Urban – Ruskin: Week Two


Willis G. Hale

To understand the career of C. Emlen Urban, we must first examine the life and career of Willis Hale, for whom Urban worked in the mid-1880s (c.1884-1886), according to To Build Strong and Substantial. While Urban apprenticed with Scranton architect E.L. Walter in the early 1880s, very little information can be found on Mr. Walter. However, Hale was a prolific designer and amassed a large portfolio of projects during a career that spanned from the early 1870s until his death in 1907.

An examination of Hale’s work during the time of Urban’s service to him as a draftsman reveals a close adherence to contemporaneously popular styles, which were likely palatable to his clients. There is no doubt that Hale’s work influenced Urban, especially in Urban’s early career. Take, for example, Hale’s Home for the Incurables in Philadelphia, designed in 1880. While this building’s design and construction preceded Urban’s time at Hale’s firm, Urban’s Southern Market in Lancaster bears a more than coincidental similarity.

Willis Hale, Home for Incurables, Philadelphia, 1880

Urban's Southern Market, Lancaster, 1888.

Hale’s work gradually evolved by the 1890s into a lighter, more refined, and less whimsical designs, as exemplified by these 1891 house he designed for the Philadelphia developer William Weightman (a loyal client). These rowhouses in West Philadelphia share similar “Cheateauesque” elements with Urban’s 1894-1896 houses on West Chestnut Street. By the late 1890s, Hale himself had succumbed to the emerging classical revivalism—if in ornament only—with the house designed Edward Thomas Davis at 38th and Ludlow Streets in Philadelphia and built in 1897 (the property has since been demolished). An examination of Hale’s and Urban’s work confirms that both experienced a career transition from Ruskinian Victorian to classicism, culminating in the mid-1890s.

Hale, West Philadelphia rowhouses, 1891.

Urban, 624-632 West Chestnut St, Lancaster, 1894-6

Hale, Edward Thomas Davis House, Philadelphia, 1897.






Ruskinian Capitals

Finally, in a departure from the Hale/Urban connection, I would like to touch on a recurring element in Ruskinian architectural thought that appears quite prominently on Urban’s Wagner’s Café, designed in 1891: The column capital.

Shown here is a sketch by John Ruskin entitled “Byzantine capitals, convex group” from his book The Stone of Venice (1853) alongside the column capital on Charlie Wagner’s Café. The similarities are glaring.

Ruskin, "Byzantine Capitals: Convex Group"

Urban, Wagner's Cafe capital, 1891.


One Response to “Urban – Ruskin: Week Two”

  1. jhausladen Says:

    Reblogged this on Artistry and Architecture.

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