Habitat: Collections of the Eastern Shore by Jenn Martella

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I decided to become an architect when I was ten years old and residential design has been so rewarding to me throughout my career. Now that I am also writing about houses, I have enjoyed touring the wonderful houses that have become Houses of the Week. One of the things that fascinated me about the homes’ interiors was to see what people collect and how that reflects their interests and give their houses such personality. Friends to my home know I collect pitchers, one of which is a prized slender pitcher decorated with roses that belonged to my great-grandmother Rose. I also love my “mini zoo” of Oaxacan animal wood carvings with their colorful patterns and whimsical shapes.

Recently I visited the home of realtor Elizabeth Foulds to celebrate the completion of the kitchen and bath design I had done for her.

She showed me her collection of books, newspaper articles, medals and other memorabilia about her late husband Leo’s stepfather, Ralph T. Walker FAIA. When I admired the beautiful fire screen in front of Elizabeth’s fireplace, she told me it had also been designed by Walker. I love cartography and studied several framed maps of Paris that were hanging in Elizabeth’s study. She told me they had been gifts of J. P. Morgan to Mr. Walker.

I remembered his most famous buildings from my architecture history classes, so I decided to learn more about this prolific architect who had reached the pinnacle of his profession. An architect who spent the majority of his professional life in New York City, Walker’s first big break came at the age of 30 when he accepted a position with the noted architectural firm of McKenzie, Voorhees and Gmelin. In ten short years he became a partner in this prestigious firm that still exists today as HLW.

During the Roaring Twenties, he was busy contributing to the changing shape of New York City’s skyline wi

th his designs of iconic buildings including the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building, the Western Union Building and 1 Wall Street (Irving Trust Company Building). All these buildings are recognized and treasured today for their Art Deco style.

In 1957, the American Institute of Architects proclaimed him the “Architect of the Century” and awarded him the Institute’s first Centennial Medal of Honor to celebrate the Institute’s first one hundred years. America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, saluted him as the “only other honest architect in America”.

Mr. Walker was dedicated to public service and served on many civic boards including the Planning Board for the U.N. and advocated stron

gly for the NYC site where the UN complex now stands. During the 1930’s, he was deeply involved with the planning of the 1933 Century of Progress in Chicago and the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. He was elected President of the American Institute of Architects and served two presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy, as a member of Commission of Fine Arts.

Many of his New York City skyscrapers have been re-discovered by developers who have converted his Art Deco towers into sought-after luxury condominiums, “Walker Tower”’ on W. 18th Street, “Stella Tower” on W. 50th Street, the Barclay-Vesey Telephone Building at 140 West Street and 1 Wall Street.

Both sides of his grandparents immigrated from Scotland. Mr. Walker was extremely proud of his Scottish ancestry and was a life member of the St. Andrews Society of New York. The table in Elizabeth’s study first belonged to one of Mr. Walker’s grandmothers.

If you have a collection you would like to share with Spy readers, send us a photo and you just may find your collection featured in a future Spy edition. 

Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.

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