Architect Biographies

Staley, Helen Ross

1921–

“My favorite stage of construction is the time when only the skeleton of the building is up, when there’s nothing between the steel and the sky.”
Baltimore Magazine, November 1967

Helen Ross Staley’s career began with a first place medal in the 1944 national competition of Beaux Arts Institute of Design (BAID). Her university professor had entered their final studio project: a stand-alone television studio, a rarity in the nascent day of that medium. Impressed with her work, one of the competition judges offered her employment in his New York City firm, Moore & Hutchins. As few architecture offices were hiring during the war, Staley passed up a graduate school fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania for the opportunity.

When the war ended in August 1945, and service men returned to civil employment, some felt Staley was taking away a man’s job. The end of the war brought her high school sweetheart home from active duty and they soon married and started a family, eventually settling in Harundale, a suburban starter community south of Baltimore. After a three year hiatus spent raising children, she returned to architecture, designing the first phase of the Harundale Community Church, where she and her husband were founding members.

Staley received her architectural license in 1955, after sitting for the four-day exam and finishing the required three years of internship with several architectural firms. She established her own firm of Helen Ross Staley, Architect out of the family’s recently renovated home in Pasadena’s North Shore community. While most of her projects were residential, many for clients from her sailing community, she also designed office and institutional renovations and a movie theater expansion.

The project she is most proud of is Harundale Community Church (now Harundale Presbyterian Church). Expanded in 1959 with her design for the main sanctuary, the light-filled space has laminated wood arches gracefully extending up to a peaked wood ceiling. Staley designed everything in the sanctuary, including pews, altar, cross, and a unique signage display for the hymnal selections. The sanctuary’s expansive interior exemplifies her architectural philosophy. In her home studio, she removed walls to open the views towards the water. The open views were as important to her architecture as the spaces between the steel frames and the sky.

The sanctuary of the Harundale Presbyterian Church
Anne Bruder, 2015
The sanctuary of the Harundale Presbyterian Church
Anne Bruder, 2015
The sanctuary of the Harundale Presbyterian Church
Anne Bruder, 2015
Booker Residence
AIA Baltimore, 1955

Timeline

1921 – Born December 23 to Ralph H. Ross (an engineer) and Dorothy Ashley Ross (a landscape architect) in Caldwell, NJ

1925
– Fascinated with architecture and construction of a house in the neighborhood; a Lincoln Logs set was all she wanted for Christmas

1936 – Takes mechanical engineering in high school and loves it

1939-1940 – Studies Interior Design & Clothing Design, Stephens College, Columbia, MO

1940 – Transfers to University of Pennsylvania, despite encountering some overt hostility while applying; Dean tells her she can earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but not a Bachelor of Architecture

1944 – Wins BAID Competition 1st place medal for design of TV studio; Winners invited by General Electric to present designs to TV audience; Becomes 3rd woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture from Penn

1944-1945 – Works at Moore & Hutchins in New York City

1945 – Marries high school sweetheart William Warner Staley

1946 – Daughter Joanne is born; family moves to Charlottesville, VA

1947 – Son Ross is born; husband graduates University of Virginia with B.S. in Mechanical Engineering; Family relocates to Harundale, Anne Arundel Co.

1949 – Phase I of Harundale Community Church and Staley featured in June 5 Baltimore Sun article “A New Town Grows Up: Harundale’s 3,200 people have pitched in to make their mass-produced suburb a rounded community”

1951-1953 – Works as Draftsman at Navy Engineering Experiment Station, Annapolis

1952-1972 – Serves on Soroptimist International of Anne Arundel County, advocating for equity, equality, and access to education and employment for women

1953-1954 – Interns at Lucius R. White, Jr. Architects and Harder & Dressel Architects

1954 – Project: Residence for Mr. & Mrs. Ferdinand C. Latrobe, III, Lutherville

1955 – Earns Maryland Registration and starts own firm: Helen Ross Staley Architects; Becomes AIA member with Baltimore Chapter

1955 – Project: Residence for Mr. & Mrs. Philip Booker, Pasadena

1956 – Daughter Elizabeth is born

1957 – Project: Phase IV of Harundale Community Church, Glen Burnie

1959 – Son Frederic is born

1960 – Project: Singleton Office Building, Glen Burnie (now demolished)

1961 – Only woman in AIA Baltimore other than its Executive Secretary; Wins Stephens College Alumnae Achievement Award; In Who’s Who of American Women (also 1962, 1963)

1962 – Projects: Renovation of Glen Burnie U.S. Post Office; Additions to Ross Chase Residence, Danville, VT;  Townhouse development in the 300 block of Franklin Street, Bel Air

1963 – Project: Residence for Mr. and Mrs. Michael J. Wagner, Annapolis

1963-1968 – Family lives in Bolton Hill; Staley works at Baltimore firms of Taylor & Fisher; Lucius R. White, Jr & Edward C. White; and Roger & Vaeth; Projects include Fine Arts Building at Frostburg State College; Women’s Detention Center in Baltimore; and Golden Ring Junior High School, Rosedale

1965 – Helps organize AIA Chesapeake Bay Chapter, becomes Charter Treasurer

1967 – Staley featured in February 5 Baltimore Sun article “Man’s World? Not Any More: More Power To Woman Power” and November Baltimore Magazine article “Feminine Gender”

1968 – Project: Addition to Col. & Mrs K. K. Boyd Residence, Gibson Island

1970 – Project: Renovations to US Naval Academy Hospital, Annapolis

1972 – Project: Westview Cinemas 3 & 4, Catonsville (now demolished); Includes an innovative “reverse periscope” to lower cinema so single projection room serves both cinemas (Detail drawing by Helen Staley, 1972)

1973-1977 – Appointed to Anne Arundel Commission for Women for two  terms

1975 – Project: Renovations and additions to Ross Staley Residence, Pasadena

1982 – Projects: Addition to Mr. & Mrs. Frank L. Troutman Residence, Annapolis; start of renovations and additions to Staley Residence, Danville, VT

1983 – Husband retires and couple moves to Easton in Talbot County

1997 – Project: Residence in Punta Gorda Isles, FL

2005 – Retires from architectural practice

2012 – Husband passes away; Staley moves to Cary, NC

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