, with McLean acting as the temporary chairman.  Eighteen men attended and all had the same idea: this was not to be a trade union, for they considered themselves as professionals.  Two weeks later this group met again in McLean’s office to hammer out a constitution under his direction.  Henry Lord Gay once again stepped up to the plate by offering the free use of the meeting room in his Builders’ Exchange (the same spot where the first W.A.A. convention had taken place only five months earlier) and the first official meeting of the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club took place on April 13, 1885.  

So that by May 1, 1885, when the new Board of Trade, as did many of the new skyscrapers opened in Chicago, the city’s architectural community had put into place a complete system of professional education and development for its entire population: from the lowliest draftsman to its established leaders.  Jenney would give history lectures at the University of Chicago and Root, among others, would present papers on theory and practice at the I.S.A.A.  All of these talks would be reprinted for all to read in the Inland Architect.  The last ties to the East had been severed.  This, by no means, meant that Chicago would develop its architectural ideas on its isolated own, as some historians have argued.  It only meant that Chicago architects no longer had to rely on information filtered by East Coast prejudices, especially as printed in Boston’s American Architect.  

Chicago would be well versed on the latest ideas from Europe, as I have mentioned earlier: Jenney, the graduate from Paris’ École Centrale des Arts et Manufacturers, could speak firsthand of Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas. Root, having studied in Great Britain and then graduated from NYU’s Civil Engineering program, would be joined by Peter B. Wight in promoting the ideas of Owen Jones and the British Design Reform Movement. Frederick Baumann and Dankmar Adler would present Gottfried Semper’s and other German writers’ ideas on architecture. And a few years later, Louis Sullivan, who had spent just enough time at both William Ware’s MIT program and at Paris’ École des beaux-arts to develop his own ideas about each program’s plus and minuses, would eventually join this august brew of modern architectural thought.


The A.I.A.’s response to the success of the W.A.A. convention was one of accommodation, rather than confrontation, although in truth, there was no alternative.  The Board of Trustees forwarded their congratulations: “[We] trust that the Western Association of Architects will be the means of accomplishing much good, and that the A.I.A. and the W.A.A. will long continue to work together in harmony in the development of our national architecture.” American Architect was more direct in its report of the convention:

“We take sincere pleasure in learning of the complete success of the movement for establishing a western association of architects… the feeling of the gentlemen present seems to have been unanimously in favor of the establishment of an association working in concord with the American Institute of Architects, but representing the interests of the profession in the West.  Although the American Institute has had no more valued or useful members than many of the Western architects, its influence has been unquestionably too remote to give that moral support which professional men need.  Even Eastern architects find the authority of the Institute less substantial, so far as regards its effect upon their individual business, than that of their local societies, and to their brethren in Chicago and St. Louis the quarterly meetings of the Trustees in New York are of still less practical service, so that the formation of a professional body in the West, which should unite the direct influence exerted by home associations with the authority conferred by a large membership, was, if not yet absolutely necessary, at least most fortunate;”

In response to the charge that the A.I.A. had become solely East Coast-oriented, the A.I.A. decided to hold its 1885 convention in Nashville, only the second time in the past twelve years that it had been held west of the Allegheny Mountains.    The choice of a southern city was wise in that it was not a direct challenge to the W.A.A.’s territory in the West yet tried to show that the A.I.A. could operate further west than its recent history indicated.  Nonetheless, the Institute was in such a sorry state that only 30 members attended the convention in October.  Even worse, the annual reports of the “Chicago and Cincinnati chapters” (if they could still be considered as such) indicated how low the Institute had fallen:

“Chicago Chapter reported meetings once a year for the election of officers.

Cincinnati Chapter reported few meetings, except when a member died though all were not dead yet.”

Two architects from Chicago were actually made Fellows at this convention.  Jenney was finally rewarded for his long-time faithfulness to the cause by being “promoted” to fellowship, while F.M. Whitehouse was elected as a new fellow. The writing was on the wall with regards to the emerging power of the western architects, and to the credit of the A.I.A. Trustees, they recognized as much in their annual report to the convention:

“It would seem desirable that some effort be made to bring about a closer relationship between the architectural associations of this country, The American Institute of Architects and the Western Association.  To this end it seems but proper that some advance be made by the American Institute of Architects as the oldest organization of architects on the continent.  As a means to that end, it would seem desirable that this convention take some action looking to a representation, through a regularly appointed delegate, at all conventions of architectural societies throughout the Union, and that such be requested to send each a delegate to all conventions of the American Institute of Architects.”

The A.I.A. convention so acted, directing the Trustees to appoint a delegate to the W.A.A. convention the following month. More than likely, this action was in response to the presence of McLean at the A.I.A. convention.  Although feigning neutrality in his official capacity as the editor of Inland Architect, he acted as an unofficial liaison between the W.A.A. and the A.I.A.  His specific interest was the A.I.A.’s initiative to reform the federal government’s procedure of erecting buildings through the office of the Supervising Architect in the Treasury Department.  After the convention had approved the A.I.A.’s version of a bill, section by section, McLean requested the privilege of the floor to ask that the convention postpone any further action on the subject until the W.A.A. could review the matter, to avoid a split in the professional community and provide a unified front in Congress.  The A.I.A.’s weakened position was such that although the bill was adopted as the views of the A.I.A., it was voted that the trustees should meet with a committee from the W.A.A. to finalize the bill before sending it to Congress.  The West had won its first battle.


A month later, 73 members of the W.A.A. met in St. Louis, in what President Illsley in his opening address claimed to have been “much the largest gathering of architects our country knew.”  Even in the presence of the A.I.A.’s official delegate, A. J. Bloor from New York, Illsley could not contain his pride in boasting that the W.A.A.’s membership of over 250 far surpassed that of the A.I.A.:

“The infant is now a year old, and we think it has grown so well that it may fairly claim its right to wear adult clothing.  Who of the architects now present, or who of the smaller body which met last November… could have dreamed that a year later the newly-born Western Association of Architects would assemble in these commodious quarters in the City of St. Louis, with an active membership greater than that of any similar body in these United States?  Who could have thought that its first birthday party would bring together the largest convention of architects ever seen in this country?”

Burnham and Root were at the forefront of the meeting, with Root giving the W.A.A.’s official response to the St. Louis delegation’s opening welcome.  Burnham took the floor in the afternoon session to lead the floor fight to adopt his committee’s drafted Code for architectural competitions, that he, along with Root and Illsley, had helped to write during the intervening year between the two conventions.  In essence, it required: submissions by all competitors to be uniform; a three-man jury of experts; a custodian to be appointed who would check all submissions before they would be forwarded to the jury; the cost of the winning entry to be verified to be within the allotted budget prior to a final announcement; the winning architect to be guaranteed to be contracted to design the building; and that the drawings of the unsuccessful entries would be immediately returned to the respective architects without any part of these designs being used in the final building, without the consent of the designer.  The Code, as adopted by the convention, would result in reforming some of the more infamous “evils” that architects, especially Burnham and Root, had encountered in past competitions.

The other major business item for the convention to consider was a response to the A.I.A.’s bill to reform the Government’s office of Supervising Architect.  The W.A.A., especially Burnham, differed with the A.I.A. on a few important points in the proposed legislation being drafted for congressional action, as was revealed in McLean’s actions the previous month at the A.I.A. convention.  The chairman of the W.A.A.’s standing committee charged with this issue was Adler, who had apparently bowed to the A.I.A.’s viewpoint in composing the draft that was presented to the convention for its adoption:

“Mr. Bloor is here with us… He has not come with positive power to agree to the several concessions which we have thought it advisable to ask him to make.  We have put the bill as reported in the shape which he believes, with his present knowledge, of the wishes of the directors of the directors of the American Institute will meet with the approval of that body.”

Burnham, however, had in mind other tactics, similar to those of McLean’s at the A.I.A. convention, when he moved:

“that it be referred to a committee appointed by the chair, the committee to have charge of the bill, with power to draft its final form without further reference and as it shall seem best to them… and if it shall become necessary, for a conference with another committee appointed by the A.I.A.”

The convention was swayed to Burnham’s strategy and Illsley appointed Adler, Burnham, and John F. Alexander as a committee of three to meet with the A.I.A.’s corresponding committee.

Apparently, it was Root, however, and not Burnham, who, of the two partners, was the more respected by his peers, for while Adler was nominated to be the second president of the W.A.A., Root was nominated as the secretary.  With another Chicagoan, S. A. Treat, nominated as treasurer, Burnham and Root’s earlier anticipation of resentment among the out-of-town architects proved well-founded, for there were grumblings about the “Chicago clique” in the new organization, which Charles Ramsey, from St. Louis, rose to dispel prior to the election of officers:

“It has been drawn out since this convention assembled-several hints that I have heard around at various places-that this convention was run entirely by Chicago and Chicago men, but I do not think anything of the kind.  I will admit that on the face of it, the convention would appear to be run by Chicago men…[but] while the convention has been handled and managed to a great extent by men who have come to St. Louis from Chicago, they have not managed the convention in the interest of Chicago, nor in the interest of any Chicago clique… I would ask the gentlemen to put aside any personal animosities that might possibly be lurking in their brains.  I don’t know that there any; but I speak of this from the fact that I have heard it said that there was a little disposition by Chicago men to run this, and I wish them to put that entirely aside.”

Burnham thus rose in righteous indignation:

“Gentlemen of the convention, the remarks of Mr. Ramsey are a surprise.  Until he spoke just now I had no idea there was such feeling.  That there be is unjust.  The Board of Directors has taken special pains to avoid anything that should make an impression of this sort… If any one has the slightest notion that there was any such feeling among Chicago men, I beg him to dismiss it… “

Thus said, the convention approved the slate of new officers from Chicago.  While Burnham and Adler marched off to work with the A.I.A. to reform the government’s design process, Root would be coordinating all W.A.A. correspondence, in addition to preparing winning designs under the new competition code.


Hasbrouck, Wilbert R. The Chicago Architectural Club. New York: Monacelli Press, 2005.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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