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Frank Furness: Philadelphia's Gilded Age Master

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Philadelphia architect Frank Furness

Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, c. 1901

Photo by Moses King, Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Shingle-style Clement Griscom House,

Shingle-style Clement Griscom House, "Dolobran" in Haverford, PA, 1881, Architect - Frank Furness

Photo by Smallbones (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Mount Airy Station, 1882, by Frank Furness for Philadelphia & Reading RR, Philadelphia, PA

Mount Airy Station, 1882, by Frank Furness for Philadelphia & Reading RR, Philadelphia, PA

Photo by Smallbones (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Architect Frank Furness designed some of the most elaborate buildings of America's Gilded Age.

Born:

November 12, 1839 in Philadelphia, PA

Full Name:

Frank Heyling Furness

Died:

June 27, 1912 at age 72. Buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA

Education:

Frank Furness attended private schools in the Philadelphia, but did not attend a university or travel through Europe.

  • 1857: Apprenticed to architect John Fraser in Philadelphia
  • 1859-1861 and 1865: New York studio workshop of Richard Morris Hunt
Between 1861-1864, Furness was an officer in the Civil War. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Partnerships:

  • 1866: Opened his own practice in Philadelphia
  • 1867-1871: Joined John Fraser and George W. Hewitt to form Fraser, Furness & Hewitt. Fraser and Hewitt each left the firm later on.
  • 1873: Louis Sullivan studied with Furness
  • 1881: Partnered with Allen Evans. Other architects later joined.

Built Mansions:

Frank Furness designed grand homes in the Philadelphia area, and also in Chicago, Washington DC, New York State, Rhode Island, and along the New Jersey seashore. Examples:

  • 1874-75: Fairholme (Fairman Rogers house), Newport, RI (significantly altered)
  • 1874-1875: Fairholme Carriage House (now Jean and David W. Wallace Hall), Salve Regina University, Newport, RI
  • 1875 and 1894: Thomas Hockley House, Philadelphia
  • 1878: Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May, NJ
  • 1881: Dolobran (Clement Griscom house), Haverford, PA
  • 1881: Knowlton Mansion, Philadelphia

Transport and Rail Stations:

Frank Furness was chief architect of the Reading Railroad, and designed for B & O and the Pennsylvania Railroads. He designed many railway stations in Philadelphia and other cities. Examples:

  • 1886-88: Philadelphia Terminal, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Philadelphia (demolished)
  • 1882: Mount Airy Station, Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, Philadelphia
  • 1892-93: Broad Street Station, Pennsylvania Railroad, Philadelphia (demolished)
  • 1887: Water Street Station, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Wilmington, Delaware
  • 1908: French Street Station (Wilmington Station), Wilmington, Delaware
  • 1908: Pennsylvania Railroad (now Amtrak), Wilmington, Delaware

Churches by Frank Furnesss:

  • 1885: First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
  • 1886: St. Michael's Protestant Episcopal Church, Birdsboro, PA PA
  • 1897: All Hallows Church, Wyncote, PA

More Great Buildings by Frank Furness:

  • 1872-1876: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
  • 1876: Centennial National Bank (now the Paul Peck Center of Drexel University), Philadelphia
  • 1889-90: Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades, Elwyn, PA
  • 1890: Baldwin School (built as the Bryn Mawr Hotel), Bryn Mawr, PA
  • 1891: University of Pennsylvania Library (now the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library), Philadelphia
  • 1892: New Castle Library Society building, New Castle, Delaware
  • 1896-97: Merion Cricket Club, Haverford, PA
  • 1907: Girard Trust Company Building (now the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia)

Furniture Design by Frank Furness:

In addition to buildings, Frank Furness also worked with cabinetmaker Daniel Pabst to design furniture and custom interiors. See examples at:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • University of Pennsylvania

Important Styles:

About Frank Furness:

Elaborate architecture flourished during America's Guilded Age, and Frank Furness designed some of the most flamboyant. His mentor, Richard Morris Hunt, gave Furness a foundation in the teachings of John Ruskin, the Gothic Revival style, and Beaux Arts. However, when Furness opened his own practice, he began to combine these ideas with other styles, often in unexpected ways.

During his career, Frank Furness designed more than 600 buildings, mostly in Philadelphia and the Northeast USA. He became a mentor for Louis Sullivan, who carried Furness's ideas to the midwest. Architectural historians say that the influence of Frank Furness helped shape the Philadelphia School led by the 20th century architects Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi.

Furness co-founded the Philadelphia Chapter of the A.I.A. (American Institute of Architects).

Photos of buildings by Frank Furness are housed in the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania.

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