|Avery Drawings & Archives Collections|
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At a Glance
The Collection is made up of three series: Writings and Manuscripts, Professional Papers, and Personal Papers. Much of the collection consists of personal writings by Walker including essays, poetry, and other manuscripts. There is some correspondence as well as documentation concerning the AIA Censure Walker and his firm received. Beyond this, there is very little relating to his professional practice.
Of note, Walker's first wife was named Stella, but her nickname was Lysette and she is solely referred to by this name in Walker's writings and letters. In personal notes and letters that Walker received from his wife and friends, he is referred to by the nickname Squabbie.
Using the Collection
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ralph Walker papers, 1913-2010 (bulk 1920-1972), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library
This collection was processed by Luna Eaton Sharon, Graduate Intern, under the supervision of Shelley Hayreh, Archivist & Collection Manager, in 2022.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Ralph Walker (1889-1973) was an American architect and president of the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.) from 1949 to 1951. Walker designed some of the most prominent art deco skyscrapers in New York City, such as the Irving Trust Building (now known as 1 Wall Street), the Barclay-Vesey Building (now known as the Verizon Building), and the Salvation Army Headquarters. Walker was referred to as "the architect of the century" by the New York Times and was awarded the Centennial Medal of Honor and emeritus status by the A.I.A.
Prior to his career in New York, Walker studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as an apprentice for architectural firms in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1916, he was awarded the Rotch Traveling Scholarship. During World War I, Walker served in the Camouflage Section of the American Expeditionary Forces.
After the war, Walker joined the firm McKenzie, Voorhees & Gemlin, the successor firm to the architectural practice established in 1885 by Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz. In 1926, Walker was made partner and the firm name was changed to Voorhees, Gemlin and Walker. By 1959, the firm was known as Voorhees, Walker, Smith, Smith & Haines (now HLW, Inc.)
Walker retired from his practice in 1959 but remained on as a consultant for the firm. In 1959, Walker and several other partners at VWSS&H were accused by another New York firm of stealing one of their contracts. The A.I.A. officially censured the firm and suspended the memberships of Walker and the firm partners. In response, Walker brought the case to the New York Supreme Court to have the censure overturned. The court found that the A.I.A. had acted wrongfully, and the members of VWSS&H were reinstated. Walker, however, was not satisfied, and resigned from the A.I.A. He self-published a booklet, which he sent to every A.I.A. member explaining his wrongful treatment and resignation. Walker returned to the A.I.A. in 1965 and in 1967 was honored with a special medal that had been invented for this sole purpose: The Centennial Medal of Honor.
In 1913, Walker married Stella Forbes, who was later committed to psychiatric care in the early 60s. Stella Forbes, who went by the name Lysette, died in 1972. Walker married for a second time to Christine Foulds, a British widow who he had known for some years. On January 17, 1973, Walker committed suicide at his home in Chappaqua, New York. He had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor.