Saving a 'hidden treasure'

Annapolis 'tepee' headed for restoration as a national symbol of Girl Scouts

  • Girls Scouts staffers Pattie Dash, vice president of strategy, left, and Maria Johnson, vice president of advancement, right, examine the support beams for the teepee-inspired structure that have already been replaced.
Girls Scouts staffers Pattie Dash, vice president of strategy,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
January 13, 2012|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

Decades after they joined the Girl Scouts, Kirsten Enzinger and Janet Brown still have fond memories of times they spent inside the giant tepee at Annapolis' Camp Woodlands.

"It was the place for orientation, the place for meals, the place for meetings," recalls Enzinger, who was a Girl Scout in the 1950s and 1960s and later an assistant troop leader. "It was our gathering spot. People were coming and going all the time."

The distinctive form makes it instantly recognizable to anyone who gets lost, said Brown, a Scout leader since the mid-1970s. "Even the little ones, when you say 'the tepee,' they know what you're talking about."

This year, the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland are working hard to make sure many more campers get to know about "the tepee."

As part of a campaign to celebrate its 50th anniversary — and the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts nationwide — the organization wants to raise between $100,000 and $150,000 to repair and restore the wooden structure.

The building opened in May 1954 at the heart of Camp Woodlands, a 34-acre parcel off the 2700 block of Riva Road. Its official name is Lamb Lodge, after Ruby Lamb, former commissioner of the Anne Arundel County Girl Scouts Council, and her husband, Reginald, a math professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, both of whom were instrumental in creating Camp Woodlands and getting the tepee built.

Over the years, tens of thousands of Girl Scouts and troop leaders have come to the structure for day trips, summer camp, training sessions and other occasions. Last year, 10,600 girls visited. The campsite is also used by the Anne Arundel County public schools.

Lamb Lodge gained recognition outside Scouting circles, too, by winning a national architectural award in 1954 for its innovative design. The partnership that designed it, Rogers and Taliaferro, grew to become RTKL, which now has offices around the world.

What makes it stand out, admirers say, is a design that is at once simple and complex, in sync with its users and its setting.

"It's an architectural wonder," said Traci Barnett, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. "It was green before green was cool. It speaks to the culture of Girl Scouting: to respect your surroundings. It says to girls, 'You can think outside the box.'"

"It's a hidden treasure" in Annapolis, said Lisa Taylor, an architect helping with the restoration effort. "The craftsmanship is amazing."

It's an ideal way to explore nature, said Brown. "Even when you're inside, you still feel like you're outside."

The 12-sided structure rises 32 feet and was designed to be a multipurpose building that could accommodate up to 100 girls at a time. At the peak of the cone-shaped roof are panes of Plexiglas, to let in light. In the middle is a hearth for fires.

Suspended from the top is a metal fireplace hood and chimney. The fireplace apparatus is connected to a pulley system, so it can be lowered when the Scouts build a fire and raised out of the way at other times. Around the sides are built-in wooden tables and benches. A low-rise wing to one side contains a food preparation area, first aid station, restroom and storage space.

The tepee is starting to show its age. Some of the original wooden supports have rotted and suffered termite damage. Doors and window frames need to be replaced. The tables and benches need to be sanded and refinished. The metal fireplace is rusting. Lights and electrical wiring need replacement.

The Girl Scouts spent more than $15,000 last year to repair part of the structure, using funds donated by RTKL. This year, working with Taylor, Anne Arundel County-based builder Charles Berliner and others, they have developed a comprehensive plan to restore the building to its 1950s appearance.

The Girl Scouts are seeking to raise the funds needed to complete the repairs in time to rededicate the building this May, because the building was originally dedicated in May. They are joined in the restoration effort by members of the Lamb family, RTKL and Berliner. They say the building is worth preserving not only as an early and much-loved symbol of Scouting in Maryland but also because it is a significant work of midcentury architecture. "This is an engineering marvel," says Barnett.

The tepee was a labor of love by its principal architect, Charles Lamb, son of the couple that helped get it built and one of the first employees of Rogers and Taliaferro.

The Annapolis campsite opened in 1947 and was so popular that the Girl Scouts soon decided to build a permanent structure where campers could gather, eat their meals and share stories at the end of the day. Ruby Lamb, who led the effort to create Camp Woodlands as Girl Scout commissioner, asked her son if he would design the permanent building, and he agreed to do so at no charge, with the backing of company founders Archibald Rogers and Frank Taliaferro.

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