IF TIMING IS EVERYTHING in life, then Horace Trumbauer’s was perfect. Born in Philadelphia in 1868 shortly after the Civil War, Trumbauer’s life and career would run parallel to the rise and decline of the city as The Workshop of the World or America’s Industrial Center.
Built on textiles, railroads, iron, coal and steel, Philadelphia had the country’s most diversified manufacturing-based economy. The personal wealth produced by these industries, as well as by the bankers, lawyers, doctors, and merchants living here, would provide enough clients and commissions to last Trumbauer’s lifetime.
His career began and flourished at the same time as The Gilded Age in America. By 1890, Trumbauer, then age 21, and apprentice-trained at the firm of George W. and William D. Hewitt, would start his own company. A self-made man, Trumbauer met with many of Philadelphia’s leading monied industrialists and professionals whose increasing wealth and financial means enabled them to commission residential and institutional buildings alike. Largely self-made men, they shared this common bond and more with Trumbauer who quickly became their architect-of-choice.
Locally, Trumbauer’s most notable projects include Grey Towers in Glenside, his first major residential commission for Philadelphia’s nouveau riche (that created the lifelong relationship between the two); Whitemarsh Hall for Edward T. Stotesbury (arguably one of the greatest houses and estates ever built in America); Lynnewood Hall for Peter A. B. Widener; and Ardrossan, built for Colonel Robert Montgomery.
In time, his career would quickly expand to include major institutional buildings: the Philadelphia Free Library and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (with Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary) are perhaps his best. Trumbauer’s important influence extended beyond Philadelphia as well, including the James Duke mansion in New York City; The Elms in Newport built for Julius Berwind; the Widener Library at Harvard University; and the campus of Duke University (where the chapel is credited to Julian Abele, the firm’s chief designer).
Trumbauer’s legacy in Philadelphia is tremendous. Perhaps no other architect has influenced the visual streetscape of the city, from river to river, and beyond, as much as Trumbauer. Yet, other than the most famous of his buildings as listed above, many of us simply do not comprehend the sheer number of Trumbauer buildings we look at, work in, and stroll past every day. This is why it is important that the ICAA celebrates classical architecture so avidly. And this is why ICAA sponsors an annual Trumbauer walking tour in Center City, to give us the language and tools to appreciate and value the variety, dignity, and beauty of the architectural and artistic contributions Trumbauer made to his city. To our city. To Philadelphia and the world.