Since Architectural Record is now 120 years old, it is not too surprising that much of its early history is long forgotten. Yet its origins are fascinating in terms of the magazine’s evolution, particularly with regard to the issues Record must address today. In many ways the magazine then and now is quite different, but in certain ways very similar. [Disclosure: I have a special interest in its history, since I researched this topic for my Ph.D. dissertation on architectural criticism in the U.S between 1850 and 1915).
Record owes its birth to publisher Clinton Sweet, who founded the magazine Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide in 1868, and decided that 1891 was a good time to launch a quarterly periodical devoted to architecture. Why? Because the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago of 1893 was in the works, and had stirred up public interest in its architecture. Sweet figured that a professional and lay audience had been forming that could support a periodical devoted only to this subject.
While Sweet’s Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide was basically a news publication centered on New York construction, Architectural Record had higher aspirations: it would emulate the small literary and art periodicals that had been proliferating in the 19th century: North American Review, Harper’s Monthly, Putnam’s Monthly, Crayon, The New Path, and Scribner’s among others. Publishers found an educated audience with a large appetite for print journals available in quickly expanding cities. While Boston seemed to be the publishing mecca in the first half of the 19th century, after the Civil War the center began to shift to New York City. And this is where Sweet, who had a dry goods business, located his publishing ventures.
But Clinton Sweet needed an editor for the architectural publication. He chose Henry Desmond, age 28, who had been working at Real Estate Record, as the founding Editor even though Desmond was a novelist and poet, not an architect. [To be continued in part II ]