Horace Trumbauer doesn't have the name recognition of many of his turn-of-the-century peers (he avoided interviews and supposedly wrote no articles ). During his lifetime, he was derided in some corners for being merely a designer for showpiece mansions for America's upper crust. But while Trumbauer was known for his extravagant clientele, the Philadelphia architect would also come to be respected for work completed during the Gilded Age and Roaring Twenties that, possessed of a modern refinement, still demonstrated a devotion to historical precedent. During a period where styles rapidly changed, Trumbauer was able to evolve from French Classical to Art Deco, helping his firm maintain a full slate of projects even through the Depression.
While his robber baron clients didn't share the same social status as Trumbauer, it could be said the architect shared a similar appreciation for drive and ambition. At age 16, after dropping out of school, Trumbauer apprenticed himself to George and William Hewitt, a firm helmed by siblings who were enthralled with English design and gave a young Louis Sullivan his first shot. After a six-year stint, he set out on his own, forming his own firm at age 21 and quickly making an impression designing modest residential commissions (he was paid $171 with a $7 stipend for transportation for his first job). His project budgets quickly skyrocketed; in the early 1890s, William Welsh Harrison, co-owner of a sugar refinery, hired the young Trumbauer to build him a literal stone castle in the Philadelphia suburbs. That project, Gray Towers, would help cement Trumbauer's reputation as a designers of grand homes, a role he would embrace until his death in 1938. While he did expand his repertoire over the year, working on a variety of campus, religious and institutions structures (his firm designed the Gothic campus of Duke, specifically head designer and African-American associate Julian Abele), Trumbauer is perhaps best remembered as the self-made architect who conjured up some of the most magnificent homes the nation has ever seen.
· Map: Extravagant U.S. Estates of the Gilded Age & Roaring '20s [Curbed]
· Mapping the Lost Mansions of Chicago's Gilded Age [Curbed Chicago]