Frank Taliaferro, RTKL founder

Frank Taliaferro, a founder and former chairman of the RTKL architects recalled as the "soul" of that firm, died of lung cancer Saturday at his Santa Monica, Calif., home. The former resident of Harwood in Anne Arundel County was 89.

Remembered as a mentor to numerous designers at RTKL, Mr. Taliaferro led architects who refined old retail strip centers and finessed them into shopping malls, including Harundale in Glen Burnie and Paramus Park in New Jersey, known for its early food court.

Born Francis Gerald Tournier Taliaferro in Toulon, France, he was the son of Army Col. Edward Taliaferro Jr., and the former Marguerite Tournier. According to a family biography, his studies in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were interrupted by service in the Marines in the Pacific in World War II. He later completed his architectural studies and passed state boards.

In 1946 he moved to Annapolis and met Archibald Coleman Rogers, a young architect who had just opened a basement office in his grandfather's home. Mr. Rogers' widow, Merry Roszel Rogers, of Baltimore, recalled their initial meeting:

"Archie was working at 49 College Avenue. Frank walked in, still wearing his Marine uniform. Archie hired him on the spot. They remained lifelong friends and were never afraid to share the spotlight. Frank was always a positive person and it was wonderful to observe his gracious repartee with others."

The firm later expanded with partners Charles Lamb and George Kostritsky and moved the business to Baltimore. Mr. Taliaferro was its chairman from 1977 until his 1989 retirement.

"Frank was the guy who made things work," said RTKL chairman emeritus Harold Adams, who lives in Baltimore. "He was a great client-relations man. He took Charlie Lamb's designs and brought them into being."

Mr. Adams recalled that Mr. Taliaferro, whose humble personality appealed to clients, found work with the Anne Arundel County board of education.

"He always saw the good in everyone," said his daughter, Christie Taliaferro Cutright, of Silt, Colo. "He rounded up all the misfit architects and it was his gift to put these people together and see their brilliance."

The firm worked on the early campus of Anne Arundel Community College and did the master plan and first buildings for the University of Maryland's Baltimore County campus.

"He worked closely with Albin Kuhn," Mr. Adams said of the school's founding chancellor.

Mr. Adams said that professional architects had been reluctant to design shopping centers. But when James W. Rouse asked Mr. Taliaferro and his partners, they produced Harundale Mall in 1958, and in 1974, the Paramus Park mall in northern New Jersey.

"It's the first mall to have a food court," said Mr. Adams. "It had a garden-like interior and the Rouse Co. found that people were staying longer at it and spending more. It was Frank's leadership of that project that led to growth in that sector of the office. He had a great relationship with Jim Rouse."

"He was a likable person," said his former partner, Charles E. Lamb of Chestertown. "He was the glue that held the firm together."

Others recalled Mr. Taliaferro's skills within the architectural practice, which increased in size to become the largest in the state and had five offices outside Maryland.

"He was the soul of RTKL and created its culture," said a former RTKL chairman, Paul F. Jacob III of Crownsville. "He nurtured us and our best ambitions. He would walk around the studio and had a subtle way of communicating ideas and intention."

Walter Schamu, a Baltimore architect who lives in Federal Hill, recalled Mr. Taliaferro as "a gentleman architect who was fatherly to young architects. … He cajoled you into thinking how your project might be better."

Mr. Taliaferro requested that his ashes be scattered on the Chesapeake Bay.

"While his largest projects often centered on urban spaces, he had an affection for the sea," said a friend, David Abrahamson of Evanston, Ill. "As a child, he was an avid sailor, and his earliest professional aspiration was to be a naval architect. Later in life he became an enthusiastic photographer of marine subjects."

His photography was featured in New York's Washington Square Art Show in the 1980s. In 1991 he had a one-man photography show at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 15 years, Nel Bullard Steele; two sons, Michael Taliaferro of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Jeffrey Taliaferro of Annapolis; another daughter, Victoria Taliaferro Carney of Denton; a sister, Jacqueline Taliaferro Amols of New Orleans, La.; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His first marriage, to Nancy Clark, ended in divorce in 1994.

A life celebration is planned for late January.

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