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History

Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati, 1982-2012: A Brief History

Compiled by Sue Ann Painter based upon AFC archives and conversations with Robert Dorsey and Donald Junker.

Cincinnati hosted the American Institute of Architects’ national convention in 1980. It was a big success—only the second national AIA convention to be held here, and the first in the 20th century. Robert Gramann was a member of the national board. David Richards was Cincinnati Chapter AIA president that year. Robert Dorsey, who co-chaired the convention, became president of the AIA chapter in 1981.

Encouraged by national and local interest in Cincinnati’s built environment, the local convention leadership decided the time was right to establish an architectural foundation. They wanted to involve people beyond the architectural community in fostering appreciation for local architecture. One impetus for setting up a nonprofit organization was a generous bequest to AIA from architect Nelson Felsburg. A portion of the Felsburg fund was given to establish the Architectural Foundation, which organized informally in 1981.

The Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati (AFC) was incorporated in 1982. There were 81 founding members. Leaders of the movement were Woodie Garber, Gavin Gray, Gary Herfel, Loren Poff, Robert Robertson, Thomas Tilsley, and Robert Williams. AFC founders decided that the mission of the organization would be to foster awareness, appreciation, and improvement of the built environment of Greater Cincinnati through education.

The first annual meeting was held March 4, 1982. At that time Robert Dorsey, who had served as chairman, was elected interim president and, subsequently, president. Larry Bonhaus was vice president; Louise Wiedeman, secretary and executive director; and Gavin Gray, treasurer. Other founding board members were Woodie Garber, Dennis Back, James Murphy, Gerald Hammond, George Roth, Robert Robertson, Martin Rose, Thomas Tilsley, and Robert Williams. Some of the group’s early advocacy efforts were to educate architects and engineers about the merits of sustainable design and to make the public more aware of the talents of area architects and designers. The founders had a sense of history. They gathered a number of architectural drawings by distinguished local architects and deposited them in the Cincinnati Historical Society Library, which cataloged and preserved the collection.

As one of its first projects, AFC operated an architectural bookstore in partnership with AIA. The attractive shop was on the second level walkway of the 580 Building. In 1987, AFC published a book of its own—Architecture and Construction in Cincinnati: A Guide to Buildings, Designers and Builders. George Roth was a driving force for this ambitious Cincinnati Bicentennial project. Other team members were Robert Dorsey, Forest D. Atkins, and Russell E. Moody. P. Richard Krehbiel designed the handsome pocket-sized book, which was printed by the C.J. Krehbiel Co.

In addition to the guidebook, AFC sponsored a number of educational programs in the late 1980s. A film produced by WCET-TV, Bricks and Mortar: People and Dreams, told the story of local construction projects and the individuals who built them. In 1988, AFC curated a temporary architectural exhibition in the Westin atrium. It was produced for the Cincinnati Bicentennial celebration. The foundation sponsored lectures by local and nationally known speakers, including William Turnbull, Robert Stern, and Graham Gund.

When he was president of the foundation, Michael Schuster created the Architecture by Children (ABC) program, which he directed for four years. David Scott Ross and Cole + Russell Architects (now CR architecture+design) continued the tradition for AFC until the program was adopted by AIA, with AFC dedicated to providing financial aid. Under the volunteer leadership of architect Zoe Hardy, ABC has grown to involve as many as 40 schools, thousands of children, and hundreds of architect volunteers who visit public, private, and parochial schools to teach about architecture. ABC is the primary beneficiary of foundation funding; AFC makes awards to other nonprofits for architecture education projects. The foundation also sponsors lectures of its own, often jointly with other local organizations.

Jointly with Cincinnatus, AFC published a pamphlet: Architecture Cincinnati: A Guide to Significant Buildings in 1999. The guide documented seventeen significant historic and contemporary projects in Cincinnati, using photographs by environmental artist Alice Weston and text by Walter E. Langsam.

Encouraged by the success of the pamphlet, and with the support of President David Ross and Treasurer Don Junker, AFC sponsored research for a major book. Architecture in Cincinnati: An Illustrated History of Designing and Building an American City. Alice Weston spearheaded the project and contributed more than 200 color photographs of existing buildings, cityscapes, and landscapes. The 368-page book, written by a team of architectural historians, was published in 2006 by Ohio University Press. It is the first comprehensive history of the significant public, institutional, and commercial architecture in the area. Readers and libraries throughout the world have purchased the book. Sue Ann Painter was lead author and managing editor. Co-authors were Beth Sullebarger and Jayne Merkel. Professor John Hancock served as editorial advisor.

During the presidency of Richard Mellott, AFC was awarded a “capacity-building grant” by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Sue Ann Painter was appointed executive director in March 2003, and charged with expanding programs, communications, and fund-development activities as specified in the goals section of the grant. She was assisted by a supportive board that included Kelly Kolar whose design firm contributed graphic design services for membership brochures, an annual report, the Apple logo and other print and Web materials.

An early initiative of AFC had been to recognize important contributors to the built environment. Tom Tilsely suggested a Steuben crystal apple be given as the award, and the honor became known as the Apple Award. Carl Strauss was the first recipient. Many other notables have since been honored.

Painter and development chair Buck Niehoff established the Apple Award Gala in May 2004. The distinguished architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, gave a lecture, which was sponsored by Niehoff. President Jay Chatterjee presented the 2004 Apple Award to Dale McGirr. Christine Schoonover chaired the 2005 gala where Buck Niehoff received the Apple Award and author Stewart Brand was the speaker. In 2006, the practice changed to having the address by the honoree. That year the Apple went to Stanley M. Kaplan, M.D. In 2007, the honoree was Thomas R. Schiff. Arn Bortz was recognized in 2008. Rhoda and Manuel Mayerson received Apples in 2009.

The Foundation grew extensively during the 2006-2007 presidency of Michael Moose. The book was published and proceeds from sales enabled the foundation to increase educational programs and grants. AFC celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2007 by honoring founders at a luncheon at the Banker’s Club. Moose led AFC participation in two Over-the-Rhine design charrettes, and he edited and designed the published reports for both. He and Kelly Kolar also initiated the annual Hammer Award, which AFC gives to a practitioner.

In August 2008, with Christine Schoonover as president, the Foundation moved into its own headquarters in a renovated historic house at 127 West Ninth Street, Downtown, where it is able to host small meetings and exhibitions. AFC’s first research publication premiered online in 2008 on www.architecturecincy.org. It is architectural historian Walter E. Langsam’s Biographical Dictionary of Cincinnati Architects, 1788-1940. The dictionary is widely used by scholars and journalists in the United States and abroad. The AFC office accepts reference calls from researchers.

Mary Ellen Goeke, an art historian and museum professional, volunteered to be the AFC exhibit advisor, and in 2009 she installed two exhibits—“Urban Panoramas: Recent Photographs of Thomas R. Schiff” and “SAMARA: Realization of a Usonian Dream,” drawings, furniture, and artifacts from a Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in Indiana.

David Arends was elected president at the Annual Meeting in November 2009.