4.7. THE FINALE: THE 1889 CINCINNATI CONSOLIDATION CONVENTION: DAY ONE

Title page, Proceedings of the 1889 Consolidation Convention of the A.I.A. and the W.A.A., Cincinnati, 1889. (Online)

(I am taking the space to closely document the events from the official transcript that finalized the consolidation of the two organizations in order to show that the W.A.A. had not just surrendered and thus, was sheepishly merged back into the A.I.A. fold, as the A.I.A. still claims today. I think this is also necessary to better understand Burnham and Root’s decision to invite these same Eastern A.I.A. architects to design the 1893 World’s Fair.)

Actually, the convention started unofficially on the evening of November 19, the eve of the first day of the convention. Cincinnati’s architects, along with the Cincinnati Architectural Sketch Club had assembled, in conjunction with the convention, an exhibition of almost 1000 architectural drawings and sketches by architects and draftsmen from throughout the country.  The featured speaker, honored with the task of opening the exhibition, was the West’s leading architectural figure, John Wellborn Root, who, only the night before, had once again performed his traditional duty at the annual banquet of the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club by offering the first toast of the evening. 

Root’s schedule had become increasingly hectic as the economy had rebounded earlier in the year, as evidenced by his actions during this week in November 1889.  The Sketch Club’s banquet went into the early hours of the morning of the 19th, yet we find Root with obvious little, if any sleep, boarding a train a few hours later at 9:30 a.m., for the ten-hour trip to Cincinnati.  Ever so mindful of duty, at 9 p.m. the night after the Sketch Club banquet in Chicago, Root opened the National Exhibition of Architectural Drawings by standing before the largest gathering of American architects and delivered a warm and witty talk about the reasons for the consolidation that was titled “Ode for the guidance of Persons Practicing the Profession of Architecture in the United States.”

At 10 o’clock the next morning according to schedule, the joint convention opened with Pres. Carlin of the W.A.A. calling the W.A.A. convention to order (remember, Carlin had upset the plans of the Burnham/Root clique at the previous convention, that if successful, would have had Burnham, and not Carlin as the W.A.A. President).  In his opening speech, he took pride in the fact that the new organization being formed had thought it “best to radically change the methods of conducting the business, and to borrow largely from the constitution and by-laws of the Western Association.” Following the perfunctory reading of committee reports, the W.A.A. convention adjourned.

Pres. Hunt of the A.IA., according to schedule, then took the chair and called the convention of the old A.I.A. to order and gave his opening address, that revealed a remarkable change of heart on the part of the A.I.A. toward the value of the local chapters, that only six years earlier it was all too eager to divorce: “The Institute depends upon the chapters for its very life blood, and could not exist any more than the body without its members, if the chapters were not alive and active.” The end of Hunt’s speech also left no doubt that the two associations were forming a new organization on an equal footing:

“The report of the Special Committee on Consolidation is so wisely considered and so admirably expressed that it leaves nothing for me to say beyond words of commendation, and to impress upon you that the earnest efforts of these gentlemen in thus providing for the merging of the two great architectural associations of our country into a common institute is not a funeral dirge to “ring out the old and ring in the new,” but a refrain ancient as history and strong as truth, ‘Union is force.’ “

Like the W.A.A., the A.I.A. then proceeded to the reading of its committee reports.  Following the report of the trustees, all other committee reports were unanimously “referred to the incoming convention.”  But just what was the incoming convention?  Sullivan’s earlier concern for a clearly outlined order of business then proved to be justified.  Because Article XIV of the approved by-laws stated that consolidation would take place at “the meeting of the two organizations in joint convention,” but did not clarify what this meant procedurally, there was justifiably room for interpretation by both sides as to what should happen next.  Should the old A.I.A. adjourn its convention as the W.A.A. had, so that the new organization could then convene its convention? Alfred Stone took a “rather innocent” first step with a motion that avoided the adjournment of the old A.I.A.’s convention: “that the members here assembled now constitute the American Institute of Architects and proceed to the consideration of the constitution.”  C.A. Cummings of Boston, another member of the old A.I.A., then proceeded to try to circumvent Article XII of the new by-laws, that made members of both associations “fellows of the reorganized American Institute of Architects,” with the following suggestion which implied that the W.A.A. was joining the old A.I.A.:

“Mr. Cummings: It seems to me that the consideration of the constitution and by-laws which is to govern the consolidated body ought to be participated in by the members of the consolidated body and not merely by the members of one branch of the consolidated body.

Pres. Hunt: Precisely so.  That is a question that has been considered.  It is a question whether we would not go out of existence as the American Institute of Architects unless we proceeded upon that line.  Mr. Stone’s proposition is to that effect, that the Western Association be merged right in without the stoppage of this association.”

W.W. Clay then made a motion, unanimously approved that made all members of the W.A.A. members of the A.I.A.  This action was entirely out of order, for according to Article XIV (the by-laws were in effect upon the meeting of the two groups in joint convention), Article XII of the by-laws (members of both groups were already fellows of the reorganized A.I.A.) was already in effect.  In addition, Clay’s motion made no mention of the associate members of the old A.I.A. that were also to become fellows of the new A.I.A.  What was to become of them?  

The speedy passage of Clay’s motion was followed by a welcoming speech by the Mayor of Cincinnati, giving the W.A.A. leaders time to realize that they had been duped, thus reigniting the tensions between the two associations immediately following the mayor’s speech:

“Mr. Carlin [W.A.A. pres.]: I would move a reconsideration of the motion of Mr. Clay that the members of the Western Association be passed into the American Institute of Architects for this reason.  It was not the understanding, in formulating the constitution and by-laws for the merging of the two associations, that either association should be taken into the other as a body, but that both associations should meet and form a new body from the members of both, and it does not seem to meet the approbation of the members of the Western Association that they be bodily thrown into the American Institute of Architects as they now exist.  I would therefore move a reconsideration of the resolution.

Mr. Hunt [A.I.A. pres.]: I would like to state before the discussion takes place that it occurred to several of us [in the A.I.A.] that unless we merged both bodies into the Institute-if the Institute dissolves-we will lose our charter.  There is a legal point there as to whether the Institute should continue right on.”

Smelling a double-cross, Root immediately responded as a member of the consolidation committee:

“That question was raised in the committee.  It was not even considered that the American Institute should surrender its charter, for the reason you suggest.  The only point contained in the suggestion of Mr. Carlin is that the Western Association having had its innings and adjourned, the American Institute should have its meeting and adjourn and a joint convention of the association be called by its chairman.  It is a matter of form in which there seems to be some sentiment as representing the quality of the union and maintaining the individuality of each association.

Pres. Hunt:  Your suggestion is that we introduce a resolution to adjourn before this other motion is determined, as a matter of form?

Mr. Root:  Yes, sir, and a joint convention be formed.

Mr. Briggs:  The first idea is that this motion be rescinded, and then adjourn.

Mr. Clay:  The question is, is that vote to be rescinded by members of the American Institute only?

Mr. Root:  It would be necessary that the members only who voted upon its passage vote to rescind.  It would be members of the American Institute now existing.

Pres. Hunt: All those in favor of the rescinding of the resolution say aye.  Carried.

The old A.I.A. then adjourned its convention, immediately after which Root stood up and seized the moment for the W.A.A. by moving “that the convention now be formed and organized at once, composed of the two bodies,… and that Mr. Hunt be appointed as temporary chairman.”  This course of action ran counter to the plans of the old A.I.A. that still viewed consolidation as the return of the prodigal W.A.A. to the A.I.A. fold.  The A.I.A. thought it had a trump card with the agreement to use its charter for the new organization, however, which Hunt wasted no time in playing by expressing his concern that the adjournment of the old A.I.A. could jeopardize the A.I.A. corporate charter:

“Pres. Hunt:  That [losing the charter] is a very delicate point.  I think there is just that possibly of legally losing our charter.  I think it is a very important point for our consideration.

Mr. Root:  If we come together as a joint convention, can we not then determine whether we can act as the American Institute of Architects and whether the name shall be the American Institute of Architects.”

Emlen T. Littell, of New York, then called Hunt’s bluff:

“This convention of the A.I.A. has met for twenty-three or twenty-four years and has adjourned without losing its charter.  Why can’t it adjourn now without losing its charter?

Mr. Hunt:  They have adjourned.  Now there is another motion before the house, which is that we shall assemble with the two associations together, and that the chair shall be held by myself as temporary chairman.  Now, then, it seems to me you are starting a new institute [which was the originally agreed-upon procedure from the W.A.A. viewpoint].  There is a legal quibble in that.

Mr. Root:  The idea is this, that these gentlemen are now in an unorganized condition and should be organized as a convention, and in this convention it is to be determined what the body is to be called and under what charter it is to work.  We all understand that we organized as the American Institute of Architects to proceed under the charter of the American Institute of Architects, but before we do that, we must get ourselves organized into some sort of coherent body.

Mr. Hunt:  That is what has been done.  This is to be, as I understand it, the American Institute of Architects, and must continue that way in order to hold our charter.  Now, what has been done is to admit all those present into this body and it strikes me it is the only possible way to do it in order to avoid some possible legal difficulty.  There may be nothing in it, but it strikes me that starting off that way we organize immediately a new body unless we merge one association into the other; it is a new body and we have no charter.”

Hunt’s words were in complete opposition to the spirit and the word of the carefully crafted constitution and by-laws of the new organization that had been formally adopted by both organizations six months earlier, and revealed a last-ditch effort by the warhorses of the old A.I.A. to have the last word in the battle with the upstart westerners.  Norman Patton rose to defend the W.A.A. in the face of Hunt’s challenge, quoting the adopted constitution and by-laws of the reorganized A.I.A.:

“Norman Patton: It seems to me that any further motion to consolidate is unnecessary.  Why?  Because the whole ground has been gone over completely.  Each society, by a vote of two-thirds of its members, which is sufficient to alter its constitution, if necessary, has voted to consolidate.  We have in both societies formally voted and adopted this constitution.  We do not meet here as an organized convention.  We meet here as a consolidated society.  This constitution has been voted upon by the members of the American Institute of Architects and the Western Association of Architects, and we meet under this constitution.  The name is already adopted.  We can change nothing.  We can amend nothing except under the rules of this constitution.  We are not organized at all.  The American Institute of Architects does not need to vote now to take in the Western Association of Architects, because by a letter ballot it has already voted to consolidate with the Western Association of Architects.  Therefore the original American Institute of Architects-that is, the American Institute of Architects with its list of membership hitherto-having adjourned, as soon as the meeting is called together as a consolidated association, what are we?  We are the American Institute of Architects, with an enlarged membership.  

[From here he went on quoting the constitution and by-laws to define what had already been done prior to the convention, and what was still needed to be done by the convention to get the new organization off the ground:]

… Now, it was expressly provided for in the report of the Committee on Consolidation, and adopted, that this constitution should govern this convention.  It has been voted by letter ballot, and we are powerless to alter or amend this constitution except as it is provided here; and you will find it provided in this constitution that the convention cannot alter or amend the constitution.  They can recommend amendments, but it requires a letter ballot to pass them.  It is beyond the power of this convention to amend this constitution.”

Having confronted Hunt and his A.I.A. diehards with the fact that the new constitution was, in fact, a reality and was formulated to rule the convention of the new organization, Patton, therefore, seemed to have put an end to the A.I.A.’s last minute attempted end-around.  Root then proceeded to take charge of events, once again trying to get the new organization off the ground:

“Mr. Root: That is the idea that was to be covered, that we now assemble as a convention of both bodies under that constitution-that we now assemble under this constitution, with Mr. Hunt as temporary chairman.

Mr. Kendall:  Would it not be well to take middle ground and simply take the ground that the joint convention be now called to order and proceed to business.”

Root then again nominated Hunt as chairman and Patton as secretary of the convention.  Both were duly elected, and just when it looked as if Root had succeeded, the Committee on Entertainment interrupted the proceedings with a series of local announcements, after which the afternoon session adjourned.

To be continued……

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

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