Recently, we were contacted by Joseph-James Ahern, Senior Archivist at the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Record Center and USS Constitution Museum member, with information about documents and photographs discovered in the university’s archives. The records told the story of USS Constitution as the centerpiece to a hypothetical U.S. Navy memorial, submitted by U. of Penn student David C. Tatman as part of an architecture scholarship competition. The following post was written in collaboration with Mr. Ahern to share his new discovery.
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“Let us keep ‘Old Ironsides’ at home. She has…become a Nation’s ship, and should be preserved…in honorable pomp, as a glorious monument of her own, and our other naval victories…
Let us preserve her as a precious model and example for future imitations of illustrious performances!” [National Intelligencer, May 23, 1815]
On May 10, 1897 friends of Philadelphia architect John Stewardson (1858-1896) founded a travel scholarship in his name following his untimely death in 1896. Stewardson had studied architecture in the United States and Paris. With his childhood friend Walter Cope, they founded the firm Cope and Stewardson in 1885. By 1890 the two had designed over two hundred buildings, mastering the Collegiate Gothic style as seen on the campuses of Bryn Mawr College, Princeton University, Washington University of St. Louis, and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his design firm, Stewardson was appointed a lecturer in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1892.In the early twentieth century the John Stewardson Memorial Scholarship in Architecture was open to architectural students or practitioners under the age of thirty who had resided in Pennsylvania for at least one year. The competition consisted of two phases. The initial test was a three-day sketch problem to select five finalists and two alternates. On average, thirty-five to fifty applicants would compete, with the test held simultaneously on the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State College, and Carnegie Institute of Technology. Once a jury of New York architects had narrowed down the selection, the finalists were presented with an architectural problem for which they were to create a solution. For the presentation to the Scholarship Managing Committee, the finalists were instructed not to consider this as an oral exam by an outside committee, but “as the presentation of a solution to a friendly client.” Earlier scholarship topics had included designs for a zoological laboratory, a residence for the governor of Pennsylvania, and a national aeronautical center.
In 1938, the Managing Committee asked Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945) to design the scholarship problem. Cret (pronounced “Cray”) was born in Lyon, France and had studied in his uncle’s architecture office and later at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Lyon.
In 1903, Cret was recruited to teach architectural design at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the next thirty-four years, until his retirement in 1937, he influenced a generation of American architects. While Cret himself was trained in the classical but exuberant Beaux-Arts style, he was a restrained classicist at his core. His public buildings exhibited what he called a “New Classicism” which looked back at ancient classical architecture for its order and proportions, but also looked forward, presenting a classicism that responded to the needs of the modern world.
Cret’s 1938 Stewardson Scholarship project was entitled “A Memorial to the Navy”, with USS Constitution as the focal point. He noted, “In several countries, warships made famous by the part they played in naval battles are preserved by the care of the government as patriotic relics and visited yearly by large crowds, such as the frigate ‘Constitution‘ in this country and Nelson’s ‘Victory‘ at Portsmouth, England.” His proposed final thesis was to be a hypothetical memorial in a park-like setting on a river. Cret was very detailed and specific in the requirements for the memorial:
The finalists had five weeks to prepare their presentations. Each of the finalists personally presented his solution to the Managing Committee – with the final selection based on the merits of the architectural plan and effectiveness of the presentation. After careful consideration, the Committee selected David C. Tatman (1914-1969) as the Stewardson Scholarship recipient.
“To provide a proper setting for the ‘Constitution’, a plot of land bordering a river and measuring 500′ x 700′ has been set aside….The memorial shall include…A basin dug within the limits of the plot…This basin will berth the historical ship…and be accessible from three sides to visitors to allow the public to see the various aspects of the ship…the fourth side is to open to the river….Porticos, terraces and steps will surround the basin and be arranged so as to provide a monumental setting for patriotic celebrations….A naval museum…shall receive the historical data, maps, costumes, ensigns, paintings related to the naval engagements of the ship. Accommodations for the comfort of the public for a curator, and a small library shall be provided….An outdoor display of guns, a few statues or memorials, and naval implements will be distributed on the grounds.” [“Program for the Final Thesis for the 38th John Stewardson Memorial Scholarship in Architecture – A MEMORIAL TO THE NAVY”. University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center, School of Design, Office of the Dean of Records, UPB 8.4]
Tatman was born in Indiana and attended the Governor Dummer Academy in South Byfield, Massachusetts (the alma mater of USS Constitution‘s Commodore Edward Preble and known today as The Governor’s Academy). He entered the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1932 to study architecture. While Tatman’s overall presentation has not survived, photographs of his drawings were recently found in the School of Design Office of the Dean Records at the University Archives and Records Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
The 1938 scholarship Managing Committee had the photographs made shortly after the announcement of the winner. Tatman’s design is very reminiscent of Cret’s Chateau-Thierry American Monument in France and exhibits a restrained classical Beaux-Arts style that was becoming popular for memorials built in the 1920s and 1930s.
In Tatman’s scholarship design, visitors would have entered an open landscaped memorial area, with the masts of Constitution visible in the distance. To reach the ship they would have descended two flights of stairs into an open area that could be used for patriotic events. Upon leaving the ship visitors would have seen two memorial cannon flanking the stair case, and a built-in platform inscribed with “For God and for Country” and the years “1700” and “1812” (it is unclear what the date “1700” represents in the memorial). On the second level of the memorial was the small museum required by the program, with a series of gardens. Passersby in boats on the river would have seen Constitution docked before the classically influenced memorial.For Tatman, 1938 was a banner year – in addition to winning the John Stewardson Scholarship, he received his BA in architecture in June, married Harriet de Benneville Crawford in November, and set sail for his European tour, courtesy of the scholarship. Tatman’s initial itinerary called for him and his wife to visit Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, England, and the Scandinavian countries. Unfortunately, the escalating events in Europe, culminating in Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, officially starting World War II, began to have an ominous impact on his plans. In his letters to the Managing Committee, Tatman described the architectural elements he was seeing, but also the effects of Europe’s descent into war. On New Year’s Eve 1939 he noted he was writing from the ship as, “all letters in Greece and Italy are censored.” He stated he was accelerating his itinerary as, “Everyone says that there will be a flare up by spring – and that it is far better to go on and see as much as possible…” When he wrote in August to describe his travels in France, he commented that, “France began for us under trying times – we crossed at Menton 6 hours before Hitler took Czechoslovakia [on March 15, 1939]. Every one stopped his holiday and hurried home – but fortunately for us we are still here.” Tatman closed the letter by noting that they were sailing on the 26th [of August] for England on an American boat on cots in public rooms, not private cabins. He hoped for the best for their European friends, but found “it wise to leave….” Tatman and his wife returned to the United States by the fall of 1939.
David C. Tatman went on to enjoy a successful career as an architect. His hypothetical “A Memorial to the Navy” was in the spirit of the National Intelligencer‘s 1815 call to establish USS Constitution as a “glorious monument”. It was this sentiment for preservation that carried the ship into the 20th century. The 1927-1931 restoration, just a few short years before Tatman’s winning design, helped secure the long-term preservation of the iconic “Old Ironsides”. It may be that Paul Cret had Constitution‘s restoration and 1931-1934 National Cruise in mind when choosing her as the “patriotic relic” and focus of the 38th John Stewardson Memorial Scholarship in Architecture.
– Joseph-James Ahern, Senior Archivist | University of Pennsylvania Archives
in collaboration with M. M. Desy and K. Monea