Marks, Thomas Architects 50th Anniversary
I was driving east on I-70 towards the City and I noticed a sign several miles outside the beltway that read, “Baltimore 16 miles; Washington 45 miles; New York City 240 miles”. I was heading to the east coast for my first time in my new MG convertible, top down and fully loaded with 3 months of belongings (including my guitar) and the tools of my craft; mechanical pencils, LeRoy pens, a 45 degree, 30/60 degree and adjustable triangle, and templates of all sorts. I was beginning an internship with a small Baltimore firm and recall feeling a bit anxious as I approached the big cities of the east.
Baltimore had quickly emerged from the 1974 oil crisis and with the beginning renaissance of the Inner Harbor, had become a national mecca for planners and architects alike. I had perfected the skill of neat block lettering, a prerequisite to working in any architectural office at the time and I was ready to contribute.
The year was 1979 and the firm was Marks, Cooke, Schack & Thomas. Besides the four name partners there was a receptionist, two other young architects and now me, a 4th year student intern. They had converted an old house a few blocks from “downtown” Towson into their office; a cool large Marimekko tapestry hung in one of the loftier parts of the studio. It was not the button down atmosphere of offices where I had previously interned, but rather a relaxed studio of some pretty talented folks. For such a small office there was a diverse range of work; everything from individual houses, town houses for the new Columbia, master planning for Joppa Town, several warehouses, shopping centers, office buildings; even a 15 story apartment building for seniors was in the works. The project type didn’t matter, they believed in doing great work for clients.
The Marimekko tapestry from the original office.
I began design work on a renovation and addition to a couple of small historic buildings located at the intersection of Falls and Green Spring Valley Road which I am pleased to say is still there today. I worked with a young builder, Marty Azola, who 25 years later, would renovate the historic buildings where our offices are currently located.
While there was plenty of work to be done, there was also time for debate and relaxing. One of the other young architects was Tom Levering, the “academic” in the group who went on to graduate school at Columbia and became a Senior Associate at Gwathmey Siegel in NYC. We would discuss the latest architectural theory books and articles late into the night over ouzo at Souris’. Twenty years later we would work together again as our firms collaborated on the Lutheran Center design and construction in Baltimore.
Tom Levering and other architects, circa 1979.
After work on Fridays, most of us would pile into Paul Marks’ VW Bus and head downtown to unwind at “No Fish Today” on Eutaw Street, a popular live music bohemian bar (which unfortunately burned down in 1981). We would hang out many more times and Paul would become my mentor and friend for the next 35+ years.
No Fish Today, Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1979.
I sometimes reflect on the journey since those early days in our little office and what made those days special. While the tools of our craft, the name and size of the firm have evolved and changed, what makes 50 years possible is that there are shared beliefs amongst all of us who have been and who are currently here at Marks, Thomas Architects, and one of those beliefs is doing great work for our clients.