By Frank Quine
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – So how did a small and nondescript 1950s brick rambler on Adelphi Road become the epicenter of a national watchdog journalism magazine, a national journalism center devoted to at-risk children, a $2 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Association of Black Journalists?
It all began in 1993. The highly regarded national magazine American Journalism Review, published monthly by the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism, operated from a commercial office high-rise on Route 1 in College Park. AJR sought to reduce its rental expenses and also seek a closer affiliation with the university. Journalism Dean Reese Cleghorn learned of a vacant house on Adelphi Road, near the university golf course, that had been a gift to Maryland in 1991 by the Hugh R. Humphrey family. University records don’t contain background on the Humphreys or why the home was donated, but it naturally became known as The Humphrey House. In time, it was referred to as just The House.
AJR Editor and Senior Vice President Rem Rieder recalled that he thought Cleghorn and Assistant Dean Frank Quine “had lost their minds” when the three of them checked out the house on a covert scouting expedition one Monday morning. There were seven mattresses on the living room floor for the seven post-doctoral students living there, and the house was strewn with fast food trash. One student there was drinking a beer. “It was like a refugee camp,” said Quine, “but we envisioned how this could work.” The senior vice presidential side of editor Rieder’s brain clicked in when Quine told him rent at the university-owned house was a steal compared with the Route 1 offices. And the house, with its full-service kitchen, a deck out back and the addition of some new office partitions — minus mattresses and trash — would convert nicely into a magazine publishing work space.
“This was probably the only time I seriously thought about quitting,” said AJR art director Lisa Reynolds in a 2002 article celebrating the magazine’s 25th anniversary. “The staff was in a simple suburban office setting and then they were telling us we were going to move into this dilapidated, rundown, hippie grad student den of iniquity….with a Bob Marley poster still hanging on the wall!”
But Reynolds recanted later. “Working in the tacky house, replete with a long wooden bar in the knotty pine basement, the much-loved deck overlooking the backyard, Rieder’s art-deco bathroom off his master bedroom office and a homeless guy living in the nearby woods – turned out to be the most wonderful experience,” she said.
“I’m told the staff at first hated the idea, and there was even talk of mutiny,” said Rieder, AJR’s editor for more than 21 years, who today is media columnist and senior editor for enterprise and media coverage at USA Today. “But once we moved in, everyone loved it. Given the venue and the collection of characters, I used to say it wasn’t so much a job as a TV sit-com. A daily staff custom for awhile involved Xeroxing The Post crossword puzzle and everyone doing it the same time at the kitchen table. The 6 p.m. beers on the deck became a sacred ritual. I’ve learned that many staff hangovers were slept off on my couch when I wasn’t in the office. Special occasions were celebrated at the Golden Bull, the classic ‘50s restaurant nearby with the big golden bull on the roof.”
The basement of The House, however, was a completely different story. The College launched a national organization, The Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore. With no place in the Journalism Building to house the Center, Cleghorn designated space in the basement for founding director Cathy Trost and her assistant Lori Robertson.
“The basement was awful,” recalled Robertson. “I hate, hate, hate bugs. Cathy, who had written a big series for the Wall Street Journal on chemicals used in pesticides, was against any kind of bug-killing agent. She mercifully moved me upstairs later, where Rem had an AJR vacancy, to share an office with one of our student interns.”
Robertson said she stopped at the landing of the foot of the stairs to the basement every morning to survey the bug situation. She noted “jumping cockroach things” that sat upside down on the ceiling. One day, she found a large waterbug in her Rolodex. “That long bar down there, and the black and white tile on the floor, were cool but we never really used the bar as a bar. Beers after work with the awesome people upstairs were either on the deck or in the kitchen.”
Tom Kunkel succeeded Cleghorn as dean in 2000, but before that he was the contract editor of a monumental, two-year AJR series on “The State of the American Newspaper.” It featured leading journalists and media analysts as authors and was funded by a $2 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Again, there was no room in the campus Journalism Building, so Cleghorn and Rieder deposited Kunkel IN THE HUMPHREY HOUSE BASEMENT. Kunkel operated out in the open, at a small desk in the corner, down from the Casey Center. The light there was somewhat better for his computer editing work but the infestations were just as bad.
Kunkel, currently president of St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisc., remembered being lodged next to the Coke machine at the end of the bar. “For about an hour, it made me reflect on the passage I had reached in my illustrious career, but once I got used to it, it was fine. There was a nice little area just outside the basement back door and I did slip out there regularly to read and edit some of those manuscripts. And, yes, there were lots of bugs down there. But to a guy, that was part of the appeal.”
Rieder, noted for spotting journalism staff talent during his newspaper days, appointed Robertson assistant managing editor of AJR in 1998, assuring her of a permanent upstairs position in The House. In that same year, the opportunity arose for the magazine to be housed on campus in the Journalism Building. No more summer barbeques and Christmas parties, no more crickets in the basement or snakes in the driveway, and the location was much closer to journalism students who served as the pool for AJR’s valuable interns.
A final journalism school link to the house was the National Association of Black Journalists. The 3,000-member organization had become affiliated with the College and the University. NABJ had moved from Reston, Virginia, to former faculty offices on the top floor of a campus building (Taliaferro Hall, pronounced “Tolliver”) that had no elevator. With The House upstairs now vacant, Kunkel had another idea for NABJ’s headquarters space: A ‘50s brick rambler on Adelphi road that had been converted into efficient offices and that could accommodate everyone from NABJ upstairs. The basement – which the Casey Center vacated a short while later for commercial off-campus space in College Park — would be utilized only for NABJ storage and archival records; the bar stayed, but the party deck out back was tilting dangerously and had to be demolished. NABJ Membership Manager Veronique Dodson was involved with the move to Adelphi and recalled that the kitchen stove had to be removed to make room for the copy machine. NABJ operated out of The House until 2010, when it moved to its current location on the modern and spacious third floor of the Merrill College of Journalism’s new $30 million building, John S. and James L. Knight Hall.
By the summer of 2014, The House had fallen into disrepair, its future uncertain, with University Facilities Management trucks frequently parked out front during maintenance and repair projects. The massive U.S. Archives II complex, the National Archives at College Park, had been built next door, between The House and the university golf course, and the land The House sat on had become far more valuable than the premises. But memories abound about the years that Mr. Humphrey’s former family resident housed a storied series of national journalism operations.
SPJ Distinguished Service winner Frank Quine by Elizabeth Jia
About Frank Quine
Frank Quine spent 23 years at the Merrill College as development director, assistant dean and as vice president of the American Journalism Review, the national magazine published by the College. In 2014 – he returned for a three month tour as acting Development Officer until a new DO could be chosen.
In his final four years at Maryland, he helped coordinate the fundraising, design, construction and opening of the $30 million Knight Hall, the new home of the college. Upon the completion of the hall, Quine pushed for the prominent relocation of the MDDC Newspaper Hall of Fame into Knight Hall.
Quine came to Maryland in 1988 after 18 years with the executive staff of the American Press Institute in Reston, V. He joined API – the U.S. and Canadian newspaper industry’s management training and career-development center – in 1969 as an associate director at its Columbia University facility. He was named managing director of API in 1977 and was overall director and CEO of the Institute from 1979-87. Quine planned and conducted 92 seminars for editors, department heads and publishing executives.