William L. Plack was one of that active group of architect/engineers practicing at the turn of the century and beyond in Philadelphia. He was born in Altoona, PA, the son of Louis and Elizabeth (Wehn) Plack. He graduated from the Altoona public schools in 1869, studied mechanical engineering with private tutors, and entered the scientific course at Lafayette College (Easton, PA), where he should have graduated in June, 1876. According to Lafayette archives, he did not actually receive his degree at that time although his thesis project, in the form of a rendered perspective of Pardee Hall on the Lafayette campus, was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia that year, and Lafayette College would award him an honorary Doctorate in Engineering in 1926. After leaving Lafayette, Plack spent several years as a draftsman for W. R. Hutton (New York), the Clark Bridge Co. (Boston), and architect Ephraim Francis Baldwin (Baltimore, MD). While in Baltimore, Plack attended night classes at the Maryland Institute for two years, studying desing, decoration and sculpture. After leaving Baltimore, Plack spent a year abroad, and in 1879/80 was involved in the renovation of Pardee Hall on the Lafayette campus following a damaging fire.
From 1882 to 1887, Plack resided in Des Moines, Iowa, where he associated with W. F. Hackney and Mifflin E. Bell on the design of the Iowa State Capitol. While in Iowa Plack began what would remain a lifelong interest in the professional organizations associated with architecture. In 1883 he was instrumental in the founding of the Iowa State Association of Architects, and in 1884 he helped organize the Des Moines Sketch Club and the Western Association of Architects.
1887 found Plack returning to Altoona, where he set up an independent office; but by 1890 he had relocated to the Philadelphia area, where he was charged with erecting the new shops for Baldwin Locomotive works. His initial appearance in the Philadelphia city directories occurs in 1891, and he would continue to be listed there as an architect even past his retirement in 1932. His only affiliation during this time was a short-lived partnership in 1893/94 with Louis R. Walters. Although Plack maintained his office in Philadelphia, he designed a number of buildings in the Havre-de-Grace, MD, area and in Altoona, PA.
Plack was devoted to service for the professional organizations supporting architecture and engineering. In 1911 he was appointed the U.S. delegate to the Internation Congress of Architects meeting in Rome, Italy. In 1912 he served as the Vice-president of the Engineers Club in Philadelphia. In 1923 he again represented the United States, this time at the Second Pan American Congress of Architects in Santiago, Chile, a function which he would serve again in 1927 in Buenos Aires. In 1924 Plack traveled to London and in 1929 went to Tokyo, Japan, to the World's Congress. He had joined the national AIA in 1884; he became a fellow in 1889 and later achieved emeritus status.
One testimony to Plack's abilities can be found in his own hand on the application which he completed for membership in the Philadelphia Chapter, AIA. He said, "In 1888 when the U.S. Treas. Dept. instituted the first civil service examination for the selection of a supervising architect I was one of the four placed upon the list of eligibles out of over eighty architects who participated in that notably severe examination."
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- Engineers Club
- Pennsylvania Society of Architects
- Philadelphia Art Club
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- Franklin Institute
- Lafayette College
- Maryland Institute (Baltimore)
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