Virginia architect Walter Wildman died late last year on Dec. 2, 2020. Wildman’s daughter Ellen Wildman shares this remembrance of his impact.

“Dad always said he never wanted to be wealthy as an architect. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives through his work.”

Photo of architect Walter Wildman

Dad developed an interest in art and architecture at an early age. He exhibited extraordinary talent as early as elementary school and by the time he was in high school, Barclay Sheaks, a renowned artist and dad’s art teacher, encouraged him to study architecture in college.

He was accepted at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in on a track scholarship. He was also a very talented sprinter —running under the 10 second mark in the 100-yard dash. His track career came to a screeching halt when he was hit by a drunk driver. After a long hospital stay and recovery, dad transferred to UVA to pursue his architecture degree. He graduated first in his class at UVA and would return over the years to serve in various capacities there.

Upon graduation he worked for Forrest Coile and Associates. He’d been working summers there, interning under Forrest “Frosty” Coile’s guidance since high school. He later founded his own firm with partners Nelson Rancorn and Stanley Krause called Rancorn Wildman Krause. The firm would secure more than 3,000 commissions in its more than 50 years of operation.

Virginia Air and Space Center. Photo by  Jeff Goldberg/Esto
Virginia Air and Space Center as it appeared In Inform Magazine, 1992, Issue 3. Photo by Jeff Goldberg/Esto.

One of his most notable works was the Virginia Air and Space Center [PDF – Inform, 1992, Issue 3]. Mr. John Lawson, with W. M. Jordan, played a key role in the complex assembly and placement of the arched steel beams as well as the coordination of the intricate details of the building. He and dad shared extensive collaboration on this project. He also worked on Hampton City Hall, city jails, museums, libraries, schools, churches [PDF – Virginia Record, December, 1981], homes, and many historic preservation projects.

Another significant collaboration in Newport News was with Liebherr. Dad traveled to Europe to meet with them, and he and Mr. Lawson brought this industry model for manufacturing facilities to the Hampton Roads region.

He also designed many schools in the state and developed a model that allowed for two wings of education and the center being the gathering point for library cafeteria and activities. Heritage High School and Woodside High School were two early models for this concept.