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Updated: Mar 23, 2021

One of Orlando’s architecture firms in the early 1900’s, was comprised of two women, one a Bostonian, and one a Prairie School figure. They were pioneers of a different sort.

Ida Annah Ryan (image courtesy of Wikipedia) was born in 1873 in Waltham MA, She graduated from MIT with a Masters of Science, and a Masters of Architecture in 1907, the first American female architect. Ida was attracted to the idea of the study of architecture during her high school years.

She was active in the women’s suffrage movement, and was the first woman employed by the war department in World War I. Initially practicing in Massachusetts, she relocated to Florida because of a lack of work there after the War. At first employed by Frederick H. Trimble in 1918 and 1919, as his designing architect, Ida formed her own firm in the 1920’s.

Isabel Roberts (image courtesy of Wikipedia) was born in the mid-west in 1871, raised in Indiana. She studied architecture for 3 years in New York City at the first studio/atelier established along the French format of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. It was established by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray , who is most remembered as the architect of the St. Louis Exposition and the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Minnesota. Roberts studied under an impressive roster of future architects, including William Van Alen who designed the Chrysler Building. By 1899, the school was actively seeking female students, opening a second atelier especially for women students.

Isabel was one of the first employees hired when Frank Lloyd Wright opened his office in Oak Park, Illinois. John Lloyd Wright, his son, relates that the draftsmen in the Oak Park studio included five men and two women, William Drummond, Francis Barry Byrne, Walter Burley Griffin, Albert McArthur, Marion Mahoney, Isabel Roberts and George Willis. He further stated that they all made valuable contributions to Prairie style architecture, the style which is most notably associated with Wright.

Wright went off to Europe in 1909 with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, arranging for architect Hermann V. von Holst to oversee Isabel Roberts and John Van Bergen complete the projects on the boards, along with Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin who, having left to open their own practice, were working under contract. When they completed all the works they could, Isabel literally locked the doors, closing the chapter on Wrights Oak Park years. She then worked in Chicago for about a year for William Drummond, who left Wright’s employ as well, and now had his own practice.

She moved to St. Cloud Florida with her mother, after wintering there a few seasons starting in 1915. Her mother continued to suffer from lingering effects of influenza, and died in Florida in 1920. Her sister and brother-in-law Charlotte and John B. Somerville were established residents of St. Cloud, by that time.

(photo credit John Dalles)

By 1926 Isabel Roberts was listed with Ida Anne Ryan in the Orlando City Directory under the “Architects” heading, as “Ryan and Roberts” at a downtown location and a studio in the house they designed for themselves at 834 Kenilworth Terrace, Orlando, Florida. The house is still a well maintained private residence, in a simplified Mediterranean style featuring scalloped buttresses on a gabled frame in stucco, with asymmetrical windows and decorative attic vents. The house front is oriented to the side yard.

Soon after arriving in Florida, Roberts petitioned to become a member of the Florida Association of Architects (later to become a chapter of the American Institute of Architects) Her application was accompanied by letters of recommendation by John Van Bergen, Hermann V. von Holst and Frank Lloyd Wright, all who clearly considered her to be an architect. Unfortunately she was not admitted. Ida Ryan, while denied entry 3 times into the Massachusetts chapter of the American Institute of Architects, was admitted into the Florida AIA.

(photo credit Robert Holland)

Roberts and Ryan created many early landmark buildings in the region. One of their best preserved is the Veterans Memorial Library, circa 1923, in St. Cloud, now the St. Cloud Heritage Museum, at 1012 Massachusetts Ave., St. Cloud, Florida. Roberts’ brother-in-law, John B. Somerville, sat on the building committee which resulted in Ryan and Roberts getting the commission. The building is constructed of hollow tile with a stained stucco finish. It is described as ‘Grecian style’ albeit due to the many of the roman grill details on windows and soffits, but it is more reminiscent of many small Prairie School bank buildings in the upper Midwest during this era by Louis Sullivan, and Purcell and Elmslie. You can see the similarities to the earlier Amhurst Apartments below.

(photo credit John Dalles)

The Ross E. Jeffries Elementary School in St. Cloud, circa 1926, is a Mediterranean Revival style school attributed to Ryan and Roberts. The building has a main arched entry porch in an offset tower, the low profile accentuated by a curved parapet bay on the roof. The fenestration has large tri-part Chicago style windows, with small accent windows at the ends, still well maintained today.

(postcard courtesy of Richard Forbes)

The Amherst Apartments, were another of their excellent works, and evidently a prestigious address for many years . Located at 325 West Colonial Drive just off downtown, the building closely resembled the German Embassy Building by William Drummond (1915 while Roberts worked in his Chicago office). The Prairie Style building built 1921-22 featured forty-seven apartments on the shore of Lake Concord. Beautiful gardens which sloped down to the water behind the apartments were a popular feature. The structure was demolished in 1986. You can search Facebook on the Historic Orlando I page for photos.

There were many commissions in their career. The Lake Eola Bandstand downtown, 1924, was built over the water so the sound could carry to the families on the shore. It had a cantilevered hip roof over the lozenge shaped deck, and distinctive Prairie Style lamps on each side of the entrance stair, it has since been replaced. The Unity Chapel was also on Lake Eola, built in a stuccoed English vernacular style, it was the home of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. Ida Annah Ryan was a member of this congregation. The church was demolished in the 1960’s, when the congregation relocated east to a larger property.

In St Cloud there were many commissions, quite a few still standing, many are in need of some love and attention. The Pennsylvania Hotel Building, at 10th and Pennsylvania now houses the St. Cloud Twin Theatres. The Peoples Bank Building, at 10th and New York Ave. is now used as a café and barber shop. The Chapel at Fisk Funeral Home at 1107-11 Massachusetts Ave, is a mix of Prairie Style and Spanish Revival with pointed arches on the first floor and a string of grouped windows on the second floor.

(photo credit Robert Holland)

Ryan and Roberts had a productive career, designing many homes throughout Orlando, Mount Plymouth, St. Cloud and Windermere, Florida. This Winter Garden residence was constructed circa 1927. It is a large Mediterranean Revival stucco house with tile roof, white stone trim and tripartite arched windows.

Ida Ryan remained in Orlando until her death in 1950 at the age of 77, and was buried in her hometown of Waltham, MA. Isabel Roberts died in 1955 at the age of 84, and is buried along side her mother and sister in Greenwood cemetery in Orlando. The Orange County Preservation Trust placed a tombstone on her unmarked grave in 2018 to recognize her contribution to our architectural heritage.

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Great piece of history. Thank you for recounting the information on two trailblazing women.

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