Patriarch of Architects

Patriarch of Architects

Fredrick E. Sheridan retires.

Wearing combat fatigues on Okinawa in early 1946, Fredrick E. Sheridan thought about the future, and what he might do for a living once home. Two factors were important: He did not wish to be indoors all the time and he did not wish to be outdoors all the time. Knowingly or not, Sheridan was setting out on the same road his father had followed to become an architect. He reached the end of that road with this summer's announcement of retirement after five decades practicing in Northern Virginia. The office in Arlington would close. From now on, he would be at home with wife Irene in the McLean house they built in 1959.

Washington Golf and County Club was the scene of a recent luncheon for Sheridan. The guest list was a "who's who" of developers and builders who changed the face of Northern Virginia over the years since World War II.

Chris Brigham of Dittmar Company noted that Sheridan worked on projects with his company for more than 40 years. He describes Sheridan's personality as "humble and affable." Professionally, Brigham said Sheridan is "a high quality architect. More than that, he is a 'client's architect,'" meaning he listens to the client and does not try to impose his own preexisting ideas. One of Sheridan's unique skills, according to Brigham, is his ability to utilize space: He gets the most out of the available land area and interior layouts maximize efficiency. In terms of service to the community, Brigham concluded, Sheridan has been an early and major contributor to the development of local building and zoning codes.

Preston Carruthers of Carruthers Property Ltd., said that Sheridan "is a lovely man, and I think the world of him." This opinion is arrived at after working together on numerous undertakings over many, many years.

Russell A. Hitt of HITT Contracting Inc. expressed that same thought and then said Sheridan "is always smiling, never 'down' and always a gentleman." As a final tribute and with hint of a chuckle, Hitt added: "Fred even did my own home."

SHERIDAN WAS BORN in November 1926 at Hazelton, Pa. Graduating from Pennsylvania State University following military service, his initial license to practice architecture in Virginia was dated 1954. With a seemingly endless post-war boom, Northern Virginia held great promise although some people insisted on calling it "the sticks." He established an office in Arlington, and never left.

Asked how a young native of Pennsylvania new to the region expected to make a success in the area, Sheridan laughed and said, "I began by joining every organization that would have me. Once a member, jobs came my way and the firm gradually grew."

Sheridan decided early on to stay away from two sectors of practice — whenever he could afford it. One area was geographic, and the other emotional. The former area was the City of Alexandria, whose architectural review systems made plan approvals and inspections very time-consuming and restrictive. The latter area involved designing a couple's home; constant changes and disagreements between the couple concerning style, materials and layout were inescapable. Sheridan's simple goal was to avoid "difficult situations" while striving to develop a profitable practice. Whether for residential or business purpose, his work centered on commercial projects.

"Every day was different" are the words Sheridan used to describe the personal satisfaction factor of his career. He found professional satisfaction in solving the challenges hidden in a client's wishes.

Asked to identify one of his favorite works, Sheridan points to a building torn down this year: 3440 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington. He offers several reasons for the choice. Visually, the structure was pleasing. Technically, a design placed above Metro tunnel near Ballston station was complicated. Also technically, cantilevering a story over Metro easements allowed him to create more useable space than anticipated. Financially, the project involved a first-of-a-kind Small Business Administration loan in Arlington.

The past 60 years have seen Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax explode with change.

Population increased many-fold, accompanied by demand for more houses and other buildings to meet new needs. Sheridan played a significant role in that change. With no other active practitioner older than 87 years, he enters retirement recognized as the "patriarch of architects" in Northern Virginia.