Archibald Coleman Rogers, 84, founded RTKL architectural firm

December 07, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Archibald Coleman Rogers, an architect who founded RTKL Associates Inc. and played a key role in the development of Baltimore's Charles Center and Inner Harbor, died yesterday of complications from a stroke at Keswick Multi-Care Center. He was 84 and lived in Bolton Hill.

His vision and his firm helped transform the city's aging business district and once-moribund Inner Harbor. He also attained architecture's top professional honor, the presidency of the American Institute of Architects, in 1973.

RTKL has about 900 employees in a dozen offices from Baltimore's South Street to Shanghai, China.

"Arch was one of those people who had great vision," said Francis T. Taliaferro of Santa Monica, Calif., his first partner. "He was always leading us over the next hill. He coined the phrase `urban design.' He came into cities that were in a planning mess and was able to leave them with a clear path."

Born in Annapolis, he spent summers at his grandparents' home adjacent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's residence in Hyde Park, N.Y.

He earned architectural degrees from Princeton University and, after service as a naval architect during World War II, opened a small architect's office in his grandmother's Annapolis home.

"We would open at the office at 9," Mr. Rogers told The Sun in a 1996 interview. "If no one showed up by noon, we went sailing. Best days of our lives."

In 1946, he was named Anne Arundel County's first zoning commissioner, a job that placed him at loggerheads with the eight county commissioners, who overruled him in the case of a Ritchie Highway gas station in 1952. Mr. Rogers resigned in protest, saying, "I don't want Ritchie Highway to become another Washington Boulevard." The stand won him accolades from newspaper editorial writers.

By 1961, Mr. Rogers had three partners, Mr. Taliaferro, George Kostritsky and Charles Lamb. The initials of their last names gave RTKL its firm.

Developer James W. Rouse, for whom Mr. Rogers' firm created Harundale Mall, tapped him in 1955 as the new Greater Baltimore Committee's first executive director, a post he held for a year when the city was initiating downtown urban renewal.

"He was a very valuable person, the right man at the right time to get the GBC started," said Walter Sondheim, the committee's senior adviser. "He was a genial man with a nice sense of humor. He cared very much about the quality of his work and that of his firm."

Mr. Rogers went on to head the city's Urban Design Concept Team, a group of engineers and planners charged with routing interstate highways through Baltimore. Mr. Rogers opposed major sections of those highways for reasons of aesthetics and neighborhood preservation.

Mr. Rogers went on to consult on development in several other cities, including Cincinnati, Hartford, Conn., and Eugene, Ore., and lectured around the world.

Friends recalled Mr. Rogers as a "Victorian gentleman" who liked to tell a good story. He wore yellow roses as a boutonniere on his navy blue blazer, accompanied by signature yellow or plaid trousers.

After retiring in the early 1980s, he spent his time at Belvoir, a 400-acre, 17th-century Crownsville plantation overlooking Round Bay that his father bought in 1919.

A voracious reader, he loved the study of words. A crossword puzzle he designed was published in The New York Times. He wrote three novels, The Monticello Fault, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down (a treatment of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis) and The House of God. Until this year, he had been writing his memoirs in the form of a novel.

Mr. Rogers' wife of 37 years, the former Lucia Bernadine Evans, died in 1984.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 15 at Memorial Episcopal Church, 1407 Bolton St., where he was a member.

He is survived by his wife of 17 years, the former Eleanor Merryman Roszel; a son, Coleman Rogers Jr. of Wilmington, Del.; a daughter, Lucia Rogers-Murdock of Annapolis; a brother, Samuel B. Rogers of Coldspring Harbor, N.Y.; a sister, Margaret Ann Sappington of Columbia; and two grandsons.

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