April 8, 2008 — The late James Murray Howard, who served for two decades as architect for the historic buildings and Grounds at the University of Virginia, will be honored during Founder's Day celebrations April 11 at 2:15 p.m. with the planting of a tree on the south end of the Lawn in front of Rouss Hall.
In 1970, the University instituted an annual tree planting to honor an individual who has made significant contributions to the design, planning and maintenance of the Grounds. Since then, a tree has been planted in a public ceremony presided over by the University president every Founder's Day, celebrated on or near Jefferson's birthday, April 13.
Howard, who died in December, came to the University in 1982 and in 1984 began directing a comprehensive restoration program of its earliest buildings, the "Academical Village," designed by Thomas Jefferson and largely completed by 1825.
"Murray brought the combination of an uncanny depth of knowledge — about 18th-century building footings, about how to read prior history in shards or postholes or random bits of wall on a site, about how Jefferson manufactured his metal roofs and why they didn't last, about how Stanford White used ceiling colors or external building ornaments, or the arrangements of rooms and doors and windows — remarkable aesthetics and boldness in his own design work, and a deep devotion to preserving the best of the past for current and future uses," University President John T. Casteen III said of Howard at the time of his death. "He had lived at Versailles, meditated on how America in its early Republican years fed on French culture, taste, and design, and learned to apply those and other sources of knowledge to make the built world better."
In numerous interviews about his work, Howard stressed the need to provide curatorial management of museum-quality buildings while providing for continual University use for learning and living as originally intended. He said the restoration work served as "a practical working laboratory for University students" and the regional craftsmen and University trades people specially trained in techniques not used in the buildings for more than 150 years.
The restoration program received an Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1995. Howard himself received the Historic Preservation Award from the Virginia Society of the AIA in 1994 and was named a fellow of the AIA in 1996 for his notable contributions to the advancement of the architecture profession here and abroad, especially in preservation.
After retiring from the University in 2002, Howard studied in Europe and returned to Charlottesville to establish a design firm, Disegno. In 2006, he joined Commonwealth Architects of Richmond, Va., as director of historic architecture.
Among those for whom memorial trees have been planted are Edwin A. Alderman, the first president of the University; James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States and on whose land part of the Grounds sits today; Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone; and Edgar F. Shannon, fourth president of the University.
Thomas Jefferson's birthday has been marked since the first session of the University. In recent years, Founder's Day has been a joint celebration between the University and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
For more information on the tree planting, visit www.virginia.edu/architectoffice/memorialtree/officialList.html.