Laurence Hall Fowler was born September 5, 1876 at “Walnut Hill” in Catonsville, MD to David Fowler and Mary Brinkley. Not unlike their contemporaries, the Fowlers made their home in multiple locations.
Their city dwellings were primarily apartments and residential hotels, though they left the city in the summers to spend time in Catonsville or at their so-called “American Colony” in Cobourg, Canada or North Hatley, Canada. They changed residences every couple of years, providing Laurence with a variety of domiciles by an early age.
Young Fowler was educated much in the same way as peers of his class. He attended Colonel Marsten’s School prior to attending Major Hall’s School for Boys in preparation for entrance into the Johns Hopkins University. Fowler graduated from Hopkins in 1898 with a Bachelor’s degree in general studies with a focus on mathematics. From Baltimore, he went on to attend Columbia University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in the Course of Architecture in 1902.
Fowler’s time in New York included stints in the firms of Bruce Price, and Boring and Tilton. Price, better known for his work at Tuxedo Park, New York, and the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec, also completed, in 1900, a commission for the Washington County Public Library in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was in this use of classical elements that Price’s work is most similar to Fowler’s own as the latter’s career matured. Fowler never adopted, or even adapted, the more frequently quoted language of Price, the Shingle Style.
Nor did Fowler embrace the French Renaissance design elements of Boring and Tilton’s award-winning 1897 United States Immigration Station at Ellis Island. Though Fowler, like William Boring and Edward Tilton before him, would continue his education through the Ecole de Beaux Arts, his design vocabulary would more often reference the Renaissance Revival vernacular as displayed in Boring and Tilton’s 1900-1905 Memorial Hall at the Jacob Tome Institute in Port Deposit, MD.
By 1903, Price had died and the firm of Boring and Tilton was on the verge of dissolution. Fowler had failed to win a Columbia Traveling Prize. With financial support from his parents, he sailed for Genoa in October 1903, touring Italy into the early spring of 1904. Traveling through Italy, Fowler was gifted with a 1565 edition of Alberti’s L’Architettura by fellow traveler, James G. Averell (a Harvard graduate in architecture and apprentice to Claude F. Bragden). This volume represents the beginning of what would become a carefully collected and ultimately world-renowned library of early architectural treatises.
Fowler continued on to Paris and the atelier of Godefroy and Freynet, where he prepared for the entrance exams into the Ecole des Beaux Art. Though Fowler won entrance, he did not move forward to the Ecole proper, but instead chose to return home to Baltimore late in 1904. Taking a position with Wyatt and Nolting, Fowler was introduced to the Roland Park Company. By 1906, however, he had established his own practice, and in 1907 set up an office at 347 N. Charles Street, where he would remain until retiring from active design work in 1945.
Upon his retirement, Fowler left to the Johns Hopkins University his library of over 450 architectural treatises dating before 1801, as well as a reference library of 300 titles published within his lifetime. From Alberti, Vitruvius and Palladio to Pugin, Hamlin, and periodicals such as Pencil Points and Brickbuilder, these publications served as Fowler’s source material.
Fowler’s residential work has been called “eclectic” citing the fact that he did not produce just one style of dwelling and that his designs did not “evolve” over time. Be that as it may, Fowler’s designs were suited to the settings in which they were placed, both in style and in material.
In Sudbrook, located in northern Baltimore County, he designed a clapboard cottage for Miss Emma Middleton, resulting in a domicile not incongruous to the surrounding Shingle style houses. At Oak Place, however, he employed three distinct styles in keeping with the growing neighborhoods of Tuscany-Canterbury, Roland Park, and Guilford: a sizable Colonial Revival dwelling for the Misses Fowler, a Mediterranean villa for William Bullock Clark, and a stucco-clad, almost plantation style home for John Howland. All three are within sight of one another and, while complimentary, are not the same.
Though Fowler employed at least one draftsman in his office from 1916, it wasn’t until 1922 that the office staff increased. It was during this year that Fowler won the competition to design Baltimore’s War Memorial. It was also the start of what would be a years’ long affiliation with John Work Garrett and Alice Garrett at Evergreen. On top of this, he had undertaken commission to design the elementary school building at the Calvert School. He needed a larger workforce.
For the next 15 years, Fowler employed a number of additional architects, from students spending their summer learning the trade to more seasoned veterans, as draftsmen and designers to manage the workload.
It was during this time that Fowler had, among his other work, a handful of commissions from the Roland Park Company and served on their architectural advisory committee. Some of the men who worked for Fowler would become regular architects for the RPC as well: Addison F. Worthington, Faion E. Lott—even William D. Lamdin, later of RPC favorites Palmer and Lamdin, worked a year in Fowler’s employ.
The War Memorial was by far the largest (and probably most administratively complicated) commission that Fowler would undertake. Delayed by funding issues, and frequently debated not only within the halls of city government, but in the press as well, the War Memorial brought Fowler onto a larger stage. It has been suggested that Fowler may have looked back to his travels in Italy, to time spent conducting measured drawings at the Tempio Malatestiano, for inspiration. Between the Memorial building itself and the plaza stretching between it and City Hall, the commission spanned almost the entire decade of the 1920s, occupying a good portion of Fowler’s time and attention.
Fowler married Mary Colt Josephs in 1926. At the same time as their marriage, Fowler finally built a house for himself and his bride at 10 West Highfield Road. If any of the Fowler designs can be named “eclectic” it is this one, the most Arts and Crafts of any of Fowler’s commissions.
Fowler ran an active though not large practice, and his commissions into the late 1920s and early 1930s included not only new construction, but also returns to “old haunts.” Additions and alterations to Evergreen continued, as did renovations to the David G. McIntosh house at Dumbarton Farms, the Greenwood School (originally designed as a home for John Deford), St. Timothy’s and Calvert Schools, and the Safe Deposit and Trust Company.
In 1938, Fowler created a gem of a little house for Abel Wolman at 3213 North Charles Street. Despite the compactness of the site, the house exemplifies a balanced use of decorative details within the confines of a small space creating an overall feel of simple elegance. It was also during this time period that Fowler secured a second large civic commission in creating the Hall of Records in Annapolis.
By the 1940s, wartime economy and the side-effects of age were taking their toll. In 1940, Fowler renewed an association with Baltimore architect Henry P. Hopkins, once a fellow tenant at 347 North Charles Street, to design a State Office Building in Annapolis. Besides sharing office space, Fowler and Hopkins had worked together on commissions early in their careers (the Black House on Warrenton Road for Fowler, the Circle Theater in Annapolis for Hopkins).
Fowler’s office staff shrunk to one or two draftsmen. Paul Pippin, another Marylander, worked for Fowler in 1937-38 and during the summer of 1940. Pippin had just graduated from Columbia and would go on to study in the ateliers of Mies van der Rohe and Eliel Saarinen, passing through Fowler’s office on the way. It is interesting to note that Fowler’s only nod to Modernism came during this period in the form of two neighboring houses on Rolandvue Avenue.
Although Fowler closed his office in 1945, he continued his work with the architectural life of Baltimore through serving on the Building Committee at the Johns Hopkins University, and through the Maryland Historical Society, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Baltimore chapter of AIA. He was one of the city’s early voices for historic preservation: not only did he document the demolition of significant structures in the post-fire era rebuilding, but he salvaged elements from condemned buildings (mantels, doorways, and moldings in particular) to be reused in new construction or renovations.
Fowler lived into the era in which Modernism gradually replaced the Beaux Arts sensibilities that formed the underlying basis of his own designs. He died in Baltimore on June 12, 1971, after several years of failing health. He was 3 months shy of his 95th birthday.