AWCI's Centennial: The 1970s
“I suggest we get on with it.”
The 1970s was the decade of Watergate, Vietnam and a string of Hollywood disaster movies. They was inflationary, and bad economics pointed to a government at fault for financing huge deficits.
Consolidation. Industry consolidation was the topic of the day. Talk of a merger of two associations—one representing plastering contractors, the other drywall contractors—had been brewing since the 1960s. Some contractors wanted nothing to do with it. They felt being specialized, not generalized, had value. As they saw it, combining two associations would create one big, bureaucratic beast.
On July 1, 1976, the international association of the Wall & Ceiling Contractors merged with the Gypsum Drywall Contractors International, creating the most comprehensive wall and ceiling association in the world. It was called iaWCC/GDCI. Three years later, it was renamed the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industries—International. (The letter “I” from “International” was overlooked in the official AWCI acronym in 1976. The name was shortened in 2005 to the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, but the acronym AWCI remained unchanged.)
Spread of metal framing. Engineers used cold-formed steel to develop the low-rise and mid-rise building markets. Steel studs and joists could form a complete structural framework and bear the building’s entire load. “Buildings as tall as four or more stories are now possible,” Construction Dimensions said. Cold-formed steel systems spread throughout the country.
Rise of the modern distributor. Drywall had become a project staple. So had metal studs, self-drilling screws, plasters with lightweight aggregate additives, mechanical pumps, spray guns, fireproofing, suspended ceiling grid and acoustical ceiling tile. The progressive distributor had to diversify and carry these product categories. A flatbed truck hauling bag goods could no longer keep up. The industry’s distributors had to become building materials suppliers.
The long-range plan. The three-person staff in Washington, D.C., was overworked. President Thomas J. McGlone had hired a consultant to study CPLIA’s (iaWCC’s) budget, bylaws and operations in 1970. Recommendations included hiring a bookkeeper and bringing the association’s magazine in-house.
Meeting notes from the early 1970s show the Continuing Study Council absorbed with the matter of diversification. By that time, Plastering Industries had been renamed Walls & Ceilings by CPLIA’s board. The new official publication veered, however, from its intended communications goals. “We unhappily find our so-called official publication, Walls & Ceilings magazine … definitely does not represent iaWCC,” said a 1972 report.
Hence, long-range planning did not begin until late 1972, and it was presented to members at the 58th annual convention in 1975. The plan had 15 actionable categories: communications, conventions, continuing education, labor relations, manufacturer relations, public relations, safety and technical information services to name a few.
“Optimism about this consolidation.” Eleven contractors representing two wall and ceiling associations had completed the final points of their agreement to merge. Lathing, plastering and drywall contractors were formally united on Saturday morning, May 15, 1976. While the history of the merger of the international association of the Wall & Ceiling Contractors and the Gypsum Drywall Contractors International dates to the 1960s, the new association, iaWCC/GDCI, wouldn’t become official until July 2, 1976.
In the end, the consolidation of iaWCC and GDCI was a success. A survey of the membership reported in the April 1978 Executive Committee minutes showed that consolidation had received an 86 percent favorable rating.
Charles F. Clay of Seattle worked nearly three decades as editor and publisher of the association’s official magazines, Plastering Industries and Walls & Ceilings. In 1975, iaWCC awarded him the E.F. Venzie Award posthumously.
Reed served as GDCI president from 1968 to 1969, Krafft was iaWCC president from 1973 to 1974. At the annual convention in 1975, Krafft was given a standing ovation for his consolidation efforts, and Reed was given special recognition for his role in the iaWCC and GDCI merger. Both tried to bring the two groups together early. They didn’t let initial failures to consolidate discourage them, but kept pressing forward.
Vito J. Arsena, president of Acme-Arsena Company Inc., Cleveland, was iaWCC/GDCI president from 1976 to 1977. He told Construction Dimensions in 1975 that change in the industry was just beginning. “There is a whole new concept of contracting being formed, and it’s in its infancy—package bidding, total concept bidding, performance specs, a complete interior-exterior combined into one related area,” he said. The key to success, Arsena said, was being financially responsible and sound: “We’re no longer in the old horse and buggy days of faith and trust,” he said.
“Diversification is an effective response under any conditions,” said Vernon L. Raymer of Delta Drywall in 1977. “But it should be rational, planned diversification, not a panic response.” Raymer spoke for many. Most firms had been mere plastering contractors or drywall contractors in the 1960s. Now they were interior and exterior finishing contractors. They could take jobs from the slab on up, and they were growing. The next decade would help them—and AWCI—attain new levels of success.