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When Verus T. Ritter and Howell L. Shay established Ritter & Shay in 1920, the partnership represented a wedding of good business with remarkable design ability. Shay was fresh from the office of Horace Trumbauer; Ritter had been trained in his brother's office around Bloomsburg, PA, and had already had an independent practice, specializing in schools, in Williamsport. Shay was credited with the parti for the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Ritter had useful contacts in rural Pennsylvania, contacts that could provide a continuing source of income for a fledgling partnership.

At first the partners did rely upon Ritter's connections outside of Philadelphia; their first projects can be found in Bethlehem, Sunbury, Northumberland. However, by 1924 they had produced a Philadelphia landmark, the Packard Building, at southeast 15th and Chestnut streets, a building which would set the standard for highrise rental properties in the city for years to come and for which Shay would receive the annual medal awarded by the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA (1925). With the success of the Packard Building, Ritter & Shay became the leaders of a second Philadelphia school, a group of architects who would specialize in the speculative highrises that were constructed during the boom years of the 1920s. The Market Street National Bank adjacent to City Hall (1930), the Drake Apartment Hotel at 1512 Spruce Street (1929), and the U. S. Custom House close to Independence Hall (1934), all would come from this firm. In styles ranging from a quiet Beaux-Arts through the more flamboyant Art Deco of the Market Street National Bank, the firm triumphed. When the Depression dampened speculative building in Philadelphia, Ritter & Shay returned to school work and eventually, around 1936, disbanded the firm.

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

 

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