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Ronald Senseman

Architect: Ronald S. Senseman (1912-2001)

Ronald Sylvester Senseman’s lifework included over 2,000 projects including 50 churches and 150 schools, as well as hospitals, hotels, and nursing homes.  He was most recognized in his lifetime for his innovative lightweight construction in school architecture.  A recognized authority on the design and construction of school buildings, he published articles and served as consultant to the government on the topic. In addition, Senseman published articles and taught classes on the design of churches.  

A New Jersey native, Senseman first studied architectural drawing in a vocational high school in Camden. He worked as a draftsman for a local architect for a year before moving to the Washington area in 1931. Senseman took classes at Takoma Academy, Takoma Park, and worked at Washington College Mill, in the District, before opening his private practice in 1934. He started designing small houses which were in great demand in this Depression era. He later received his degree in architecture from Catholic University.  In 1944, he was admitted to the American Institute of Architects.  Senseman was a republican nominee for the Maryland House of Delegates, in 1958.

Senseman was a founder of the Potomac Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and served as its first president in 1955.  A member of several national committees, he worked on planning and zoning committees of the Washington Building Congress, Home Builders Association, and Washington Board of Trade. In recognition of his accomplishments, Senseman was advanced to AIA Fellow membership in 1966. He was one of 25 Fellows in the Washington area at the time, representing 3.8 percent of the AIA membership nationally.  Senseman’s major projects included Washington Adventist College, Takoma Park (1936-1960s); and Leland Memorial Hospital (1936-42), in the Riverdale Historic District.  

Notable projects include St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Shady Grove Hospital, Columbia Union College, Andrews Air Force Base chapel, and Andrews University buildings.  The majority of his work was contemporary modern.  His innovative elementary school design was recognized by Progressive Architecture (Forest Grove ES, 1950), and he received awards from the Washington Board of Trade for Oak View (1950), Viers Mill (1951) and Rolling Terrace (1951) Elementary Schools.  He designed an International style office building for his firm in 1954, 7705 Georgia Avenue, with such innovations as low-maintenance plastic wall paneling and aluminum ceilings, and acoustical and thermal insulation, which was recognized with a Potomac Valley Chap AIA award. He designed the modernist Montgomery County Council office building (1952), in Rockville; and Wheaton High School (1953).  Senseman’s modernist churches include Silver Spring Baptist Church (1956). He also designed traditional styled churches including Seventh Day Adventist Churches in Silver Spring (1950) and in the Takoma Park Historic District (1952-54).

Senseman had a close working relationship with Stewart Bainum, developer, and founder of the Quality Inns, International, Inc. hotel business (originally Quality Courts, and later Choice Hotels International) and Manor Care, a nursing home business.  Early motels that Senseman designed for Bainum included Park Silver Motel (1956), Park Arlington Motel (1961), and Park University Motel (1961).  The first known project Senseman did for Bainum was his 1952 residence at 705 Edelblut Drive, in Burnt Mills Hills. Senseman designed few custom houses. One other early example was the Kessinger House (1946), 307 Warrenton Avenue, in Silver Spring’s Springbrook subdivision, which received an award from the local AIA chapter. 

Equally versatile in traditional architecture as in modern design, Senseman had an affinity for vernacular residential architecture, specifically the Pennsylvania farmhouse.  He co-authored a book on R. Brognard Okie, restorer and designer of stone houses in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Senseman bought the Pennsylvania farmhouse in Burnt Mills Hills, at 910 McCeney Avenue, the moment it came on the market in 1953.  The house, designed by Laurence Johnston in 1935, bears great resemblance to buildings depicted in his Okie book, such as the H. B. DuPont House, in Wilmington.  Senseman designed an addition to the McCeney House in 1970.

Following the death of his wife and his subsequent remarriage, Senseman designed a stone-faced Shed-Style residence at 10718 Gatewood Avenue (1981).  In 1999, Senseman was awarded an honorary doctorate from Andrews University.  Senseman was 88 when he died in 2001.

Sources on Ronald Senseman include AIA membership files; Obituary, Washington Post, February 6, 2001; Clare Lise Kelly, Burnt Mills Hills HD, MIHP form and Marcie Stickle and George French, Silver Spring Baptist Church MIHP form.

John B. Willman “Houses Age Gracefully at Burnt Mills Hills,” The Washington Post, Real Estate, October 2, 1971, E1. Ronald S. Senseman et al, The Residential Architecture of R. Brognard Okie of Philadelphia, Washington,DC: R. S. Senseman, 1946.

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[1]Sources on Ronald Senseman include AIA membership files; Obituary, Washington Post, February 6, 2001; Clare Lise Kelly, Burnt Mills Hills HD, MIHP form and Marcie Stickle and George French, Silver Spring Baptist Church MIHP form.
[2]John B. Willman “Houses Age Gracefully at Burnt Mills Hills,” The Washington Post, Real Estate, October 2, 1971, E1. Ronald S. Senseman et al, The Residential Architecture of R. Brognard Okie of Philadelphia, Washington,DC: R. S. Senseman, 1946.