John M. Dickey essentially had two careers as an architect. He began his career without considerable interest in older architecture, instead concentrating on the construction of university and college buildings, for Lincoln University, Swarthmore College and Shippensburg State University and others. However, beginning in the 1960s his interests shifted to historic buildings; and he would become one of the foremost restoration architects in Philadelphia, responsible for the reconstruction of Old City Tavern in Philadelphia and for the restoration of such landmarks as Fort Mifflin, the Walnut Street Theater, and The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Hailed in his obituary as "the dean of historical architects in this section of the country," John M. Dickey was valued both for his meticulous research and for his impact on younger architectural historians and would-be restoration architects.
He was born in Chicago and was educated at Swarthmore College (1927-30) and Princeton University (A.B., 1933; M.F.A., 1935). Like many other young architects of the time, Dickey participated in the Beaux-Arts style competitions and won a first medal from the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in 1934. In 1938 he gained a Scholarship for Advanced Study at Princeton and eventually travelled abroad, studying city planning with Willem van Eesteren in Amsterdam.
Although he triumphed in the Beaux Arts Institute of Design competitions, he did not disdain office work and began his architectural apprenticeship with Holden, McLaughlin & Assocs. (1933-36). From 1937 to 1939 he operated as chief designer for T. H. Atherton and from 1943 to 1947 as chief architect for the H. M. Wilson Co. In 1947 he and William W. Price, son of William L. Price and nephew to Walter F. Price, both members of a distinguished Philadelphia architectural dynasty, set up an office together under the name Price & Dickey, operating as successors to Price & Walton, Walter Price's firm. The young firm continued the success gleaned from collegiate architecture that had been true for Price & Walton. Price & Dickey would endure until 1969.
By the 1960s, however, John Dickey was already involved in the restoration efforts which would be the hallmark of his later career. In 1970 he organized another firm (Dickey, Weissman, Chandler, Holt). John Dickey never retired, but continued his restoration work until the end of his life.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- Athenaeum of Philadelphia
- Society of Architectural Historians
- Princeton University
- Swarthmore College
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