The architectural firm of Simons & Lapham was formed by Albert Simons (1890–1980) and Samuel Lapham (1892–1972) on July 8, 1920. The firm received both local and national acclaim for their work in the areas of architectural design and preservation. Responsible for the design of traditional buildings, especially houses, churches, and schools, and for renovations to many of the historic houses in Charleston, the firm was based in that city. In addition to their architectural work, both partners were involved in detailed historic research on the architecture of Charleston. They coedited The Octagon Library of Early American Architecture, Volume I: Charleston, South Carolina (1927) and Plantations of the Carolina Low Country (1939), along with numerous well-researched articles.
Albert Simons descended from a long line of Charleston families. He studied at the College of Charleston and completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Following his graduation, he traveled through Europe and Northern Africa studying architecture through measurements, drawings, and notes. He then studied at the Atelier Hebrard in Paris, which was connected with the École des Beaux-Arts. He was one of the first instructors of architecture at Clemson University, teaching there from 1915 to 1916, and was then briefly a partner in the firm of Todd, Simons and Todd. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Simons returned to Charleston and formed the firm with Samuel Lapham. Samuel Lapham VI was the son of a prominent ice manufacturer and city councilman in Charleston. He graduated from the College of Charleston in 1913 and proceeded from there to earn a B.S. degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1916. Lapham served in the U.S. Army during World War I before returning to Charleston, where he joined with Albert Simons.
In the 1920s Simons and Lapham were busy with commissions for new houses and restorations, including thirteen houses in the elite neighborhood called Yeaman’s Hall. They also added a wing to the main building of the College of Charleston and consulted on the restoration of Charleston’s famous “Rainbow Row.” During this decade both partners taught at the College of Charleston. During the Great Depression the firm thrived on federally sponsored work, especially housing. Both partners worked extensively with the federally sponsored Historic American Building Survey. The firm worked on the renovation of the Planter’s Hotel on Church Street into Dock Street Theatre and designed the new Memminger Auditorium in the manner of Robert Mills. The firm also completed new plantation houses and restored many others.
In addition to restoring downtown houses, Simons and Lapham worked actively with the Charleston city government to protect historic buildings. Simons helped create the first historic district in America and the first Board of Architectural Review. He also served on the planning commissions for the city of Charleston and Charleston County. Both partners worked on a survey of Charleston architecture that led to a book, This Is Charleston (1944).
After World War II the firm grew as postwar commissions flowed in, including the Charleston Municipal Airport, the Law School building at the University of South Carolina, and the restoration of two buildings designed by Robert Mills: the Fireproof Building and Ainsley Hall House. Through the admission of new partners, the business survived the deaths of Simons and Lapham as the architectural firm of Mitchell & Small.
Blevins, Ernest. “The Architecture of Simons & Lapham.” Master’s thesis, Savannah College of Art and Design, 2002.
Simons, Albert. Papers. South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston. Simons, Albert, and Simon Lapham. The Early Architecture of Charleston.
Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970. Stoney, Samuel G. Plantations of the South Carolina Low Country. 5th ed.
Charleston, S.C.: Carolina Art Association, 1964. ———. This Is Charleston: A Survey of the Architectural Heritage of a Unique American City. Rev. ed. Charleston, S.C.: Carolina Art Association, 1976.