Commercial and Institutional Designs by the Horace Trumbauer Architectural Firm
Although architect Horace Trumbauer forged his reputation at the end of the nineteenth century with his grand homes for wealthy financiers and industrialists, he and his staff of designers also planned numerous other types of structures. From simple mill and office buildings to churches, railroad stations, hotels, skyscrapers, and educational and cultural buildings, Trumbauer and his team erected many significant commercial and institutional buildings in the Philadelphia area and throughout the United States.
In 1895, he branched out, building several structures at Willow Grove Amusement Park including the famous Music Pavilion. Through this commission, Trumbauer met his greatest benefactors, the intertwined Widener and Elkins families, whose rapid transit company financed the park. Situated at the end of a trolley line, the park provided weekend riders for a transit system that primarily carried weekday commuters. Over the next four decades, Trumbauer designed several mansions and other important buildings for the Wideners and Elkins.
Peter A. B. Widener, the patriarch of the Widener family, was also instrumental in the selection of Trumbauer to design the Free Library's central building as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on which he collaborated with the firm of Zantzinger, Borie & Medary between 1911 and 1928. One of the most important commissions from the families came in 1912 when Eleanor Elkins Widener retained Trumbauer to design a main library for Harvard University as a memorial to her son Harry Elkins Widener, a Free Library trustee who had died in the Titanic disaster earlier that year. Trumbauer's only other library commission, Harvard's classical Widener Library opened with a solemn ceremony on June 24, 1915.
Trumbauer's association with the Widener and Elkins families led to commissions from their wealthy and powerful associates in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere. For example, Peter A. B. Widener introduced business associate and founder of the American Tobacco Company James B. Duke to Trumbauer. For Duke, Trumbauer not only erected city and country homes, but also designed Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Trumbauer and his long-time chief designer Julian Abele, who completed the firm's work at Duke after Trumbauer's death in 1938, planned the east campus in the Georgian style between 1925 and 1927 and the west campus in the Gothic style between 1926 and 1939. One of America's greatest college campuses, Duke is a Trumbauer masterpiece.
More than any other neighborhood, Trumbauer and his staff left their mark on the area around Philadelphia's City Hall. In the Center City area alone, they built more than 40 structures including several large hotels, apartment and office buildings, and homes for cultural institutions. In 1901, the architect designed his first major building in the neighborhood, the urbane St. James Apartments at Thirteenth and Walnut Streets, an eclectic, Beaux-Arts influenced apartment house for the city's elite. At the same time, Trumbauer collaborated with famous Chicago architect Daniel Burnham on the second Land Title Building, a classically ornamented skyscraper at Broad and Sansom Streets. A few years later, he built the first of several buildings, a maternity ward, for Hahnemann Hospital. During the second half of the first decade of the century, he erected two important club buildings in the neighborhood, the brick Georgian style Racquet Club (1906) on Seventeenth between Walnut and Locust Streets and the French-inspired Union League Annex (1909) on Fifteenth Street at Sansom.
Trumbauer also designed numerous important buildings for the neighborhood during the second decade of the century. In 1912 he planned the high-rise Adelphia Hotel for the northeast corner of Thirteenth and Chestnut Streets. The next year, he and his staff designed the Stock Exchange on Walnut Street west of Broad. To house the exchange and offices, Trumbauer planned a sophisticated, tripartite building with discernable base, middle, and capital; in the middle section, he frankly revealed the underlying steel frame while simultaneously dematerializing the brick infill with texturing. Two years later, Trumbauer employed innovative cast concrete ornamentation for his elegant, French classical Widener Building on South Penn Square. Not long before the United States entered the World War, Trumbauer and his designers planned the impressive, classical Beneficial Savings Fund Society building (1916) at Twelfth and Chestnut Streets. Almost unchanged in nine decades, Beneficial Savings Fund Society building, which shares many details with the Free Library's central building, is perhaps the best preserved Trumbauer building in the city.
In the 1920s, as Trumbauer's emphasis shifted further from grand residential commissions to commercial and institutional commissions, he erected sundry buildings in Center City. Adding to his many buildings south of City Hall, he constructed the utilitarian, high-rise Bankers' Trust Office Building (1922) on the northeast corner of Juniper and Walnut Streets and the Albert M. Greenfield Building (1925, demolished) at 1313 Walnut Street. To the east, Trumbauer built two major buildings, the Georgian style Public Ledger Building (1923), a headquarters for the important daily newspaper, at Sixth and Chestnut Streets and the enormous Ben Franklin Hotel (1925) at Ninth and Chestnut Streets. To the west, in addition to completing the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Trumbauer and his staff erected several buildings including the sleek Le Chateau Hotel (1928), a skyscraper with Gothic ornament at Nineteenth and Locust Streets on Rittenhouse Square. In the late 1920s, Trumbauer also designed a towering station for the B & O Railroad on Market Street along the east bank of the Schuylkill River, but the station was never built.
Toward the end of his career, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Trumbauer experimented with a modern style based on the soaring vertical lines of Gothic cathedrals and popularized by illustrator Hugh Ferriss, who sketched enigmatic, looming skyscrapers. Relaxing his steadfast commitment to historical styles, he designed two major hospital buildings in Center City in this modern, vertical style, the Hahnemann Medical College building (1927, now called the South Tower) at 230 North Broad Street and the Jefferson Hospital Curtis Clinic (1930) on Walnut west of Tenth Street.
Despite this turn toward a modern style of design, the Trumbauer firm is best remembered for its elegant, dignified buildings in revival styles, especially an eclectic style based on a Beaux-Arts reinterpretation of the classical vocabulary.
Abele | Trumbauer | Residential | Whitemarsh Hall | Commercial