The Smith Letter

The J. B. Smith House III
1321  Inverary  Place
State College, PA


I enrolled as a freshman student in architectural engineering in 1946. The curriculums of Architecture and Architectural Engineering were part of the School of Engineering at the time. The Freshman year courses for all other engineering school curriculums were identical.

As an architectural engineering student, I never had Professor Ken Heidrich for a class. All three H’s — he, Bill Hajjar, and Phil Hallock —appeared as professors of architecture about that time. The few design courses that the engineering students took were mostly taught by Professor Milton Osborne. However, we engineering students were fully aware of the quality of design represented by the 3 H’s and we weren't necessarily thrilled with the more traditional design guidance given to us by Mr. Osborne.

Of the three H’s, I considered Hajjar's approach to be the most severe or sterile, Hallock's designs to be very appealing and most like Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ken Heidrich's details to be the most intricate, with some traditional characteristics, producing a warm feel to a modern structure.

During my studies, I was also engaged in the construction business with my father, H. O. Smith. There we had the good fortune to construct two projects that were designed by Ken. They were the home of Jean and E. F. “Ossie” Osborn and an addition to the home of Betty and Mike Cannon near Boalsburg. During these projects we worked closely with Ken to achieve his desired effects. Every detail that he desired was meticulously drawn to achieve his desired impact, so there was no question on how this effect was to be realized.

We became good friends because of the relationship we had from working together on those two houses, and later in my life, while still in the construction business, I called on him to work with me on the design for my own second home to be built at 1281 Smithfield St. It was during this time that I recognized a "fault" of Ken's.

That is, Ken frequently felt that his clients deserved, and should have, a more elegant and grand structure than they themselves felt was necessary. Ken's first effort produced a plan that had seven bathrooms or half-baths, and that I felt was regal enough for me to have met the President of the United States and his entourage at the front door.

However, I liked his scheme for this site, so I took his idea and cut the design down to just four bedrooms and four bathrooms, and a half bath. Two weeks later I showed my revised drawing to Ken, while wondering if we would still be friends. Ken looked at my plan and said, "Well, Jim, you cut it down to the bare bones." To me it was still a very large home (at over 5,000 square feet).

We remained good friends and, during the construction, I called on Ken to design many of the details. These were to become the most attractive, unique, and attention-getting features that give that home its eye-popping effect on visitors. But the President of the United States has not yet arrived.

James B. Smith
December 1, 2008