Local group celebrates 100 years of architecture

·4 min read

Aug. 28—As the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects marks its 100th anniversary this year, Carl J. Handman, AIA, noted the group nearly folded three decades ago before some fresh faces infused new life into its mission.

"The chapter almost died in the 1990s," he said. "The previous generation had sort of run out of steam. There was a lack of interested people and nobody made a concerted attempt at bringing younger architects in. Now we seem to have accomplished that in my generation and the much younger generation. We have a representative from the student chapter of the AIAS at Marywood University on our board and we all see that as a key to keep things vibrant."

The Pennsylvania Society of Architects originally formed the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in January 1922 before several members received a charter from the AIA in November 1941, establishing the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter throughout Bradford, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

Handman, 70, a Kingston-based architect who serves as assistant treasurer of the NEPA chapter, noticed significant changes throughout the industry and local group over the last 10 to 15 years.

"The profession has dramatically changed," he said. "It's gotten a lot more inclusive. When I was in school in the early '70s, we had probably one-third females and two-thirds males. The ratio is pretty much 50-50 now."

Handman also witnessed a shift in workforce demographics in the region, and the chapter's first female president, Stephanie Jacobs, AIA, served from 1995 to 1996.

"We began to see a lot more women in the workplace," he said. "We have a number of female architects who work in firms and a number of women who have their own firms. The change in the chapter has been mirroring the change in the profession. It's changed for the better but the purpose to educate architects and the public is the same."

The chapter has also taken steps to provide a synopsis of the historical significance of architects and their buildings in Northeast Pennsylvania.

An article titled "Early Architects and Architectural of Scranton Pennsylvania" written by Joseph Young, AIA, was published in the April 1966 issue of the Pennsylvania Society of Architects' magazine, Charrette.

And, the chapter co-sponsored the writing and publication of "Wilkes-Barre Architecture 1860 to 1960" in 1983. Written by Vito J. Sgromo and Michael L. Lewis, the book featured historic photographs from the archives of several local firms and more recent photos by Handman. Robert A. Eyerman, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, was a consultant on the book.

Throughout its history, five members of the local chapter — Col. Thomas H. Atherton, Eyerman, Samuel Z. Moskowitz, Peter Q. Bohlin and Frank Grauman — were elevated to fellowship in the AIA.

Bohlin, FAIA, received the AIA Gold Medal in 2010, the highest annual honor given to members of the AIA that recognizes individuals whose work had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.

Locally, Bohlin designed the William J. Nealon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Scranton, among other projects.

David Hemmler, 73, AIA, of Waverly Twp., president of the local chapter, a founding principal of Scranton-based Hemmler & Camayd Architects, said there are about 10 to 15 firms represented on the board.

He added the NEPA chapter currently has about 90 professional members.

Hemmler is in the midst of his third stint on the board of the directors, previously serving in the '70s and early 2000s. He feels quality leadership throughout the years has been vital to the success of the group.

"There has been good involvement and it has rotated and changed," he said.

He credits current board members and officers for developing new programs including a lecture series at Marywood University and a scholarship program for architecture students.

The chapter established a scholarship endowment fund and lecture endowment fund in 2003 — both administered by the Luzerne Foundation in Wilkes-Barre. After an initial deposit of $3,500, the total of both funds has grown to more than $137,000.

Since 2007, the chapter has awarded $73,000 in scholarships to 23 regional architectural students at seven schools.

Handman stressed the importance of preparing the next generation to keep the chapter running.

"I think one of our lasting legacies is being able to help local students who want to become architects," he said.

Contact the writer: rtomkavage@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @rtomkavage on Twitter.