AWCI's Centennial: The 1960s
“Some of us knew that we had lost the battle of trying to defeat drywall.”
The 1960s was a decade of change where everything was different, crazy and fearful. The United States went to war in Vietnam, riots shook the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, and Martin Luther King was assassinated. But it was also a time of progress. More women were working outside the family home, the first human heart transplant was in 1967, and by the end of the decade we saw the first man on the moon.
Drywall and the residential construction boom times made Marek Brothers in Houston, and residential drywall contractors elsewhere, grow quickly—10 to 15 percent annually in Marek’s case.
Commercial drywall also took off. “Builders were starting to switch the interiors of the buildings from plaster to gypsum board,” says the Marek website. Drywall firms with no experience in commercial construction started companies to serve the niche.
Drywall grew in large part because producers pushed a systems approach to sell their products. Wallboard and metal stud framing—fastened with nails, special clips and later self-drilling screws—was a golden combination.
The first cavity shaft wall system was introduced in 1968 and later would be used in the construction of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The 1960s also saw building heights soar. But the industry now had a solution—lightweight “structural” cold-formed steel framing. Wall contractors flocked to fulfill this new market demand. The self-drilling screw, patented in the 1960s, increased the speed of building the assemblies and improved the finish results.
All this good news for drywall was unwelcome in lathing and plastering circles. That segment of the industry—through local lath and plastering bureaus—wanted to preserve the status quo. So, CPLIA entered a period of refinement and reorganization.
Diversification. Chicago. Nov. 19, 1962. John W. Thomson, CPLIA president, called the morning meeting to order. Present with him were CPLIA officers, two past presidents, a member of the board of governors of the National Bureau for Lathing and Plastering Inc., and CPLIA’s executive secretary and general counsel.
Thomson began by reading a letter from Charles F. Clay, the long-time publisher of Plastering Industries, the association’s official magazine. Clay was defending why he had published in the magazine paid advertisements “from other lines of endeavor than lath and plaster,” meeting notes state. This was controversial, and a lively discussion ensued.
Somebody motioned that Clay propose a new contract with CPLIA and “use his best judgment for the good of the industry.” The motion failed to carry for lack of someone to second it.
Clay could have confined himself to plastering, but the industry was shifting, and Clay was told he needed to report on new technologies and the projects featuring them. He also needed to run ads from these manufacturers. He was told that if he ran ads from “other lines of endeavor,” the committee could find a new publisher.
But Clay was right all along. Industry contractors were diversifying.
By 1964, “the diversification controversy was running through the organization like a Western brush fire,” Construction Dimensions says. Plastering contractors, interested in profits more than defending products, “were moving into the new line[s],” the magazine says. These included drywall, metal framing, fireproofing, gypsum shaft walls and acoustical ceiling tiles.
Baker saw that the industry was bigger than lathing and plastering. Behind the scenes at CPLIA’s 1964 convention in Phoenix, Baker “drafted a resolution on diversification,” says Construction Dimensions. He was “after drywall as a service function of the association,” it says. “To his way of thinking […] contractors are better served by pursuing profits than products.”
Diversification took its final form in 1969. At the convention in Las Vegas, members resolved to change the name of the Contracting Plasterers’ and Lathers’ International Association to the international association of the Wall & Ceiling Contractors.
Five-year plan. A May 23, 1963, telephone conference call was a pivotal point in the history of CPLIA. The men on the call discussed long-term planning and hired a consultant to study the association and make recommendations.
In the end, the 77-page “Special Evaluation Study for CPLIA” had 27 recommendations, and a 1969 addendum added 13 recommendations plus 21 “gradual action” topics.
Among the recommendations, CPLIA was to inaugurate a five-year plan, “divisionalize to serve all facets of the finishing industry” and establish a new name that “refers directly to what you are.”
The study also proposed dropping “International” from CPLIA’s name—for simplicity and “to offset similarities imagined by those who connect that handle with union organizations.” It was recommend that CPLIA publish an industry roster, “Who’s Who in Construction Finishing,” a new vehicle for generating advertising revenue.
Above all, the results of the study called for CPLIA to establish “a high level Task Force or Council … named with the responsibility of sorting priorities.” That is how the Continuing Study Council (now the Continuing Study Committee) came to be. This long-range planning and strategic development group held its first meeting on Feb. 5, 1969. The Continuing Study Council would have a big effect on the association going forward—analyzing problems, setting priorities and stirring up action.
Membership declines. The association’s regional conferences established in 1959 were in full swing in the early 1960s, improving communication among members.
CPLIA was developing “local chapters … from the approximately 100 affiliated local groups … autonomous in their local organization and administration,” says the 1960 edition of “Building Science Directory,” a Building Research Institute publication produced by the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council. CPLIA had members in Australia, the British West Indies, England, Guatemala, Japan and Wales, and in five Canadian provinces and 44 U.S. states.
The membership base seemed strong, but that was not the case. The association’s membership count of 490 member companies in 1960 fell 17 percent to 405 companies in 1968. Even the associate memberships extended to manufacturers in 1960 could not prevent the association from shrinking.
In 1969 the Continuing Study Council recommended that CPLIA “carefully plan a program of membership expansion to offer all segments of the industry a home for their talents, their dreams and desires.” The council also proposed soliciting contractors in “other architectural specialty fields” so that membership would be “comprehensive” in reflecting the wall and ceiling industry.
Liaison with more unions. CPLIA did approximately 70 percent of the lathing and plastering work in the United States and Canada, hiring mechanics from the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association, Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers International Union and the Wood, Wire and Metal Lathers International Union, and laborers from the Hod Carriers International. But in 1960, CPLIA’s rapport with the unions hit a trouble spot.
In the end, the union soon worked out agreements with the Gypsum Drywall Contractors International. So did the Wood, Wire and Metal Lathers’ International. Both unions wanted to secure taping and texturing of drywall assemblies. They wanted to make “dry” wall and ceiling systems part of their jurisdiction.
Thus, CPLIA stepped up its efforts to work closely with the unions. In 1965, CPLIA concluded national agreements with the Laborers’ union. Shortly afterward, the agreement was expanded to include the Plasterers’ union. In 1969, the newly renamed iaWCC opened a liaison with the Carpenters’ union as well as the Painters’ union. This is exactly what the Continuing Study Council had said to do.
As with past decades, the right people seemed to come to GDCI and CPLIA (iaWCC) at just the right time for them to play key roles.
Pioneers of the 1960s. Here are a few GDCI and CPLIA (iaWCC) leaders who made significant contributions to the association.
Granville Waggoner of Dry Wall Company Inc., Nashville, Tenn., was GDCI president from 1960 to 1961. He helped push wallboard into becoming a staple in the Nashville homebuilding market. In 1961, nearly 99 percent of new homes had drywall interiors, he said, where they had been all plaster interiors after World War II.
John W. Thomson Jr. of John W. Thomson & Son Inc., Miami, was CPLIA president from 1962 to 1963.He was an early pioneer of industry diversification, having added acoustical tile and drywall to his company’s services. Thomson didn’t see a future for single-service contractors. General contractors wanted fewer subcontractors on their jobs, not more of them, he said.
William J. Goodson of Service Art Plastering Inc., St. Clair Shores, Mich., served as CPLIA president from 1966 to 1967. At Goodson’s urging, CPLIA opened talks with GDCI officials in 1967.
Jeremiah Burns of Jeremiah Burns Inc., New York, N.Y., served as CPLIA president from 1967 to 1968. Among his achievements, Burns co-chaired the National Joint Apprenticeship Committee of the Lathing Industry and founded the Northeast Bureau for Lathing and Plastering.
When Bill C. Carroll of Albuquerque was CPLIA president in 1969, he got approval from CPLIA’s board of directors “to establish a Foundation for the benefit of all who wanted to learn more about our industry.” Carroll, Joe M. Baker Jr., John W. Thomson and J. Munroe McNulty raised money in Chicago for what would eventually become the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry.
GDCI grew steadily in power during the 1960s. CPLIA promoted lathing and plastering services but ended the decade as the all-encompassing international association of the Wall & Ceiling Contractors. The new direction for industry contractors was diversification. GDCI and CPLIA (iaWCC) were aligning. And a new organizational element—the Continuing Study Council—was shaking things up at CPLIA (iaWCC). How would the Continuing Study Council, a no-nonsense group fighting for the good of the wall and ceiling industry, play out? And what would become of two associations courting the same unions, manufacturers, distributors and contractors?