The Architects and the Trumbauer Firm
Horace Trumbauer established his architectural firm in 1890.
He erected buildings throughout the United States: Saint Catherine's Chapel (1901) in Spring Lake, New Jersey, the Hotel Pere Marquette (1925) in Peoria, Illinois, and the New York Evening Post Building (1925). However the vast majority of his buildings were designed for Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. In the greater Philadelphia area, Trumbauer erected several hundred buildings, from modest suburban homes to towering skyscrapers. Two of the most important are the Reading Railroad's imposing, classical station (1928) on Broad Street in North Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania's English medieval style Irvine Auditorium (1929).
In 1906 He recruited the accomplished young architect, Julian Abele, to join him. Over the ensuing 30 years Abele grew into the chief designer and primary consultant for the firm. During those decades, leading up to the Stock Market crash in 1929, as the city's business district shifted west from the Independence Hall neighborhood to Broad Street, Trumbauer and his talented designers, especially Abele, erected dozens of offices, homes, hotels, clubs, and cultural institutions for the city's burgeoning business class in the area.
Like William Penn, who devised Philadelphia's grid plan in the late seventeenth century, and Edmund Bacon, who led the drives to redevelop Penn Center and Market East after World War II, Horace Trumbauer and his gifted associates played a critical role creating the modern skyline around Philadelphia's City Hall. Perhaps more than any other architects, Trumbauer and Abele defined the Philadelphia cityscape we experience today.
Julian F. Abele, Architect
Julian Francis Abele, the first African American graduate of the architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania, received scant recognition during his lifetime despite his many significant contributions. Although Fiske Kimball, a noted architectural historian and the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, acknowledged that Abele was "certainly one of the most sensitive designers anywhere in America" in 1942, the pioneering African American architect remained virtually unknown outside Philadelphia's architectural community until the 1970s and 1980s. Today we appreciate Abele as one of the early twentieth-century's most adept designers of revival buildings, who rejuvenated many long-dormant styles as vital, modern forms of architectural expression.
Born in Philadelphia in 1881, Abele lived most of his life in the city. He resided at 718 South Twenty-first Street and 1911 Fitzwater Street before moving to 1515 Christian Street, his home for several decades. As a boy, he attended the Institute for Colored Youth and Brown Preparatory School. An accomplished student, at his commencement from the Institute for Colored Youth he delivered a speech entitled "The Role of Art in Negro Life" and was awarded a $15 prize for being the best student in mathematics. In 1898, he attended the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, the progenitor of both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of the Arts. A student in the evening class at the school, Abele won the Graff Prize for Architectural Design at his commencement.
That same year, he enrolled in the prestigious architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania. Completing his B.S. degree in 1902, Abele was the first African American to graduate from the university's architecture program. Nicknamed "Willing and Able" during his college days, he excelled, winning several impressive awards and serving as the president of the university's Architectural Society during his senior year. His first executed designs, dating to 1901, included a commemorate tablet for the University of Pennsylvania and a memorial gateway for Haverford College.
After his tenure at the University of Pennsylvania, Abele augmented his education, studying architectural design at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts during the 1902-1903 academic year. While still a student, Abele, who was listed in the Philadelphia city directory as an architect as early as 1901, worked in the evenings for the noted Philadelphia architect Louis C. Hickman. During the first years of the century, Abele displayed his architectural designs at major exhibitions including those at the T Square Club in Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh Architectural Club, the Toronto Architectural Club, and the Architectural League of New York. After leaving the Hickman architectural office in 1903, he traveled extensively. During this period, he designed a house in Spokane, Washington for his sister Elizabeth Rebecca Abele Cook, who had married John F. Cook, II in Washington, D.C. and then moved west. In 1904 and 1905, Abele listed his address as Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where Cook served as the Postmaster General.
Student drawings from this period:
During the middle of the decade, Abele traveled to Europe, where he experienced firsthand the architecture of eighteenth-century France, which he would favor throughout his career. Many report that Abele studied architecture while in Paris during this period. For example, Helena Fenessey, the stepdaughter of Horace Trumbauer, the architect for whom Abele worked for more than three decades, recounted that her stepfather sent Abele, the "brilliant young architectural student … to study at the Sorbonne in Europe." On the other hand, Abele's family members report that Trumbauer funded Abele's study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the most renowned architecture school in the world at the time. Contradicting these reports, researchers have discovered no evidence of Abele's matriculation in any formal program in Paris. It is possible, though, given the structure of the Ecole, that he informally attended one of the many ateliers associated with the prestigious institution.
After three years of travel and discovery, Abele returned to Philadelphia, where, excepting short trips to Europe and elsewhere, he would remain until his death in 1950. In 1906, Horace Trumbauer recruited the accomplished young architect to work at his prestigious Philadelphia architectural firm, which was known for its elegant homes for America's elite. In the mid 1880s, at 16 years of age, Trumbauer entered the architecture profession as an apprentice at G. W. and W. D. Hewitt's firm in Philadelphia. In 1890, he set out on his own. Soon afterward, he landed his first significant commission, "Grey Towers" (now Arcadia College), a castle-like mansion in Glenside, Pennsylvania for sugar baron William Welsh Harrison. Within a few years, Trumbauer's firm was flourishing. Until the stock market crashed in 1929, Trumbauer enjoyed what his stepdaughter called "the big money years." In the late winter of 1906, when Abele entered Trumbauer's organization, the firm was booming, designing not only mansions for the rich in Philadelphia, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island, but also apartment houses and other large structures. Over the next decades, Trumbauer and his staff would add office and school buildings, theaters, hospitals, clubhouses, churches, libraries, museums, and other building types to their ever-expanding repertoire.
Within a year of joining Trumbauer in 1906, Abele, who served as chief designer Frank Seeburger's assistant, had proved himself a valued member of the firm. In 1907, when Warren Powers Laird, the head of the architecture program at the University of Pennsylvania, asked if Trumbauer would release Abele from his contract to take a job in California, the architect curtly replied: "I, of course,would not want to lose Mr. Abele." In 1909, Seeburger, Trumbauer's chief designer, left the firm, first to practice on his own and then to form a longstanding partnership with architect Charles Rabenold. Following Seeburger's departure, Abele, who was remembered by friends as "slight, always immaculately dressed, with a well trimmed mustache," ascended to the firm's top position, chief designer, a remarkable accomplishment in light of his age and race.
In his private life, Abele was a quiet, serious man. Friends and family reported that he was a "firm Republican" and was religious but did not go to church. He married Marguerite Bulle, a French woman, and had two children, a son Julian Jr. and daughter Nadia.
After several years, the marriage dissolved and the couple parted, but they never divorced. From his youth, Abele appreciated all things French and, as an adult, became a connoisseur of wine. He also enjoyed classical music and opera and frequented the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. A sports fan, he held season tickets to the University of Pennsylvania football games, which he attended with Louis Magaziner and his son Henry. He dressed smartly and, as a friend noted, even while on vacation at the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey "always wore his suit to the boardwalk. He always looked very debonair." At home, he practiced many arts and crafts including watercolor painting, lithography, etching, sketching, and jewelry and furniture making. A dedicated Francophile, he decorated his home at 1515 Christian Street in an elegant French style.
During the three decades from 1909 to 1938, while serving as Trumbauer's chief designer, Abele honed his sophisticated style on the designs for dozens of important residential, civic, and commercial landmarks including the Central library building of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Noting his importance to the firm, Trumbauer's stepdaughter remembered that Abele "became invaluable in consultation" with her father. Fiske Kimball, the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was designed by Trumbauer's firm in collaboration with Zantzinger, Borie & Medary, appreciated Abele as Trumbauer's "right-hand man and designer." Collaborating closely with his employer, the "brilliant and witty" Abele once stated that the "lines are all Mr. Trumbauer's, but the shadows are all mine." Although, as Valentine Burkhart Lee, an architect on the Trumbauer staff, reported, Abele's "race was never discussed or thought about in the firm," the talented designer did in fact remain in the shadows outside the firm. Beyond the walls of the Trumbauer office, the gifted African American architect was little known due to his race. One must wonder why he was not elected to the American Institute of Architects until 1942, even though he had been an acclaimed designer for nearly four decades. After Trumbauer's death in 1938, Abele signed his own designs for the first time in his professional life, but never received the credit he deserved for his numerous noteworthy projects. At his death in 1950, few knew that architect Julian F. Abele had forever changed Philadelphia's skyline and, more generally, American architecture.
Horace Trumbauer (1868 – 1938)
Born in the Frankford section of Philadelphia in 1868, Horace Trumbauer quit school at age fourteen to enter the architecture profession as an errand boy at G. W. and W. D. Hewitt's prominent Philadelphia firm. Advancing quickly, he was soon promoted to draftsman. After accumulating valuable experience, in 1890 he set out on his own, opening an office at 310 Chestnut Street. According to Trumbauer historian Frederick Platt, the architect received $171.75 for his first commission, a house near Narberth, Pennsylvania for Mrs. A. M. Walker. Soon afterward, he landed his first major commission, designing a mansion in Glenside for sugar baron William Welsh Harrison. When Harrison's mansion burned to the ground in 1893, the businessman again commissioned Trumbauer, who created Grey Towers (now part of Arcadia University), an enormous, crenellated, castle-like mansion that marks the architect's ascendance to prominence in the profession.
Within a few years of completing Grey Towers, Trumbauer's firm, which became known for its elegant homes for America's elite, was flourishing. For several decades, until the stock market crashed in 1929, Trumbauer enjoyed what his stepdaughter called "the big money years." In the 1890s, Trumbauer, chief designer Frank Seeburger, and the other members of the growing office planned large country houses for the wealthy, smaller suburban houses for developers like Wendell & Smith, the creators of Overbrook Farms, and even several buildings for Willow Grove Amusement Park. While working at the amusement park, Trumbauer developed lucrative relationships with its proprietors, the Widener and Elkins families, for whom he would complete numerous important commissions. Significantly, traction magnate Peter A. B. Widener, the family patriarch and vice president of the Free Library's Board of Trustees, was instrumental in Trumbauer's receipt of the main Free Library commission in 1911.
In 1903, Trumbauer married Sara Thomson Williams. For his new family, which included Sara's daughter Agnes Helena, Trumbauer erected a home in the Wynnefield section, on the western edge of the city. There, he enjoyed gardening and collecting architecture books and antiques. In the first years of the new century, Trumbauer's firm expanded its scope, designing not only mansions for the rich in Philadelphia, New York City, and Newport, Rhode Island, but also apartment houses and other large structures. The first, the St. James Apartments on the southeast corner of Thirteenth and Chestnut Streets, was erected in 1902.
Over the next decades, Trumbauer and his staff, who executed more than one thousand commissions, would add office and school buildings, theaters, hospitals, club houses, churches, libraries, museums, and other building types to their ever expanding repertoire. By 1904, when the prominent Architectural Record published a lengthy account of Trumbauer's work, the self-educated architect had become one of the country's most distinguished. Yet, because he worked exclusively in period styles, reviving the architecture of distant times and places, Trumbauer's celebrity did not persist into the mid twentieth century, when critics enamored with European Modernism valued architecture that renounced all historical precedents.
After World War I and the completion of Whitemarsh Hall, Edward T. Stotesbury's tremendous palace outside Philadelphia, Trumbauer built fewer mansions for the nouveau riche. In this period, his commission list included growing numbers of office buildings like the Public Ledger Building, hotels like the colossal Ben Franklin and Chateau Crillon, and medical buildings like Jefferson Hospital's Curtis Clinic and Hahneman Medical College. With collaborators Zantzinger, Borie & Medary, he also erected the magnificent Philadelphia Museum of Art. Among his most important commissions of the period was the Gothic Revival Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina.
With changing tastes and the Great Depression, Trumbauer's practice dwindled in the 1930s and his staff fell from a high of about 30 members to his longtime associate Julian Abele and a few others. Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, Trumbauer died on September 18, 1938. Honorary pallbearers at his funeral included George D. and Joseph E. Widener, architect Charles L. Borie Jr., eminent art dealer Joseph Duveen, and Duke University's Frank C. Brown. Denigrated by modernists for his preference for revival styles, Trumbauer, one of the most accomplished architects of the Gilded Age, was neither appreciated nor understood until the end of the twentieth century, when architects and historians looked back and explored their rich heritage.
Residential Designs by the Horace Trumbauer Architectural Firm
During his illustrious, half-century career, architect Horace Trumbauer planned hundreds of residences, from modest suburban houses to sprawling country estates. In the quarter-century leading up to World War I, he cemented his reputation as one of the premier Gilded Age architects, designing dozens of the country's most exquisite and extravagant mansions for captains of industry and finance. After the war, he built fewer residences, large and small, as his practice shifted to commercial and institutional commissions.
Trumbauer opened his architectural office in 1890. According to noted Trumbauer historian Frederick Platt, Mrs. A. M. Walker was the first to commission a design from the young architect. In the spring of 1890, she employed him to plan a modest house for a suburban neighborhood near Narberth, Pennsylvania. When the job was complete, Trumbauer charged $171.75 for his services plus $7.00 for travel.
Following the inaugural commission for Mrs. Walker, Trumbauer planned numerous suburban homes for middle-class clients during the 1890s. Among these, he designed several houses for developers Wendell & Smith for their Philadelphia-area planned communities in Germantown, Wayne, St. Davids, and Overbrook. Typical of his work of this period are two designs for the Overbrook Farms development, one for an eclectic style house with Queen Anne, Romanesque, and Norman influences and the other for a house in the style of contemporary British architect C. F. A. Voysey. These designs were published in the American Architect and Building News in 1893. Although ornamented with details from various historical periods, the designs were nonetheless modern.
Trumbauer combined simple geometric forms in a quiet harmony, eschewing the cluttered, almost frenetic assemblages common to the Victorian era. As he matured as an architect and designed larger and larger homes, Trumbauer continued to develop a noble, classical architecture that was predicated on his discerning sense of form and proportion.
Trumbauer's big break came in 1893, while only 24 years of age, when he designed his first great country estate, a mansion for sugar baron William W. Harrison. Two years earlier he had renovated a house for Harrison in Glenside, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill neighborhood. After the renovated house burned in January 1893, the sugar producer commissioned Trumbauer to design Grey Towers, a much larger house for the same site. Drawing on his experiences in the mid-1880s while working on the design of Drum Moir, a castle-like mansion for Henry Howard Houston, Trumbauer produced a design for a crenelated mansion based on an English castle. Unlike most of his later works, which were orderly and balanced, Grey Towers is a jagged, asymmetrical pile based on medieval precedents. With 40 rooms, many of which were decorated in various French historical styles by the renowned Parisian firm Allard et Fils, Grey Towers was one of the largest residences in the United States. The noteworthy mansion, which was purchased by Beaver College (recently renamed Arcadia University) in 1929, catapulted Trumbauer to fame.
Capitalizing on the notoriety of Grey Towers, Trumbauer designed the first of a complex of mansions for the intertwined Widener and Elkins families in Elkins Park, directly north of the Philadelphia border at the end of Broad Street. The patriarchs of the two families, Peter A. B. Widener and William L. Elkins were business partners, in-laws, trustees, and great supporters of the Free Library of Philadelphia. When completed, the complex of five mansions and numerous subsidiary buildings, including a polo grounds, would form the most exquisite neighborhood in the entire Delaware Valley.
Trumbauer erected Chelten House, a half-timber Elizabethan mansion, in 1896 for George W. Elkins, the son of the family patriarch. Chelten House burned in 1908 and Trumbauer rebuilt it the following year. For George W. Elkins's daughter Stella and her husband George F. Tyler, Trumbauer erected Georgian Terrace, a mansion south of Chelten House, in 1905. Georgian Terrace now serves as the main building of Temple University's Tyler School of Fine Arts.
For the patriarch William L. Elkins, in 1898 Trumbauer designed Elstowe Manor, an Italian Renaissance style palace as grand as any home in the United States. Parisian interior designers Allard et Fils decorated Elstowe Manor's 45 rooms in elegant French styles with exquisite woods, marbles, and other luxurious materials. Together, Chelten House and Elstowe Manor now form a Dominican retreat.
Adjacent to the Elkins family mansions, Trumbauer built a vast complex of buildings on the Widener family's 300-acre estate. For Peter A. B. Widener, the family patriarch, Trumbauer designed and erected Lynnewood Hall between 1897 and 1900. At the same time, the architect converted
Widener's former mansion at the corner of Broad and Girard Streets in North Philadelphia into the Josephine H. Widener Memorial Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Several years later, Widener presided over Trumbauer's selection as the architect of the central library building.
Lynnewood Hall was one of the most imposing, magnificent residences in America when completed in 1900. Based on Prior Park, a mid eighteenth-century Palladian Revival palace in Bath, England designed by John Wood the Elder, the 110-room mansion provided a dignified setting for Widener's famous art collection, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Surrounded by an iron fence one mile in length, the mansion and its formal French garden, which was landscaped by Jacques Gréber between 1914 and 1916, was an incredible accomplishment for an architect who was not 30 years of age when the planning began. For decades after the completion of Lynnewood Hall, Trumbauer added myriad out buildings to the estate including barns, stables, and cottages.
The most important of these was Ronaele Manor, a Tudor Revival mansion. Between 1923 and 1926, Trumbauer designed and constructed the mansion with 60 rooms and 28 chimneys for Widener's granddaughter Eleanor Widener and her husband Fitz Eugene Dixon. Much of the southern section of the Widener estate, which was known as Lynnewood Farm, was developed as an apartment complex in the 1950s. Sadly, today Lynnewood Hall lies in ruins and is threatened with demolition.
The wealthy Widener and Elkins families recommended Trumbauer's burgeoning architecture firm to their friends and associates. Several commissioned the favored architect. For example, coal millionaire Edward J. Berwind, who had collaborated with Widener on the financing of the New York City subway system, commissioned Trumbauer to design The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island at the turn of the century. Based on the mid eighteenth-century French Château d'Asnières outside Paris, The Elms was one of the most exquisite vacation villas in Newport, a gathering place for the country's rich and powerful. Purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1962 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996, The Elms is one of only a few Trumbauer residences open to the public.
During the teens, Trumbauer designed Miramar, a grand French classical vacation villa in Newport, for Eleanor Elkins Widener. Widener summered at Miramar with her second husband Alexander Hamilton Rice, the son of a former Massachusetts governor. She met Rice in 1915 at the dedication of Harvard University's Widener Library, which she had commissioned from Trumbauer to memorialize her son, Harry Elkins Widener, who died on the Titanic in 1912. Like several other great Trumbauer houses, Miramar was set in formal French gardens designed by famous landscape architect Jacques Gréber. A renowned planner, Gréber not only prepared the final plans for Philadelphia's Fairmount or Ben Franklin Parkway, but also collaborated with architect Paul Cret on the Rodin Museum, which sits on the Parkway west of the Central Library building.
Throughout his long career, Trumbauer built numerous other stately suburban and seaside homes including a residence for C. J. Matthews (1910) in Langhorne, Pennsylvania and Androssan, meaning "high promontory," a residence for Robert L. Montgomery (1913) in Villanova, Pennsylvania.
In addition to these mansions and villas, Trumbauer also erected several lavish urban townhouses including one on New York City's Fifth Avenue for Miramar-owner Eleanor Elkins Widener (1922). The Edward C. Knight House at 1629 Locust Street in Philadelphia is an excellent example of Trumbauer's townhouse designs. Erected in 1902, Knight's French-inspired home reveals the architect's ability to bestow dignity and grandeur on a smaller scale and in an urban setting. Trumbauer also designed a grand summer residence for Knight in Newport.
In 1909, Trumbauer, with the help of his gifted assistant Julian Abele, designed one of his greatest urban townhouses, a residence for James B. Duke, also on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The wealthy Duke was an associate of Peter A. B. Widener, the founder of American Tobacco Company, and the benefactor of Duke University. Like many of Trumbauer's most impressive commissions, the Duke mansion was conceived in a mid eighteenth-century French classical style. According to Trumbauer scholar Frederick Platt, it is based on architect Etiene Laclotte's Hôtel Labottière, constructed in Bordeaux in 1773. Dignified, noble, and grand, the Duke mansion, which is now occupied by New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, is closely related stylistically to the Central Library building.
Notably, Trumbauer commissioned famed architectural illustrator Jules Guerin to execute perspective renderings of the two related buildings, the Duke mansion and the central library building. Guerin's beautiful watercolor of the library building now hangs in the Central Library's Executive Offices.
During the twenty years after World War I, Trumbauer shifted his practice, building fewer and fewer grand residences, which had been the mainstay of his firm, and more and more commercial and institutional buildings. Whereas, for example, in 1902 Trumbauer's firm erected eight residences and one church. In 1925 the firm was at work on not only one home but four office buildings, a hotel, and the campus for Duke University. Between 1916 and 1921, during the transition away from residential design, Trumbauer planned and constructed Whitemarsh Hall, his greatest but one of his last palatial estates.
Residential Designs by the Horace Trumbauer Architectural Firm: Whitemarsh
In 1916, the Edward and Eva Stotesburys commissioned Trumbauer to design one of his most famous projects: Whitemarsh. Whitemarsh Hall was set on a hill outside Philadelphia in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Stotesbury was a senior partner at the Drexel & Company banking house, an associate of J. P. Morgan, and one of the wealthiest men in America. He met Trumbauer in 1909 when the architect designed an addition for the Union League at Fifteenth and Sansom Streets.
After the Stotesburys married in 1912, Eva, who quickly became Philadelphia's leading socialite, twice commissioned Trumbauer to renovate their townhouse at 1923 Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square. Following the renovations at their townhouse, Eva oversaw the construction of Brooklands, a grand Trumbauer house in Eccleston, Maryland, for her daughter Louise and son-in-law Walter B. Brooks Jr. By the time Trumbauer completed Brooklands in 1915, the Stotesburys had outgrown their townhouse near Rittenhouse Square.
The Stotesburys asked Trumbauer to design Whitemarsh Hall to replace their inadequate townhouse. Over the next five years, the architect, his staff, and contractors erected an enormous U-shaped, Georgian style mansion set in Jacques Gréber's sweeping informal English and formal French gardens. During the construction, Trumbauer, who was rarely photographed, posed at the building site with Edward and Eva Stotesbury and Oliver Cromwell Jr., Eva's son from a previous marriage. With 50-foot limestone columns at the main entrance, the palatial mansion comprised 147 rooms totaling 100,000 square feet of space. The ballroom alone was 64 feet in length. The grand residence, with three stories above ground and three below, required a staff of 70 butlers, maids, cooks, valets, chauffeurs, and gardeners.
The many elegant rooms were embellished by the best decorators from Paris and the plumbing fixtures were plated in gold. Although contemporary observers as well as historians have disputed Whitemarsh Hall's total cost, it certainly topped $3 million dollars, an incredible amount in 1921. When automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, himself a wealthy man, visited, he proclaimed "it was a great experience to see how the rich live." But, as changes to Trumbauer's practice demonstrate, the rich had already begun to live differently by the 1920s. Although Trumbauer would continue to design great buildings until his death in 1938, he would no longer plan the sprawling country estates and elegant seaside palaces that had made him famous before World War I. Whitemarsh Hall marked not only the apex but also the end of the Gilded Age. Too expensive to maintain, Whitemarsh Hall was eventually abandoned. Regrettably, the imposing but dilapidated mansion was demolished in 1980 to make way for a suburban housing development.
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.
In Philadelphia, the powerful patrons commissioned the architect to erect the Ritz Carlton Hotel (1911) at Walnut and Broad Streets, the Widener Building (1915) on South Penn Square across from City Hall, the Elkins Memorial YMCA (1911) on Arch Street west of Broad,
and the Widener Memorial Training School for Crippled Children (1902) in the city's Logan section.
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.