Frank Furness, The Architect for Philadelphia

Landmark Architecture for a Time (1839-1912)

The Furness Library (Fisher Fine Arts Library) Designed by Architect Frank Furness, 1891, at the Univ. of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia
The Furness Library (Fisher Fine Arts Library) Designed by Architect Frank Furness, 1891, at the Univ. of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Photo by Richard Anderson / Moment / Getty Images

Architect Frank Furness (pronounced "furnace") designed some of the most elaborate buildings of America's Gilded Age. Sadly, many of his buildings are now demolished, but you can still find Furness-designed masterpieces throughout his home city of Philadelphia.

Elaborate architecture flourished during America's Gilded 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 American 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 AIA (American Institute of Architects).

Background:

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: Attended private schools in the Philadelphia area, but did not attend a university or travel through Europe.

Professional Training:

  • 1857: Apprenticed to architect John Fraser in Philadelphia

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.

Selected Architecture of Frank Furness:

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, Rhode Island
  • 1875 and 1894: Thomas Hockley House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1878: Emlen Physick Estate, Cape May, New Jersey
  • 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:

  • 1885: First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
  • 1886: St. Michael's Protestant Episcopal Church, Birdsboro, 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:

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 Associated with Furness:

Source: Name pronunciation from Architecture of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, University of Pennsylvania [accessed November 6, 2014]