The Politics of Being an Architect for State Buildings

As has been stated, architects in the early days of dealing with the University of Arizona entered competitions with floor plans and elevations in an effort to obtain the contract to design a building. Then, they often served as on-site supervisors. Roy Place had a "clerk-of-the-works" on campus building sites at all times.

Later, architects were selected - usually by the University President - by reputation or by political influence, usually coming from members of the State Legislature, or through the architects.

Politics was the name of the game. And Lew Place, after going into partnership with his father, Roy, in 1940, began learning the game.

Most of Lew Place's campus dealings were with UA President Richard Anderson Harvill, after Roy Place died in 1950. Harvill became UA President in 1951. In a taped interview with the author of this report, Lew Place responded: Interviewer, JFC: Politics, then, was what it was all about being an architect for university and other state buildings?

Place: Politics. That's the way it works. There was quite a bit of politics going on among the president of the university, the Board of Regents, and the Arizona Legislature. In Harvill's case, once that he said that this was what it would be, that is what it was going to be. He knew how to play the game.

JFC: And it was a political game as far as the architect was concerned?

Place: Why, certainly. In the political end with the Legislature, with friends up there (in Phoenix, the state's capitol), or certain attachments or other friends that could get to them, or you may not get the job.

JFC: How did they agree on the architect?

Place: There was no bidding. State law did not require it. All architectural work was on a commission basis. The president would just call the architect and tell him that he wanted to see him, and bring him up there to the campus in his office and tell him that he had picked him to do the job.

JFC: Who picked the architect?

Place: The president. We're talking now of President Harvill at the University of Arizona. The president picked the architect. As a matter of fact in all cases it was the president. Von KleinSmid, Shantz, and the man who was here for a while - Marvin. He became President of George Washington University. He was a man like Harvill. He knew what he wanted and went after it.

JFC: You appreciated Dr.Harvill?

Place: Yes. Certainly.

JFC: Give me an example of Dr. Harvill. How he worked, when he hired you for a building. Let's take the Art Building as an example.

Place: He would tell me that the Legislature had appropriated a certain amount for the building. Then he would tell me what the university wanted. If they wanted a Fine Arts Building, if they wanted a Drama Theater, if they wanted a Music Building. In this case, it all had to come within one appropriation.

JFC: I remember when I was the political reporter for the Tucson Citizen and covered the Legislature. I remember the Fine Arts Complex when it was being considered by the Legislature. To use a round figure, it was a million dollar appropriation. I don't remember exactly. Anyway, Sen. William F. Kimball (D-Pima) was the Senate majority leader. What he said went. That was the word.

Place: Of course. Incidentally, he was an alumnus of the UA and the UA Law School.

JFC: During one session of the Legislature, I had written a column for the Citizen. It outlined a request for an increase in professors' salaries at the UA. The request listed the increases that the Board of Regents wanted for its professors and it seemed to me that the increases were out of line. I knew that the professors had taken a voluntary decrease in wages during the depression – 10 per cent, I think – and the decrease had never been fully returned. That was about 20 years, or somewhat less, in the past. But the figures they used to support the bill, seemed to me, as I said, out of line. The average salaries seemed to be rather high, compared to what I was earning, and I listed them and printed them in my column. There was one hell of a reaction.

Place: What was it?

JFC: I was in Phoenix at the time. My wife, in Tucson, began to receive infuriated telephone calls from persons who said they were UA professors but didn't name themselves. At two o'clock in the morning. She was pregnant at the time. The telephone calls contained some dire threats to her and me if I didn't recant the column. They, the callers, called my managing editor, George Rosenberg, and told him of the inaccuracies, as they saw them, in the column. George called me and asked me what it was all about. I sent him the printed bill, outlining what I thought to be "out-of-line" and later he told me, "Stick to your guns."

But the calls to my wife continued. Finally, I went to Sen. Bill Kimball and told him what was going on. In my presence, he called President Harvill. Kimball told Harvill what I had said about the whole affair. Bill Kimball said, "I don't think that is right. Do you want your Fine Arts Complex to be approved, to be appropriated?" I had to assume that Harvill said that he did.

"Then," said Bill Kimball, "call off the dogs who are bothering Jim Cooper about that column."

Harvill, according to Bill Kimball, said, "The calls will stop at once. I didn't know about them." There was never another call. Perhaps this shouldn't be included in the book, "Places in the Sun."

Place: I don't know why not. Stick it in.

JFC: Was there any specific politics going on when your Dad, Roy Place, was designing the UA buildings?

Place: There must have been. At one time my dad, Roy Place, before the Library was finished in 1927, along with Jack Lyman, were appointed Arizona State Architects. And, as such, they never designed a building. The appointment was automatically stopped in the Legislature about a year later. Arizona has never had a state architect since.

JFC: What were Roy's politics? Place:

Republican. Mine, too.

JFC: Do you know if he ever contributed to anyone's campaign? Place: I'm sure he did, because he knew how to play the game. I'm positive he did it for Campbell (Thomas E. Campbell, governor from 1919-23, a Republican). Roy put out campaign money, I imagine, for every elected state official. No matter the party. He judged these people on whether they might help.

JFC: When did Bill Kimball come along?

Place: Bill got into the picture after 1940. He was an attorney and Roy and I together would give him something for his campaign. I'm even doing it for his son now. (Richard Kimball, former Chairman of the Corporation Commission, resigned, Democrat, and announced candidate for U.S. Senate in 1986.) Somebody asked me one time why I gave Bill Kimball $500 when he said he was going to run for governor in 1960. Somebody on Kimball's staff knew about it and said, "What in the world are you giving Bill Kimball that much money for. You know he can't win. He's almost ready to die." And I said, "That's not the point. It's for past favors, not the future. Kimball's a friend of mine and if he needs help, I'll help him. After I became an architect, Kimball played a real part in helping me."

JFC: How about governors. How about Republican Howard
Pyle? Did you contribute to Pyle's campaign?

Place: Yes. Also Fannin's.

JFC: He was a Republican. How about Democrat McFarland?

Place: No.

JFC: But you have contributed to Democrats. Kimball, for one.

Place: Yes. Even though I was a Republican, I never went down
the line straight.

JFC: Jack Williams? He was Republican.

Place: Yes. I knew Jack. I helped him.

JFC: The governors were very much a part in the selection of the architects? Or were they?

Place: The governors sat on the Board of Regents. But they didn't have too much choice in architects' selections. That was up to the Regents and most governors would go by what the Regents wanted. They, in turn, would usually go by what the presidents of the universities wanted.

JFC: How did your influence with the Regents come about?

Place: Small town. There were always one or two from Tucson on the Board of Regents. Hi Corbett for example. (Corbett was H. S. [Hi] Corbett, influential in the Republican party, State Senator, and Tucson lumberman.) And Cleon Knapp was very influential. (Knapp was a Tucson attorney.)

JFC: How about Elliott Dunseath? (Another Tucson attorney.) Place: Yes.

JFC: Tommy Chandler? (Tucson attorney.) Place: Yes.

JFC: What could you do for them?

Place: Nothing. I never contributed to anybody who was on the Board of Regents. Because the Regents were appointed. Not elected.

JFC: And in the main they didn't need the money. Most - or allof them were pretty self-sufficient.

Place: Oh my yes. My dad and I never contributed to any of them.
They were all appointees, except the governor of course. And they were all successful.

JFC: Did you ever have anything to do with the governor's selections, with his appointments to the Board of Regents?

Place: No. It was more or less a personal arrangement. Just knowing the man or woman. Like at the Old Pueblo Club. As a matter of fact, just before I closed the office, retired, we got a job to do a little gymnasium down at Bonita, Arizona. For the daughter of old man Hooker who had the Hooker ranch. An old historical landmark. Her husband belonged to the Mountain Oyster Club here in Tucson, which I belonged to. And I got acquainted with him. A general acquaintance. After he picked Place and Place for the job, I asked him how he came to select Place and Place. He said, "Well, I didn't actually in the first place. I was just going down the yellow pages looking and I came to Place and Place and I said, I'll give it to them." Because he knew me. That's the way we got most of our work.

JFC: How about the Regents from Phoenix? Did you make it a point to know them?

Place: We knew most all the Regents. Over the years. Dean Kirmse, for example, became a Regent. I remember one time Bill Quesnal and I - he was later an attorney - when we were at the university, we went to Bisbee. I took along a girl I dated. She wanted to see Bisbee. We came back the same day. But we had car trouble, and we didn't get back until late, after the girls were supposed to be in their sorority house. She was brought up in front of the Dean of Women, Mrs. Kirmse, but before the girl got called up there I knew that would happen. So I went to Dean Kirmse's office and I said to her, "Dean, it was entirely our fault. To go to Bisbee in the first place. And in the second place, we didn't do anything that was wrong and in the third place, we really had some car trouble. And you can believe it nor not." And she said, "Well, Lew, it's all right." Years later I designed a house on Hellen Street for her father, Dr. Jones, and I think she probably lives in it now.

JFC: Can you tell me of any other personal relationships that you had with the Regents?

Place: I had been a friend of Dunseath's ever since I was about ten years old. His mother and father and my mother and father used to run around together. He's older than I am. Two or three years.

JFC: What part did William R. Mathews (editor and part-owner of the Arizona Daily Star) play in the selection of the architects?

Place: The same as the other Regents. He was at one time a member of the Board of Regents.

JFC: Only he kept his influence going when he was no longer a
Regent, because he was editor of the Star?

Place: I image he probably did. I knew him very well.

JFC: How did you and Bill Mathews get along?

Place: Very well. I remember one meeting where we had been commissioned for a work and met before the UA building committee that had been set up by President Harvill. Bill Mathews was sitting on the committee as a Regent. One of the remarks he made at the meeting was to make sure that they had enough parking. I think that was the McKale Center. Most all the commissions we got - not all of them - were through personal acquaintanceship. And we weren't ever hardnosed Republicans stepping out into the stream and making speeches or anything. We kept quiet. In Tucson, up until the fifties and sixties, everything was done pretty well on a personal basis. And we'd been here a long time. We got most of the work. Plus the fact that we made our reputation without buildings looking good and staying good. Some of them are still up, over fifty years.

JFC: Back to the Regents. You said that you knew them all, or most all, through the years?

Place: Most of them, but it wasn't necessary. Personal contact wasn't necessary with the ones not from Tucson. The other Regents would defer to the Tucson Regents as to what they wanted, and then in exchange, the Tucson Regents would defer to them.

JFC: In the awarding of the building construction contracts, was this strictly on bid?

Place: No politics in the awarding of a contract. The low bidder got the contract. As far as I know, there was nobody that added anything to it. They didn't fool around with the public-appropriated money in the first place and in the second place state statutes governed the awarding of the contract.

JFC: Let's talk about the Capitol Architects, you and Les Mahoney.

Place: That was the State Capitol Architects. They wanted a new State Capitol and Legislative wings. They commissioned four different architectural firms to spread out the work. Each one worked together as one office. They were Edward Varney, Bert Green, Les Mahoney and myself. We decided to let Mahoney's office do the drafting and the details and we would consult with him all the time. We got into preliminaries. Howard Pyle was governor then. It was political, too, but Les was a Democrat and Pyle a Republican. When Ernest McFarland, a Democrat, was elected governor, everything came to a screeching halt.

The committee in charge of the building wasn't going to make any decisions until McFarland made up his mind. About a year went by like that. We furnished the governor, McFarland, with perspectives and preliminary drawings and he turned them down on the basis that our drawings of the state capitol didn't show a dome. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that the building wasn't particularly the kind that esthetically would take a dome because it was 20 stories high.

That was the basic administration building with the House of Representatives wing on the north and the Senate wing on the south. McFarland said that the height didn't make any difference. We'd have to change to something with a dome on it, because it was Mrs. McFarland's hobby and she had written a book on state capitol domes. We got back to the office and we were standing around and the fellow who worked the perspectives on it said, "What are we going to do?" There was some conversation about having to start all over and not getting paid for it.

I said, "Well, if he wants a dome, let's put a dome on it. The way politics works and the way things are going, McFarland may not be governor by the time we get it under construction. "

Everybody agreed that that was nonsense. I said, "Look." And I took a pencil and made a dome on top of that 20-story capitol building. That's when Varney said, "I quit. I'll have nothing to do with that. "So Bert Green spoke up and said, "You know how it is with Les. He'll skin us alive and end up with all the money."

I told them that I wasn't going to quit and Les said that he wasn't either. Anyway, it ended up with Les Mahoney and myself. We did the Senate and House wings, but they never did build that tall tower. They built an administration building behind the old capitol. Varney did that I think, because Varney made the remark when he left that if this thing gets stared, he wanted his share.

Les and I weren't called in on the new administration building behind the old capitol. I called Varney and said, "Don't forget to send us our share of the fee on that" and Varney just about flipped. I said Les and I should get half the fee. But he didn't do anything about it.

]FC: What was McFarland's reaction to your drawn-in dome?

Place: Oh, I don't know. I wasn't there. I don't know if he ever saw it or not. He probably didn't. As it happened, Les and I were paid for the two legislative wings. The administration building doesn't have a dome.

JFC: Any other political aspect? What it boiled down to in the selection of an architect was friendship?

Place: That's right. For example, one time locally on those three new Pima County Buildings. Supervisor Tom Jay was a good friend of mine and I also knew Supervisor Lambert Kautenberger (both of whom were Democrats) well. One day Jay and Kautenberger came into the Pioneer Hotel Taproom together. We sat there visiting and finally, I said, "When are you guys going to give me a commission?" Tom turned to Lambert and said, "What do you think about that? Shall we give him one of those buildings?" Lambert said, "I don't see any reason why not. Which building do you want?"

I told them the Administration Building because I knew that if any building was going up, it would be that one. It turned out that I got the Administration Building. Gordon Luepke got the Courts Building and Terry Atkinson got the Health and Welfare Building. We got together and threw in with one another like the State Capitol Architects had done.

JFC: That explains the similarity of the buildings?

Place: Yes. They were meant to be. That was the design that was approved.

JFC: There have been a lot of deals, a lot of politics, consummated in the Pioneer Hotel Taproom.

Place: Yes. A lot of my work came about there and at the Old Pueblo Club. In those days, everybody knew everybody else. And that's the reason you got your jobs. Over the table.

Mrs. Evelyn Kirmse, a former Regent, was interviewed about the process of choosing an architect for university work.

JFC: I have talked with Lew Place, some, about the politics of being an architect for state buildings and getting the assignment. You were a Regent from 1951 to 1959?

Kirmse: Yes. Howard Pyle appointed me.

JFC: The Regents, did they select the architect while you were on the board?

Kirmse: I think you couldn't say categorically that they did. They approved the architects chosen by the presidents of the respective institution. I daresay, because of what I know about Bill Mathews (longtime editor of the Arizona Daily Star) from the way he operated, in fact, he might have had some hand in it, saying let's throw it this way or that way. What would happen would be that we would authorize the president to get preliminary plans. The president would then choose the architect for approval and we usually approved. I don't ever recall disapproval. I know that as a Regent, I used to get telephone calls from architects who wanted to get university business. And my reply to them always was, "You'll have to take this up with the president. Because this is where the recommendation comes from. "

There was some talk among the Regents concerning what we have to pay for the architect and engineering work that we should have a man or woman appointed to be the architect for the Board or for the institution and we never thought that was a good idea. I suppose we wanted to spread the work around. That was good business, good politics, to spread the work around. Also, you can get into the same kind of problems that you have when you appoint Athletic Directors and football coaches. You've got someone there and you're stuck with them.

JFC: In the old days, prior to 1922 or 1923, they would have a contest and they would have architects submit elevations and preliminary plans.

Kirmse: I don't remember that, but I'll take your word for it.

JFC: I suspect that the architects themselves were against these contests, because of waste of time, effort and money if they didn't win.

Kirmse: With respect to other kinds of contests, I've heard it said that when you offer a prize for the best, you may get a number of entries and they may not meet the idea that you have in mind.

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