Architects and Design and Construction and Architecture/Design and Real Estate & Retail

Local architectural firm Woollen Molzan disbands

April 27, 2011
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The venerable Indianapolis architectural firm that designed many of the city's most recognizable buildings has closed and two of its leaders have joined a local competitor.

Woollen Molzan and Partners Inc. leaders Lynn Molzan and Kevin Huse started new jobs with Ratio Architects Inc. on Monday after the closure of their 56-year-old firm.

Woollen Molzan was one of the oldest and, despite its small size, more prominent architectural firms in the city. Its significant projects include Clowes Hall, the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, the Central Library addition and the White River Gardens Conservatory Complex at the Indianapolis Zoo.

In addition to partners Molzan and Huse, Woollen Molzan architect Mike Brannan also joined Ratio Architects.

“I’ve known Lynn and Kevin for a number of years, and obviously they’re very talented architects,” Ratio Managing Partner Bill Browne said. “They do a lot of higher education [work], and we thought that would meld well for our clients.”

Reasons for the closure are unclear. Browne declined to comment, and neither Molzan nor Huse returned phone calls from IBJ.

Reached at his home in Colorado, firm founder Evans Woollen said he sold his interest in the firm 10 years ago, but had been informed by Molzan that it had closed.

“I am proud of 50 years of work with the firm. I cherish everything we did together,” Woollen, 83, said.  “It was a collaborative effort, and we’ve left many [designs] on the landscape.”

The recession was a likely factor in the closure, said Wayne Schmidt of local firm Schmidt Architects.

Schmidt serves as president of the Indianapolis City Market Corp., which hired Woollen Molzan last year to design the $3.4 million renovation under way at the historic structure.

“They’ve done a lot of significant work over the years, and they did a great job on the City Market project,” he said. “But, I tell you, the economy is just a wreck yet, and there’s still not enough work to go around.”

Schmidt said he was “shocked” to hear of the closing and found out through “word of mouth.” Though Woollen Molzan finished its design work at the City Market, building managers will need to hire another firm to observe construction, Schmidt said.

Woollen Molzan employed four licensed architects in 2006 and had local billings of $1.4 million, the most recent year it submitted information to IBJ. The firm had as many as nine licensed architects in the late 1990s.

Specializing mostly in libraries and religious buildings, its designs are sprinkled throughout the city. In the 1980s the firm designed additions to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, as well as renovations to Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral on Monument Circle and to the historic Union Station.

“There’s no question they’ve had a very storied career as an organization,” Browne said.

But perhaps its most notable—and controversial—project is the design of the Central Library expansion.

In 2006, Woollen Molzan agreed to pay the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library $580,000 to settle a dispute over construction problems that plagued the $150 million project.

In turn, the library paid Woollen Molzan $130,000 in fees.

The library fired the firm and sued it and others in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis related to design-flaw issues.

The architects filed a countersuit asking the court to order the library to reinstate them or prohibit the library from using the firm’s design in the new building.

The expanded Central Library reopened in December 2007, more than two years late and roughly $50 million over its original $103 million budget.

Woollen Molzan was founded by Woollen, who opened an office on Monument Circle in 1955.

In 1980, firm leaders purchased the historic Majestic Building at 47 S. Pennsylvania St., where Woollen Molzan operated for several years. It most recently was located at 600 S. Kentucky Ave. between Lucas Oil Stadium and the White River.

With $9.9 million in local billings and 22 licensed architects in 2009, Ratio is the city’s fourth-largest architectural firm, according to the most recent IBJ statistics.

 

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