Saving a 'hidden treasure'

Girls Scouts staffers Pattie Dash, vice president of strategy, left, and Maria Johnson, vice president of advancement, right, examine the support beams for the teepee-inspired structure that have already been replaced.
Girls Scouts staffers Pattie Dash, vice president of strategy, left, and Maria Johnson, vice president of advancement, right, examine the support beams for the teepee-inspired structure that have already been replaced. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Decades after they joined the Girl Scouts, Kirsten Enzinger and Janet Brown still have fond memories of times they spent inside the giant tepee at Annapolis' Camp Woodlands.

"It was the place for orientation, the place for meals, the place for meetings," recalls Enzinger, who was a Girl Scout in the 1950s and 1960s and later an assistant troop leader. "It was our gathering spot. People were coming and going all the time."

The distinctive form makes it instantly recognizable to anyone who gets lost, said Brown, a Scout leader since the mid-1970s. "Even the little ones, when you say 'the tepee,' they know what you're talking about."

This year, the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland are working hard to make sure many more campers get to know about "the tepee."

As part of a campaign to celebrate its 50th anniversary — and the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts nationwide — the organization wants to raise between $100,000 and $150,000 to repair and restore the wooden structure.

The building opened in May 1954 at the heart of Camp Woodlands, a 34-acre parcel off the 2700 block of Riva Road. Its official name is Lamb Lodge, after Ruby Lamb, former commissioner of the Anne Arundel County Girl Scouts Council, and her husband, Reginald, a math professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, both of whom were instrumental in creating Camp Woodlands and getting the tepee built.

Over the years, tens of thousands of Girl Scouts and troop leaders have come to the structure for day trips, summer camp, training sessions and other occasions. Last year, 10,600 girls visited. The campsite is also used by the Anne Arundel County public schools.

Lamb Lodge gained recognition outside Scouting circles, too, by winning a national architectural award in 1954 for its innovative design. The partnership that designed it, Rogers and Taliaferro, grew to become RTKL, which now has offices around the world.

What makes it stand out, admirers say, is a design that is at once simple and complex, in sync with its users and its setting.

"It's an architectural wonder," said Traci Barnett, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. "It was green before green was cool. It speaks to the culture of Girl Scouting: to respect your surroundings. It says to girls, 'You can think outside the box.'"

"It's a hidden treasure" in Annapolis, said Lisa Taylor, an architect helping with the restoration effort. "The craftsmanship is amazing."

It's an ideal way to explore nature, said Brown. "Even when you're inside, you still feel like you're outside."

The 12-sided structure rises 32 feet and was designed to be a multipurpose building that could accommodate up to 100 girls at a time. At the peak of the cone-shaped roof are panes of Plexiglas, to let in light. In the middle is a hearth for fires.

Suspended from the top is a metal fireplace hood and chimney. The fireplace apparatus is connected to a pulley system, so it can be lowered when the Scouts build a fire and raised out of the way at other times. Around the sides are built-in wooden tables and benches. A low-rise wing to one side contains a food preparation area, first aid station, restroom and storage space.

The tepee is starting to show its age. Some of the original wooden supports have rotted and suffered termite damage. Doors and window frames need to be replaced. The tables and benches need to be sanded and refinished. The metal fireplace is rusting. Lights and electrical wiring need replacement.

The Girl Scouts spent more than $15,000 last year to repair part of the structure, using funds donated by RTKL. This year, working with Taylor, Anne Arundel County-based builder Charles Berliner and others, they have developed a comprehensive plan to restore the building to its 1950s appearance.

The Girl Scouts are seeking to raise the funds needed to complete the repairs in time to rededicate the building this May, because the building was originally dedicated in May. They are joined in the restoration effort by members of the Lamb family, RTKL and Berliner. They say the building is worth preserving not only as an early and much-loved symbol of Scouting in Maryland but also because it is a significant work of midcentury architecture. "This is an engineering marvel," says Barnett.

The tepee was a labor of love by its principal architect, Charles Lamb, son of the couple that helped get it built and one of the first employees of Rogers and Taliaferro.

The Annapolis campsite opened in 1947 and was so popular that the Girl Scouts soon decided to build a permanent structure where campers could gather, eat their meals and share stories at the end of the day. Ruby Lamb, who led the effort to create Camp Woodlands as Girl Scout commissioner, asked her son if he would design the permanent building, and he agreed to do so at no charge, with the backing of company founders Archibald Rogers and Frank Taliaferro.

Ruby Lamb died of a heart attack in 1950, before construction began, and the work went on in her memory. Much of the construction activity was carried out by volunteers, to keep costs down.

Charles Lamb is now 85, retired and living on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He joined Rogers and Taliaferro as a partner in the company in 1956 and became the "L" in RTKL. In a recent phone conversation, he said he has stronger feelings about the tepee than he does for many other buildings RTKL designed because it was one of his first projects and had a direct connection to his family. "It was a little closer to my architectural heart," he said.

Lamb said his design was guided by the Scouts' desire for a flexible space that would be well lighted, compatible with its surroundings and capable of accommodating the Scouts' traditions.

"It started with a circle," he recalled. "I knew that a circle offered the greatest potential for [carrying out] the Girl Scout customs of campfires and saying grace and singing songs. … It was nonhierarchical."

Lamb was in his 20s when he designed the building, and he said it was his first nonresidential commission and the most complicated structure he had worked on up to that point. His solution was a building in which all sides were similar in shape and held together by tie rods, so they essentially leaned into each other and held each other up. "I knew the roof would be more effective if it was put together like a shell, a big eggshell," he said.

The conical shape was reminiscent of tepees, the simple shelters built by many American Indian tribes. Typically, they had wooden frames covered with animal skins, and were large enough for a family to sleep inside. Indians could even light fires in the center, with smoke rising through a hole in the top.

Lamb said he didn't set out to design an oversized tepee, and he didn't intend to make a direct reference to Indians. At the same time, he said, he didn't mind when the Scouts made that connection.

I didn't correct them," he said. "It's a lot more descriptive than 'Lamb Lodge.'"

Lamb said he was also honored by the national attention the building received, especially the design award from the American Institute of Architects and the subsequent publicity.

"It was a welcome surprise," he said. "We actually built it for something like $10,000. … There were a lot of Third World countries that were interested in it. "

Thom McKay, a vice president at RTKL, said the tepee was in many ways the project that first put the company on the map, and many of its employees have made pilgrimages to see it.

"It was seminal to our development and the roots of our company," he said. "It was one of our first awards. … It put us on the national stage."

Besides raising funds for restoration, the Girl Scouts and the Lamb family are pursuing the idea of having the tepee added to the National Register of Historic Places. A University of Maryland study several years ago indicated that it likely would be eligible, but additional action is required by the Maryland Historical Trust and others.

The Girl Scouts say the repairs and landmark designation would be a fitting tribute to a building that has stood the test of time and become a national symbol of Scouting. Most important, they say, the attention will help ensure that many more girls get to experience the structure.

Walking into the tepee is "like stepping back in time," said Maria Johnson, the Scouts' vice president of advancement. "You get to be a kid again. Who doesn't need that?"

More information about the Camp Woodlands tepee can be found at http://www.lamblodge.org and http://www.gscm.org.