Horace Trumbauer

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Horace Trumbauer
c. 1901
Born(1868-12-28)December 28, 1868
DiedSeptember 18, 1938(1938-09-18) (aged 69)

Horace Trumbauer (December 28, 1868 – September 18, 1938) was a prominent American architect of the Gilded Age, known for designing residential manors for the wealthy. Later in his career he also designed hotels, office buildings, and much of the campus of Duke University. Trumbauer's massive palaces flattered the egos of his "robber baron" clients, but were dismissed by his professional peers. His work made him a wealthy man, but his buildings rarely received positive critical recognition. Today, however, he is hailed as one of America's premier architects, with his buildings drawing critical acclaim even to this day.


Trumbauer was born in Philadelphia, the son of Josiah Blyler Trumbauer, a salesman, and Mary Malvina (Fable) Trumbauer.[1] He completed a 6-year apprenticeship with G. W. and W. D. Hewitt, and opened his own architectural office at age 21. He did some work for developers Wendell and Smith, designing homes for middle-class planned communities, including the Overbrook Farms and Wayne Estate developments.

Trumbauer's first major commission was Grey Towers Castle (1893), designed for the sugar magnate William Welsh Harrison. Its exterior was based on Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England, although its interiors were French, ranging in style from Renaissance to Louis XV.

Grey Towers Castle, Glenside, PA (1893). Now Arcadia University.

Harrison introduced him to the streetcar tycoon and real-estate developer Peter A. B. Widener, whose 110-room Georgian-revival palace, Lynnewood Hall (1897–1900), launched Trumbauer's successful career.[1] For the Wideners, the Elkinses, and their circle, he designed mansions in Philadelphia, New York, and Newport, RI, office buildings, hospitals, and Harvard University's principal library, the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. Built with a gift from Eleanor Elkins Widener, the library is a memorial to her son, Harry, Class of 1907, an enthusiastic young bibliophile who died on the RMS Titanic.

On April 25, 1903, he married Sara Thomson Williams and became stepfather to her daughter, Agnes Helena Smith, from her previous marriage to iron dealer C. Comly Smith. Architectural Record published a survey of his work in 1904.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (1916–28). This was a collaboration between Trumbauer's firm and Zantzinger, Borie and Medary.

In 1906, Trumbauer hired Julian Abele, the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Architecture Department, and promoted him to chief designer in 1909. Trumbauer's later buildings are sometimes attributed to Abele, but this is speculation. With the exception of the chapel at Duke University (1934), Abele never claimed credit for any of the firm's buildings designed during Trumbauer's lifetime.

The commission for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1916–28) was shared between Trumbauer's firm and Zantzinger, Borie and Medary. Trumbauer's architect Howell Lewis Shay is credited with the building's plan and massing, although the perspective drawings appear to be in Abele's hand.[2] When it opened in 1928, the building was criticized as being vastly overscaled and nicknamed "the great Greek garage". But, perched on Fairmount Hill and terminating the axis of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it is now considered to be the most magnificently situated museum in the United States.

In 1923, Trumbauer was hired by the Reading Company to design the Jenkintown Train Station. A fine example of Queen Anne revival architecture, it still stands today as the Jenkintown-Wyncote station and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. His work was also part of the architecture event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics.[3]

In 1933, Trumbauer was commissioned to build an ornate Ancien-Regime French style mansion for Herbert Nathan Straus, the youngest son of Macy's founder Isidor Straus. Built in limestone with intricate carvings on the façade, the Herbert N. Straus House is now the largest private residence in Manhattan. The mansion exemplifies the classic but opulent style requested of industry barons of that time.

Despite tremendous success and his apparent ability to impress wealthy clients, Trumbauer suffered from overwhelming shyness and a sense of inferiority about his lack of formal education. He had a number of commissions until the Great Depression, but began to drink heavily. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1938,[1] and is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Selected buildings[edit]

Philadelphia and its suburbs[edit]


John H. Watt house, Wayne, PA (1893).
Lynnewood Hall (Peter A. B. Widener mansion), Elkins Park, PA (1897–1900).
  • Edward B. Seymour House (1891)
  • John H. Watt house ("Tower House"), Wayne, Pennsylvania (1893). Part of Wendell & Smith's Wayne Estate development.
  • Grey Towers Castle (William Welsh Harrison mansion), Glenside, PA (1893-94)
  • Chelten House (George W. Elkins mansion), Elkins Park, PA (1896, rebuilt 1909)[1]
  • Lynnewood Hall (Peter A. B. Widener mansion), Elkins Park, PA (1897–1900)
  • John C. Bell House, Rittenhouse Square (1906)
  • Elstowe Manor (William L. Elkins mansion), Elkins Park, PA (1898)
  • Edward C. Knight townhouse, 1629 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA (1902)
  • Georgian Terrace (George F. Tyler mansion), Elkins Park, PA (1905) (now Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art, Temple University)
  • Isle Field (mansion), Villanova, PA (1911) (now offices of Agnes Irwin School)
  • Ardrossan, Radnor, PA (1913)[2]
  • Bloomfield, Villanova, PA [3]
  • Whitemarsh Hall (Edward T. Stotesbury mansion), Wyndmoor, PA (1916–21, demolished 1980)
  • Ronaele Manor (Fitz Eugene Dixon mansion), Elkins Park, PA (1923–26, demolished 1974).[4][5][6] Mrs. Dixon was Eleanor Widener; the mansion's name is hers spelled backward. LaSalle College Christian Brothers owned the mansion 1950–74, renaming it Anselm Hall.[7]
  • Woodcrest, 610 King of Prussia Rd. Radnor Township, PA (1907)
  • 141 Pelham Rd., W. Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, PA (source: Germantown Historical Society)
  • 209 Pelham Rd., W. Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, PA (source: Germantown Historical Society)
  • Katherine Craig Wright Muckl Mansion, 11 Coopertown Rd, Haverford, PA (1926). [8]
  • Woodburne Mansion, Darby, PA

Rose Terrace, residence of Anna Dodge, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.


Public Ledger Building, Philadelphia (1921).

Cultural, medical and educational[edit]

Buildings elsewhere[edit]

Duke Chapel, Duke University, Durham, NC (1934). Julian Abele is credited with the design.



  1. ^ a b c Baltzell, Edward Digby. Puritan Boston & Quaker Philadelphia (Transaction Publishers, 1996), pp. 332–33. ISBN 1-56000-830-X
  2. ^ David B. Brownlee, Making a Modern Classic: The Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997), pp. 60–61, 72–73.
  3. ^ "Horace Trumbauer". Olympedia. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  4. ^ Ronaele Manor, Elkins Park, PA from Library of Congress
  5. ^ Ronaele Manor 2, Elkins Park, PA from Library of Congress
  6. ^ Ronaele Manor 3, Elkins Park, PA from Library of Congress
  7. ^ Nugent, Robert C. (1974). A House Lives and Dies: The Story of Anselm Hall. Abington, PA: Cassidy Printing.
  8. ^ "11 Coopertown Rd, Haverford, PA 19041".
  9. ^ Beneficial Savings Fund Society from Flickr
  10. ^ Whelan, Frank (May 29, 2005), "West Park the iconic home for Allentown bands.", The Morning Call, pp. E.1, ProQuest 393163310
  11. ^ Elkins Memorial YMCA from Free Library of Philadelphia
  12. ^ White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot & Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. p. 439. ISBN 978-0-19538-386-7.
  13. ^ Rose Terrace from Grosse Pointe Historical Society


External links[edit]