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ASLA's 125th: Potomac Chapter History

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. Designing, Implementing, and Managing Improvements to the National Mall. HOK. Washington, District of Columbia / Tim Brown

By Christine Cotter

In 1938, the Washington DC chapter of ASLA was established, and by the time of the 1940 annual ASLA meeting, membership had grown to 51 professionals. During World War II, the chapter provided a series of meetings in which speakers advised landscape architects of the impact of the war on the nation's capital.

Among the Chapter members who served overseas during the war were Edward B Ballard and M Meade Palmer, both of whom later became ASLA Fellows. With the war’s end, the Chapter focused on pressing environmental protection, land use, and professional developmental issues.

In 1948, the Chapter adopted its constitution and bylaws. In 1949, ASLA held its 50th anniversary annual meeting in Washington D.C. It was an important event for the Chapter since attendees included many prominent landscape architects, including Frederick Law Olmsted, Norman Newton, Rose Greeley, Stanley Abbott, Charles Gillette and Conrad Wirth.

In 1951, the name of the Washington DC chapter was officially changed to the Potomac Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (POASLA). Since then, many Potomac Chapter members have made a significant impact on ASLA as a national organization with members holding office in ASLA’s national leadership. Six members have served as national president since 1953.

Also, during this time landscape architects with POASLA continued to distinguish themselves nationally. For example, Conrad Wirth, FASLA, became director of the National Park Service in 1951 and, in 1961, received a Rockefeller Public Service Award.

In the 1960s, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson initiated her beautification program, and numerous POASLA members were involved in this effort as members of the beautification task force established within the National Park Service Washington D.C. offices.

Many POASLA members and firms created institutional, public, and residential landscapes that have shaped the Washington region. A major contribution during the 1970’s was a detailed inventory of open spaces in D.C that were compiled and made into a book and included in Landscape Architecture Magazine. POASLA members have also authored nationally recognized books on landscape history.

In the 1970’s, the Chapter updated and revised its Constitution and bylaws. The Chapter initiated a Strategic Plan in 1995 that detailed activities, social gatherings, and lectures for professionals and emerging professionals alike.

POASLA now has over 300 members. POASLA has nominated many honorary ASLA members and claims winners of the La Gasse, Olmsted, and other professional medals.

Now, in 2024, POASLA continues to advocate for and serve members studying and practicing landscape architecture in the Greater Washington, DC region, including northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.

Christine Cotter is the executive director of the Potomac Chapter of ASLA.  

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