Harold Lynn Adams, an architect who transformed the old RTKL firm into a global design practice, died of glioblastoma brain cancer Tuesday at his home in Bryan/College Station, Texas. The former Mount Washington resident was 82.
Born in Palmer, Texas, he was the son of Charles Roy Adams, a barber, and Lola Beck, who ran a clothing factory and a chain of fabric stores.
A graduate of Palmer High School, he was valedictorian and the lone member of his class of eight students to go to college. Mr. Adams earned a degree from Texas A&M University.
He moved to Washington, D.C., and met his future wife, Janice Lindhurst.
“We just bumped into each other on Wisconsin Avenue,” she said. “We met in May and married in August.”
She said her husband had a meteoric career in Washington and found work among members of the John F. Kennedy family.
“Harold had been graduated for six weeks and was working for the architect John Carl Warnecke, a close friend of both Jackie and President Kennedy. Kennedy wanted to discuss plans for the presidential library and Jack Warnecke asked Harold to accompany him to the Oval Office in the White House to take notes.
“Harold sat there quietly and made a detailed record of the meeting. It did not hurt that Harold was beautifully attired in a suit and vest that his mother made up in her clothing factory. Harold always wore custom-tailored suits, but he was such an excellent note-taker that Mr. Warnecke made him the manager of the office. He had no idea that Harold was 23 and just out of college,” his wife said.
Mr. Adams came to Baltimore in 1967 when four local architects, Archibald Rogers, Francis Taliaferro, George Kostritsky and Charles Lamb, needed a person with strong business skills to manage their offices on Cathedral Street in Mount Vernon.
George Kostritsky interviewed Mr. Adams on a Saturday and offered him the job of running their practice, which was growing rapidly but was a mess from a managerial viewpoint, his wife said.
“The first thing he did was take away the partners’ credit cards and found out what debts were owed and what billings were due. He also arranged a line of credit from the First National Bank,” she said.
She said her husband arranged to get the office moved from their hodgepodge of Cathedral Street offices to the Village of Cross Keys above the Village Square.
As the firm grew, Mr. Adams negotiated new offices in downtown Baltimore and at Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point.
“He was one of the few architects who were not afraid of running his practice as a business,” said Thom McKay, an RTKL colleague. “Harold was bright, well organized and brought a pragmatic mind to the game. He had a globalist sense, a kind of sixth sense, and took the firm into another league.”
“He was thinking beyond the United States when very few architectural firms were,” Mr. McKay said. “He knew the right kind of people who could get on a plane and work abroad.”
Mr. Adams was named RTKL president in 1969 and was made chairman of the board in 1987.
“His skills were in organizing and management and in people aspects,” said Ted Niederman, a retired RTKL architect and member of its board. “The firm had been out of control in terms of bookkeeping. He was not a design architect. His strength was managing organizations. He also had a certain amount of gumption.”
Within his firm, Mr. Adams had the role of “the man behind the curtain,” Mr. Niederman said. “He had a subtle sense of humor and one-on-one he was personable and enjoyable.”
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Mr. Adams believed in growth and opened satellite offices in London, Madrid, Shanghai and Tokyo.
A 1997 Sun story said: “Now based in Baltimore and headed by Harold Adams, RTKL has more than 500 employees. ... RTKL has work in 45 countries. Baltimore and Maryland are a veritable museum of its projects, and it’s hard to imagine the region without them. Projects range from the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Commerce Place in downtown Baltimore to Towson Town Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the [entrance] to the Charles Center Metro station.”
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He retired when he turned 65 because he believed in young talent, his wife said. RTKL Associates was later sold to Arcadis, a Netherlands-based firm.
After leaving Baltimore and returning to Texas, he taught at Texas A&M.
“Harold Adams leaves a monumental legacy in the design world and in education at Texas A&M,” said Patrick Suermann, an interim dean at the school, in a statement. “His work with the Kennedys, his leadership at RTKL, and his determination to prioritize interdisciplinary education for students at the college has a considerable impact today and in the future.”
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Janice Lindhurst, a former board president of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington; a daughter, Abigail Adams Brigstocke of Mount Washington; three sons, Harold L. Adams II of Riderwood, Ashley John Adams of West Towson and Samuel John Henry Adams of Essex Fells, New Jersey; a brother, Dany Roy Adams of Coldspring, Texas; and 11 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the All Saints Chapel of Texas A&M University.