[Portraits of members of the firm]
Arthur I. Meigs
(Bachnach, Photographer (?), 1940)
Mellor, Meigs & Howe Collection, Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
Local ID #: 080-P-066-002
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In 1916 Walter Mellor and Arthur I. Meigs of the prosperous office of Mellor & Meigs invited George Howe, recently of the firm of Furness, Evans & Co. to join them in the new firm of Mellor, Meigs & Howe. Almost immediately both Howe and Meigs went off to war, leaving the profoundly deaf Walter Mellor to run the firm in their absence. Therefore, Howe's effect in the practice would not have been felt until around 1919, when he returned to Philadelphia.
Mellor and Meigs, the products of local universities, no doubt hoped that by joining the Ecole-trained Howe, they would have the input of a younger man trained in the best French tradition to handle both public and commercial structures, building types which were not emphasized in their primarily residential practice. While it is true that within the new firm, Howe was responsible for the design of a series of bank branches for the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, for the most part he was willing to follow the stylistic tradition already set by the older partners -- relying upon the favorite styles of the day such as the Cotswold, Norman, Tudor, and Pennsylvania Farmhouse. His PSFS branch banks were akin to small Renaissance strongboxes, closed and strong on the outside.
However, according to his biographer Robert A. M. Stern, Howe longed to be free of the "Wallstreet Pastorale" styles of his partners and to implement a more relevent (and modern) approach to architecture. Friction between him and the older partners ensued, with Howe smarting because he felt that Meigs had falsely represented himself as the chief designer for Marjorie Walter Goodhart Hall on the Bryn Mawr University campus. In 1928 George Howe resigned from the office, taking with him the only major commercial account that the firm had, the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society. And the rest is history. In the early 1930s, along with his new partner William Lescaze, Howe would design the highrise Philadelphia Savings Fund Society building at 12th and Market streets, lauded as the first International Style skyscraper in the United States. Debate ensued, and Howe made his way into the annals of American architecture.
His notoriety also caused further attention to be paid to Mellor & Meigs, who, after all, had returned to their comfortable, residential practice after his defection.
Sandra L. Tatman.
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