[A Wall Ring]
Versatile and long-lived church architect, Walter H. Thomas was born in Philadelphia, the son of Richard Newton and Clara L. (Horstmann) Thomas. After an early education at the Delancey School and Episcopal Academy, Thomas entered the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1899 with his B.S. in Architecture. Following graduation he found work with E. V. Seeler, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Perhaps at Seeler's suggestion Thomas went to Paris to study at the Ecole also, entering in 1902 and remaining for three years in ateliers directed by Marcel Lambert and Chaussemiche. In 1905 Thomas returned to the States and set up an office with C. Wharton Churchman. In 1907 the two were joined by John Molitor and the name of the firm changed to Thomas, Churchman & Molitor. Citations in the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide indicate that by 1915, Thomas was working independently of the other partners, and that by 1921 he had joined two younger architects Sidney E. Martin and Donald M. Kirkpatrick in the firm of Thomas, Martin & Kirkpatrick. In 1931 when Kirkpatrick returned to France to study etching, Thomas & Martin continued the firm together. This later association lasted until 1941.
During the latter days of Thomas & Martin, Walter H. Thomas took on additional responsibilities in conjunction with city government. As early as 1927 he had served as the chairman for the executive committee of the Old City Planning Commission, a position which lasted until 1929. In 1930 he was named City Architect and carried those responsibilities through 1931. In 1937 he became executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, a position in which he remained throuqh 1942. During his association with the Philadelphia Housing Authority he supervised the development of the Poplar, Glenwood and Tasker housing projects in Philadelphia.
In 1944 Thomas formed yet another firm with a younger architect, Harold E. Wagoner, which was called Thomas & Wagoner, specializing in church design. At the same time he associated with Sundt, Wenner & Fink & Thomas in church design and worked with Walter Antrim in Thomas & Antrim, a firm specializing in institutional work . It appears that these firms existed concurrently, operating out of the same office, until Thomas's death.
Although Thomas also concentrated on the construction of housing during his later years, he was overall better known as an architect of churches, primarily for Methodist congregations. He served as president of the Church Architectural Guild of America and was advisory architect for the Methodist Church in the United States for the years 1925 to 1933. In addition to these work-related affiliations, Thomas was an active member of the AIA, which he had joined in 1907. He served as vice-president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA from 1925 to 1927 and as president from 1928 to 1930.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- University of Pennsylvania
- Ecole des Beaux-Arts
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