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Frank Heyling Furness (1839–1912) was an acclaimed American architect of the Victorian era. He designed more than 600 buildings, most in the Philadelphiamarker area, and is remembered for his eclectic, muscular, often idiosyncratically-scaled buildings, and for his influence on the Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. Furness was also a Medal of Honor recipient for his bravery during the Civil War.

Toward the end of his life, his bold style fell out of fashion, and many of his significant works were demolished in the 20th century. Among his most important surviving buildings are the University of Pennsylvania Library (now the Fisher Fine Arts Librarymarker) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Artsmarker, both in Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker.


Furness was born in Philadelphia on November 12, 1839. His father, William Henry Furness, was a prominent Unitarian minister and abolitionist, and his brother, Horace Howard Furness, became America's outstanding Shakespeare scholar. Frank, however, did not attend a university and apparently did not travel to Europe. He began his architectural training in the office of John Fraser, Philadelphia, in the 1850s. He attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts-inspired atelier of Richard Morris Hunt in New York from 1859 to 1861, and again in 1865, following his military service. Furness considered himself Hunt's apprentice and was influenced by Hunt's dynamic personality and accomplished, elegant buildings. He was also influenced by the architectural concepts of the French engineer Viollet-le-Duc and the British critic John Ruskin.

Furness's first commission, Germantown Unitarian Church (1866-67, demolished ca. 1928), was a solo effort, but in 1867 he formed a partnership with Fraser, his former teacher, and George Hewitt, who had worked in the office of John Notman. The trio lasted less than five years, and its major commissions were Rodef Shalom Synagogue (1868-69, demolished) and the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion (1870-75, demolished). Following Fraser's move to Washington, D.C.marker, to become supervising architect for the U.S. Treasury Department, the two younger men formed a partnership in 1871, and soon won the design competition for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Artsmarker (1871-76). Louis Sullivan worked briefly as a draftsman for Furness & Hewitt (June - November 1873), and his later use of organic decorative motifs can be traced, at least in part, to Furness. By the beginning of 1876, Furness had broken with Hewitt, and the firm carried only his name. Hewitt and his brother William formed their own firm, G.W. & W.D. Hewitt, and became Furness's biggest competitor. In 1881, Furness promoted his chief draftsman, Allen Evans, to partner (Furness & Evans), and, in 1886, did the same for four other long-time employees. The firm continued under the name Furness, Evans & Company as late as 1932, two decades after its founder's death.

Over his 45-year career, Furness designed more than 600 buildings, including banks, office buildings, churches, and synagogues. As chief architect of the Reading Railroad, he designed about 130 stations and industrial buildings. For the Pennsylvania Railroad, he designed the great Broad Street Stationmarker (demolished 1953) at Broad and Market Streets in Philadelphia, and, for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the ingenious 24th Street Stationmarker (demolished 1963) alongside the Chestnut Street Bridge. He was one of the most highly paid architects of his era, and a founder of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architectsmarker. His residential buildings included numerous mansions in Philadelphia and its suburbs (especially the Main Line), as well as commissioned houses at the New Jersey seashore, Newport, Rhode Island, Bar Harbor, Maine, Washington, D.C., New York state, and Chicago, Illinois.

Furness designed custom interiors and furniture in collaboration with Philadelphia cabinetmaker Daniel Pabst. Examples are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Artmarker, the Philadelphia Museum of Artmarker, and the High Museummarker in Atlanta, Georgia. Mark-Lee Kirk's set designs for the 1942 Orson Welles film, The Magnificent Ambersons, seem to be based on Furness's ornate Neo-Grec interiors of the 1870s. A fictional desk designed by Furness is featured in the John Bellairs novel The Mansion in the Mist.

Furness broke from dogmatic adherence to European trends, and juxtaposed styles and elements in a forceful manner. His strong architectural will is seen in the unorthodox way he combined materials: stone, iron, glass, terra cotta, and brick. And his straightforward use of these materials, often in innovative or technologically-advanced ways, reflected Philadelphia's industrial-realist culture of the post–Civil War period.

Furness's independence and modernist Victorian-Gothic style inspired 20th-century architects Louis Kahn and Robert Venturi. Living in Philadelphia and teaching at the University of Pennsylvaniamarker, they often visited Furness's Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Artsmarker—built for the 1876 Centennial—and his University of Pennsylvania Librarymarker.

Furness married Fanny Fassit in 1866, and they had four children: Radclyffe, Theodore, James, and Annis Lee. Furness died on June 27, 1912, and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemeterymarker, Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker.

Military service

Furness' grave
During the Civil War, Furness served as Captain and commander of Company F, 6th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry ("Rush's Lancers"). He received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry at the Battle of Trevilian Station, Virginia, on June 12, 1864, becoming the only American architect to receive this honor. Twenty-five years after fighting in the Battle of Gettysburgmarker, he designed the monument to his regiment on South Cavalry Field:

"In design it is a simple granite block, as massive as a dolmen, but surrounded by a corona of bronze lances that are models of the original lances.
[T]hey are depicted in a resting position, as if waiting to be seized at any instant and brought into battle.
The sense of suspended action before the moment of the battle is all the more potent because it is rendered in stone and metal, making it perpetual.
Of the hundreds of monuments at Gettysburg, Furness's is among the most haunting."

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Captain, Company F, 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Place and date: At Trevilian Station, Va., June 12, 1864. Entered service at: Philadelphia, Pa. Birth:------. Date of issue: October 20, 1899.


Voluntarily carried a box of ammunition across an open space swept by the enemy's fire to the relief of an outpost whose ammunition had become almost exhausted, but which was thus enabled to hold its important position.


Following decades of neglect, during which many of Furness's most important buildings were demolished, there was a revival of interest in his work in the mid-20th century. The critic Lewis Mumford, tracing the creative forces that had influenced Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, wrote in The Brown Decades (1931): "Frank Furness was the designer of a bold, unabashed, ugly, and yet somehow healthily pregnant architecture."

The architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock, in his comprehensive survey Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (revised 1963), saw beauty in that ugliness:
"[O]f the highest quality, is the intensely personal work of Frank Furness (1839-1912) in Philadelphia.
His building for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Artsmarker in Broad Street was erected in 1872-76 in preparation for the Centennial Exposition.
The exterior has a largeness of scale and a vigor in the detailing that would be notable anywhere, and the galleries are top-lit with exceptional efficiency.
Still more original and impressive were his banks, even though they lay quite off the main line of development of commercial architecture in this period.
The most extraordinary of these, and Furness's masterpiece, was the Provident Institution in Walnut [sic Chestnut] Street, built as late as 1879.
This was most unfortunately demolished in the Philadelphia urban renewal campaign several years ago, but the gigantic and forceful scale of the granite membering alone should have justified its respectful preservation.
No small part of Furness's historical significance lies in the fact that the young Louis Sullivan picked this office - then known as Furness & Hewitt - to work in for a short period after he left Ware's School in Boston.
As Sullivan's Autobiography of an Idea testifies, the vitality and originality of Furness meant more to him than what he was taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker, or later at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris."

Architect and critic Robert Venturi in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) wrote, not unadmiringly, of the National Bank of the Republic (later the Philadelphia Clearing House):
"The city street facade can provide a type of juxtaposed contradiction that is essentially two-dimensional.
Frank Furness' Clearing House, now demolished like many of his best works in Philadelphia, contained an array of violent pressures within a rigid frame.
The half-segmental arch, blocked by the submerged tower which, in turn, bisects the facade into a near duality, and the violent adjacencies of rectangles, squares, lunettes, and diagonals of contrasting sizes, compose a building seemingly held up by the buildings next door: it is an almost insane short story of a castle on a city street."

On the occasion of its centennial in 1969, the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architectsmarker memorialized Furness as its great architect of the past:
"For designing original and bold buildings free of the prevalent Victorian academicism and imitation, buildings of such vigor that the flood of classical traditionalism could not overwhelm them, or him, or his clients ...
For shaping iron and concrete with a sensitive understanding of their particular characteristics that was unique for his time ...
For his significance as innovator-architect along with his contemporaries John Root, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright ...
For his masterworks, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Artsmarker, the Provident Trust Company, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Stationmarker, and the University of Pennsylvania Librarymarker (now renamed the Furness Building) ...
For his outstanding abilities as draftsman, teacher and inventor ...
For being a founder of the Philadelphia Chapter and of the John Stewardson Memorial Scholarship in Architecture ...
And above all, for creating architecture of imagination, decisive self-reliance, courage, and often great beauty, an architecture which to our eyes and spirits still expresses the unusual personal character, spirit and courage for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery on a Civil War battlefield."

In 1973, the Philadelphia Museum of Artmarker mounted the first retrospective of Furness's work, curated by James F. O'Gorman, George E. Thomas and Hyman Myers. Thomas, Jeffrey A. Cohen and Michael J. Lewis authored Frank Furness: The Complete Works (1991, revised 1996), with an introduction by Robert Venturi. Lewis wrote the first biography: Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind (2001).

Selected architectural works

Reliance Insurance Company of Philadelphia (1881-82, demolished 1960).

Philadelphia buildings

Demolished Philadelphia buildings

Buildings elsewhere

Three adjacent buildings in Wilmington, Delaware

Reputed to be the largest grouping of Furness-designed railroad buildings.


File:22nd & Walnut, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.jpg|Thomas and H. Pratt McKean Townhouses, 1923-25 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA (1869, demolished 1897 and 1920s).File:RooseveltDiningroom.jpg|Diningroom of the Theodore Roosevelt Sr. townhouse, New York, NY (1873, demolished). Daniel Pabst probably fashioned the paneling, woodwork and furniture.File:Lindenshade.jpg|Lindenshade (Horace Howard Furness house), Wallingford, PA (c. 1873, demolished 1940). Built for the architect's brother, the country house was later greatly expanded.File:HockleyHouse.jpg|Thomas Hockley house, 235 S. 21st St., Philadelphia, PA (1875), Furness & Hewitt.File:ZooGatehouses.jpg|Gatehouses, Philadelphia Zoomarker, Fairmount Parkmarker, Philadelphia, PA (1875-76, altered), Furness & Hewitt.File:Centennial National Bank.jpg|Centennial National Bankmarker, Philadelphia, PA (1876), now Paul Peck Alumni Center, Drexel University.File:Brazilian section, Main building, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views 2.jpg|Brazilian Section, Main Exhibition Building, Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia (1876).File:FryersCottage.jpg|J. F. Fryer cottage, Cape May, New Jerseymarker (1878-79). The pierced-tile inserts in the railings are believed to have come from the Japanese Pavilion at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.File:Wallingford Station.JPG|Wallingford Stationmarker, Wallingford, PA (c. 1880). Horace Howard Furness's country house, Lindenshade, stood on the hill behind the station.File:Knowlton.JPG|Knowltonmarker (William H. Rhawn mansion), Northeast Philadelphia (1881).File:Dolobran.jpg|Dolobran (Clement A. Griscom mansion), Haverford, PA (1881).File:UndineBargeClub.jpg|Undine Barge Club,

#13 Boathouse Rowmarker, Philadelphia (1882-83).
File:First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 2125 Walnut Street.jpg|First Unitarian Church of Philadelphiamarker (1886).File:B&OStationFromEast.jpg|Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station, Philadelphiamarker (1886-88, demolished 1963), looking west from 24th Street.File:CassattHouse.jpg|Alexander J. Cassatt townhouse, 202 West Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia (altered by Furness c. 1888, demolished 1972).File:MerionCricket.jpg|Merion Cricket Clubmarker, Haverford, PA (1896-97). Allen Evans was a founding member of the club, and probably designed all its buildings.File:ArcadeBuilding.jpg|Arcade Building and pedestrian bridge to Broad Street Stationmarker, Philadelphia (1901-02, demolished 1969).File:GirardTrust.jpg|Girard Trust Company Building, Philadelphia (1907), (now the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia). The concept for the bank was Furness's, but it was designed by Allen Evans and the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White.

See also


  • Lewis, Michael J., Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind, 2001.
  • O'Gorman, James F., et al., The Architecture of Frank Furness. Philadelphia Museum of Art; 1973.
  • Thayer, Preston, The Railroad Designs of Frank Furness: Architecture and Corporate Imagery in the Late Nineteenth Century, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (Ph.D. dissertation), 1993.
  • Thomas, George E., Jeffrey A. Cohen & Michael J. Lewis, Frank Furness: The Complete Works. Princeton Architectural Press, revised edition 1996.
  • Venturi, Robert, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. The Museum of Modern Art; 1966.


  1. James F. O'Gorman, George E. Thomas & Hyman Myers, The Architecture of Frank Furness (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973), pp. 200-03.
  2. Michael J. Lewis, Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2001), p. 251.
  3. Lewis, p. 108.
  4. Lewis, p. 44.
  5. Wittenberg, 2000.
  6. Lewis Mumford, The Brown Decades: A Study of Arts in America 1865-1895 (New York: 1931), p. 144.
  7. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958, revised 1963), pp. 194-95.
  8. Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (New York: Museum of Modern Art Papers on Architecture, 1966), pp. 56-57.
  9. Louis I. Kahn was saluted as the Chapter's great architect of the present. AIA 100: Centennial Yearbook (Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1970), pp. 12-13.
  10. Northern Savings Fund Society Building at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  11. Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  12. Kensington National Bank at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  13. Undine Barge Club
  14. Horace Jayne house from Flickr
  15. The concept for this building was Furness's, but it was designed by his partner, Allen Evans, along with the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White. George E. Thomas, Jeffrey A. Cohen & Michael J. Lewis, Frank Furness: The Complete Works (Princeton Architectural Press, revised edition 1996), pp. 338-39.
  16. Girard Trust Company at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  17. Unitarian Society of Germantown
  18. Rodef Shalom at National Museum of American Jewish History.
  19. Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion at Bryn Mawr College.
  20. Guarantee Trust Company at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  21. Seamen's Church of the Redeemer at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  22. Provident Life & Trust Co. at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  23. Library Company of Philadelphia at Bryn Mawr College.
  24. Reliance Insurance Company Building at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  25. National Bank of the Republic at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  26. Baltimore & Ohio Terminal at the Historic American Building Survey
  27. Broad Street Station at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  28. Arcade Building at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  29. Lindenshade at the Historic American Buildings Survey.
  30. Lindenshade after 1885 at Bryn Mawr College.
  31. Jean and David W. Wallace Hall at the Historic Campus Architecture Project
  32. Fryer's Cottage at the Historic American Buildings Survey.
  33. Emlen Physick Estate at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  34. Dolobran at the Historic American Buildings Survey
  35. St. Michael's interior at Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania
  36. 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument from
  37. Williamson Free School Main Building
  38. Baldwin School at Bryn Mawr College.
  39. Church of Our Father
  40. Recitation Hall from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  41. New Castle Library
  42. Merion Cricket Club at the Historic American Buildings Survey.
  43. Haverford School from Township of Lower Merion
  44. B&O Water Street Station at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  45. Pennsylvania Building at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
  46. Wilmington Station at Philadelphia Architects and Buildings

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