The Professional Organization of Landscape Architects in the State of Washington
by Elizabeth Rivers & Dan Gilchrist, 1997
Landscape Architects have worked to maintain organization of a professional society in the State of Washington for fifty years. The first of several organizations, the Washington Society of Landscape Architects (WSLA), was formed in 1946. The WSLA was not affiliated with a nationally-based corresponding organization, and although its members were from state-wide, its focus was on the Puget Sound area. In the early 1960s a local chapter of the then Boston-based American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) began evolving. In the 1970s the American Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), an “international” organization in spite of its name, also had a local presence in the Pacific Northwest. These organizations met various needs in differing ways, but without doubt, the landscape architects who were members of them worked arduously to elevate the status of the profession in the state and, more often than not, succeeded on many levels.
On January 25, 1946, ten Seattle landscape architects began to meet at informal social gatherings to discuss the formation of a professional organization. Over the next few months the name of the organization was selected, potential members contacted, goals delineated, a constitution and by-laws formulated (based on those of the Association of Landscape Architects of the San Francisco Region), dues set (the initial $2.50 per year was raised to $5), and officers elected. Early WSLA members, and its first officers were:
Cassius (Cash) M. Beardsley, President
A stated goal of the charter WSLA was to establish a liaison with architects and engineers to collectively work toward professional registration in the state. In 1947, the WSLA hoped to ride the coattails of the AIA and achieve registration of landscape architects as part of an amendment to the Architects’ Registration Law before the state legislature at that time. (The architects’ registration law was passed in 1921.) Needless to say, this did not occur, and it would take more than twenty years and several energetic and expensive attempts before landscape architectural registration legislation was a reality.
Another liaison that was established, perhaps somewhat tentatively, was between landscape architects and the nursery industry. The Washington State Nursery Association had been incorporated ten years earlier, in 1937. The WSLA planned to attend meetings of the Association and give talks to the group, but was primarily interested in distinguishing between “landscape gardeners” and landscape architects. Members of the WSLA felt their need for the nursery industry was like the need “that a physician has for a druggist.” The WSLA supplied the Association with a list of plants that were desired for use, but not available.
The publicity around the formation of the WSLA resulted in many requests for speakers from “groups interested in gardening”. Since, like registration, it would be another twenty years before a landscape architecture department was established at the University of Washington, members of the Society were frequently called upon to teach or speak in the area. They occasionally had the opportunity to publish articles in local newspapers and magazines.
One of the original goals of the Society was to distinguish its members, those specifically educated in landscape architecture and/or practicing landscape architecture exclusively, from “allied professionals.” This policy was arduously upheld throughout the life of the organization, in spite of the fact that no degree program in landscape architecture was offered in the state. Owners of nurseries, design-build firms, and landscape contractors were specifically excluded. A section of the classified telephone listing was headed by the Society name and the caption, “An organization of Professionally-Trained Landscape Architects.” Specializing in Site Planning, Planting Plans, Construction Details, Supervision and Construction.”
Because of their exclusive nature, there was never a large membership in the organization. For that reason it remained very social in character, but it also meant that the work that needed to be done by a professional organization had to be borne by only a few people. Throughout the years, until it was dissolved by a vote of the members in 1970, the WSLA expended immeasurable amounts of energy in promoting the profession. They particularly promoted the hiring of “local” landscape architects rather than those from out-of state. They constantly wrote letters to people, from the governor on down to municipalities, urging that landscape architects be hired for public positions, be placed on commissions, and “serve in more than an advisory capacity.” They provided unsolicited critiques of projects and questioned land use decisions. Until the title act registration eventually provided a legal mechanism to do so, the WSLA fought to make landscape architects professionally distinctive.
In the 1940s and ’50s, a few Washington State landscape architects were members of both the WSLA and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). The ASLA, incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1916, was primarily an “East Coast Establishment.” On October 17, 1959, however, the constitution of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of ASLA was adopted by eleven landscape architects. Chapter officers were drawn from throughout the region and a two or three day chapter meeting was held annually.
In 1961, the Washington and Oregon Sections of the Chapter were authorized. Eventually, Montana-Idaho and Alaska sections were added.
The Washington Section was not actually activated until August 1964, when Robert Woerner was elected the first Washington Section Chair. The primary motivation for the section vitalization was to work on the licensing issue. A Steering Committee for Bill Enactment was formed within the Washington Section and sought advice from ASLA colleagues in Oregon. Another group, the Inter-Society Committee for Registration, was formed to work with the other professional organizations.
Joining the WSLA on the licensing issue was the Association of Landscape Architects – Washington (A-LAW), an organization formed in 1964 specifically to promote licensure. A-LAW was successor to the Joint Committee for State Registration of Landscape Architects, which organized earlier licensing attempts in 1957 and 1959. Its membership drew from all groups and it was disbanded following passage of the licensing legislation. Washington’s landscape architects were finally successful in their efforts to get a licensing law when a title act became effective August 11, 1969.
Some people thought the initiation of registration in the state eliminated, or at least reduced the need for a professional organization. Oregon members blamed demise of their ASLA section on the passage of licensing in that state. While that may have been true to a certain extent, in Washington the viability of landscape professional organizations was influenced more by the fact that, in 1969, there were three organizations drawing members from the landscape architectural community and attempting to function separately.
In addition to the WSLA and both the Washington Section and the Pacific Northwest Chapter of ASLA, the American Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) was represented in the state by the Cascade Chapter. The Board and International President of AILA had approached Washington State landscape architects in 1964, regarding establishment of a chapter. In 1969, the AILA international convention was held in Seattle. Glen Hunt, President of the Cascade Chapter of AILA, was the conference chair. AILA was “international” primarily because of its many Canadian members.
The difficulty of organizing a small profession when there were so many groups became more apparent. In 1969 and 1970, discussions were held among members of all three organizations about consolidation. Interest in the WSLA was waning so the primary debate was which organization, ASLA or AILA, had more to offer members in terms of resources. The standards of the ASLA were thought to be higher, although there was discontent with the national organization. From the 823 responses to a management study commissioned by the ASLA in 1969, only 15 members felt ASLA was “doing a good job”. Also, the ASLA was still basically an “East Coast” organization. Pacific Northwest Chapter Trustees reported on the 1969 Executive Board of ASLA with the comment that none of the Board members were “from west of Pennsylvania.”
In May 1970, members of the Washington Society of Landscape Architects voted to disband. ASLA subsequently offered reciprocal membership to AILA members. In 1971, the Pacific Northwest Chapter hosted the ASLA Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon.
In 1973, the Pacific Northwest Chapter of ASLA was divided into the chapters of Washington, Oregon, and Montana-Idaho. The fourth section, Alaska, became a chapter in 1976.
Although it had autonomy, the Washington Chapter of the ASLA (WASLA) also was struck by apathy that nearly caused its demise. In 1978, however, a few dedicated individuals rallied together, and with the leadership of Richard Carothers as WASLA President, the chapter was revitalized. Carothers organized the first chapter awards banquet, which was a big success and provided a strong financial base to support chapter programs and activities. He continued as president the next year and focused on chapter visibility and membership growth. The 1979 Awards Banquet, even more successful than the first, increased interest in the chapter.
Fred Beck, who became president in 1980, continued to focus on key goals. Twelve active committees were formed, and for the first time, all landscape architects in the state were contacted regarding membership in WASLA. The chapter was rewarded for these years of energy by winning the ASLA President’s Cup in 1980.
The 1980s were marked by several highlights. In 1986 – 88, WASLA members participated, with Ploughshares and the Seattle/Tashkent Sister Cities Committee, in the design and construction of the “Tashkent Peace Park” in Tashkent, Russia. Also in 1988, during the presidency of Valerie Batey, the WASLA hosted the ASLA Annual Meeting.
The WASLA entered the 1990s as an energetic organization concerned with environmental issues, professionalism, and other issues that landscape architects continue to address, both as individuals and members of their professional organization. The hopes of the WASLA for the future are high as it strives to set and meet new goals each year.