4.4. ACT THREE: THE 1888 CONVENTIONS

The first public discussion of the details of the consolidation took place at the 1888 A.I.A. convention, held on October 17-19, in Buffalo.  The Buffalo A.I.A. convention, however, was not going to be the political cakewalk that the previous year’s Chicago convention had been, for it was now back in the East, where the majority of attendees were old-time A.I.A. members.  Because neither Burnham nor Root, both A.I.A. Fellows, were in attendance at the convention due to business conflicts, the sole responsibility for stating the West’s case in the lion’s den of the East fell upon the able shoulders and sharp tongue of Adler (who had just returned from his tour of Europe with Ferdinand Peck), who at this time was an A.I.A. Associate member and chairman of the W.A.A. consolidation committee.  He successfully held his ground in the face of strong opposition from such A.I.A. stalwarts like Richard Morris Hunt, one of the founders of the original A.I.A.  In this chess game, the A.I.A. had been backed into a corner without any readily available escape route.  The W.A.A. now had over twice the number of members of the A.I.A., it was now moving into the old traditional territory of the A.I.A. with the formation of its Western New York State Association in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Chicago convention had put the A.I.A. on record as supporting Burnham’s resolution for the “best and speediest method of consolidating all the architectural societies of the United States.”  

Adler’s assertive eloquence eventually took the day, (for the sake of brevity I have only quoted the fierce debate that ensued from the A.I.A. transcript from the 1889 Convention, below) with the debate ending in the wee hours of the morning on a rather promising note with the unanimous passage of the following resolution:

Resolved, That it is the sense of this meeting that the amalgamation of the American Institute of Architects and the Western Association of Architects is desirable if effected under conditions satisfactory to a majority of the members of the American Institute of Architects.”

Adler ended the debate on the issue the following day with a successful motion that the consolidation committee should complete its work with its W.A.A. counterpart within the next six months.  For efficiency purposes, the size of the committee was reduced from five to three members, one of them being Burnham.

As the steadfast supporters of the A.I.A. had taken the opportunity offered by the convention to try to scuttle the consolidation scheme, it was feared that a similar attack would take place at the coming W.A.A. convention in Chicago by those Westerners who did not agree with Burnham’s apparent capitulation to use the A.I.A. name for the proposed new organization.  This was the crux of the matter from the W.A.A. viewpoint.  If the name of the organization continued to be A.I.A., the old A.I.A. would naturally appear to history not to have been reformed by the actions from the West.  The old A.I.A. could then always avoid the truth and claim later in history (which it still does!) that the W.A.A. had rejoined it, instead of the fact that the W.A.A. had, indeed, succeeded in reforming the old A.I.A. and both associations had formed a new organization in 1889 with a new constitution, based on the W.A.A.’s constitution.  No one seemed to perceive the historical significance of this subtle, but vital, difference in interpretation better than Sullivan:

“There is one little point, while this matter of details is up, that it may be well for the committee to understand, that is to say:  It is to be definitely understood by these two committees that when the new organization is formed, each of the old associations shall formally disband.  I speak in this way for I think I detect in these proceedings a disposition for absorption;  I feel the Western Association has either got to be gobbled up or the Institute;  I think it a matter to be understood by both institutions that they formally disband…”

4.5. THE FALL OF BURNHAM

Throughout all this debate, the voice of Burnham, who had been the most publicly-forceful proponent of consolidation, had been uncharacteristically silent.  As he was on the A.I.A. committee, Burnham was formally requested by Adler to speak to Sullivan’s concern, that turned out not only to be, very uncharacteristically, the only words spoken by Burnham during the entire three days of the W.A.A. convention, but more importantly, seemed to confirm the suspicion that he had, indeed, sold out to the A.I.A.:”

“Gentlemen, this is what I hoped would not happen.  Being on the Institute Committee on Consolidation, I feel myself bound by its views, and not at liberty to advocate here, what might seem opposed to them.  I am, however, clear in regard to the matter: that the machinery of the final body should be simple as it can be made… I would like to say, I hope this convention will not instruct its committee.  A little reflection will show everybody that no man can come to any definite conclusion today or tomorrow.  I hope the convention, then, will not attempt to instruct them definitely on any of these points we have had under discussion.  I believe this is the safest course to pursue.  Certainly, if your committee is a competent one, you will be safe to leave all these details in their hands.”

The distrust of the A.I.A. among the W.A.A. was not limited to just Sullivan, however, for it became even more apparent on the third day of the convention with the election of officers for the coming year.  Apparently, according to a plan agreed upon by the W.A.A. directors, Burnham had been nominated by both nominating committees as the official candidate to be the last president of the W.A.A., a suspicious coincidence to say the least, but a fitting tribute to his efforts.  Such was not to be his destiny, however, for somehow, professional envy of his success or perhaps a revolt by “true westerners,” who may have viewed Burnham as a traitor, triggered opposition to his uncontested nomination.  William W. Clay, a fellow A.I.A. member from Chicago and the current president of the Illinois State Architectural Association, objected to the lack of an alternative candidate and nominated William Carlin, the leader of the Buffalo group who had been responsible for the successful formation of the Western New York Society.  The opposition to Burnham must have been deep-seated, for he lost the election 26-22, in his own town no less. At the same time that Burnham was rejected, LeRoy Buffington was elected Vice President. (He was still basking in the publicity surrounding his recent patent and his “Cloudscraper.”)

Humbled, and no doubt embittered, Burnham could reconcile himself inwardly only with the fact that he and Root still were on the two committees that would ultimately decide the shape of the new A. I. A.  Even so, following such public humiliation at the hands of his colleagues in his hometown, nonetheless, Burnham completely withdrew from all involvement in professional organizations for the next three years, leaving Root alone to see the consolidation process through to its natural conclusion and to reap the corresponding accolades for its success.  (Yes, this contradicts the “conventional wisdom” that it was Burnham, and not Root, who was the “business-oriented” glad-handed partner.)

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

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