In the midst of his PSFS skyscraper project, George Howe (b. 1886–d. 1955) rhetorically asked, “What Is This Modern Architecture Trying to Express?” (cited under General Overview). His answer placed modern architecture’s origins not in Europe but in America: “America has always been the land of lone prophets without much but posthumous honor in their own country which has been too busily engaged in exploiting its vast resources to take much interest in the spiritual consequences of its art, and Wright, Sullivan and Price were among the first to grasp the architectural possibilities of the new life and the new means of construction. Their names were known in Europe, while they remained comparatively obscure among their fellow countrymen.” Forty years later, it was not obvious which Price Howe was referring to. That it was William L. Price (b. 9 November 1861–d. 4 October 1916) is clear from his experience, shared with Howe and Louis Sullivan (b. 1856–d.1924), of training in the office of Frank Furness (b.1839–d.1912) and his importance in regional design when Howe was a young architect (William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Design, cited under General Overview). From Furness, young architects learned an American perspective: to look forward rather than backward, to make architecture out of the logistics of use, and to express the materials of modern construction. In the 1890s, Price, influenced by American journals publishing historicizing designs, created Gilded Age mansions for regional industrialists. At age forty, in the first year of the 20th century, Price turned to the future (William L. Price: Builder of Men and of Buildings, cited under General Overview). He established two intentional communities, one at Arden, Delaware, and a second, in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, where Price lived until the end of his life. His partnership, Price & McLanahan, with M. Hawley McLanahan (b. 1865–d. 1929), found a national clientele in the industrial belt of the nation from Philadelphia to Chicago. Over the next fifteen years, the firm designed spectacular resort hotels in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Seaside, Florida, as well as a line of railroad stations stretching west from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Three buildings using the new material of reinforced concrete, the Blenheim Hotel (1905–1906), the Traymore Hotel (1914–1915) and Chicago’s Polk Street Freight Terminal (1915–1917) for the Pennsylvania Railroad, rejected Beaux Arts classicism for an original style that formed the foundation of American 1920s urban design (William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Design, cited under General Overview). Though Price died in 1916, his practice continued as McLanahan & Bencker, and after 1926 as Ralph B. Bencker (b. 1883–d. 1961), shaping the early modern architecture of Miami Beach (William Price’s Traymore Hotel: Modernity in the Mass Resort, cited under General Overview), designing an astonishing skyscraper for the N. W. Ayer advertising offices in Philadelphia, and into the 1960s creating the lively identity for the nation’s first fast-food chain, Horn & Hardart.
Prior to 1970, Price was mentioned in histories of construction but ignored or reviled in modern architectural histories (Burchard and Bush-Brown 1966). Price was rediscovered in 1970 when the auctioned records of Price & McLanahan led to a PhD dissertation (Thomas 1975), returning Price to a modern audience. Simultaneously, Price’s intentional communities at Rose Valley, Pennsylvania, and Arden, Delaware, undertook looks at their histories, and Gertrude Traubel, the daughter of Horace Traubel, republished the Rose Valley community journal, The Artsman. Price received his first modern airing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Bicentennial Exhibition (Sewell 1976). Price’s work was the topic of a solo exhibit, “On the Brink of the Twentieth Century,” at the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Ross Gallery in 2000, which was exhibited at the National Building Museum with the revised title of “Arts and Crafts to Modern Design.” A simultaneous publication (Thomas 2000) brought Price’s vigorous work to a broader public.
Burchard, John, and Albert Bush-Brown. The Architecture of America: A Social and Cultural History. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.
Burchard proclaimed that the large structures of the 20th-century urban scene were “comfortable” but “none was distinguished; few were in good taste; some unfortunately were monstrously ornate, like the Traymore at Atlantic City of 1918 with its assorted domes, buttresses, vaults and towers” (p. 288). In other words, they did not meet standards created in the 1930s long after they were designed.
Forgey, Benjamin. “Price Fixing: A Forgotten Architect is Reconstructed.” Washington Post, 1 September 2001.
The Washington Post’s coverage of the Price exhibit at the National Building Museum placed Price in the broad context of modern architectural history, acknowledging both Price’s role in shaping American pre-1930 architecture and the changing theories that excluded him from later history.
Howe, George. “What Is This Modern Architecture Trying to Express?” The American Architect 137 (May 1930): 22–25, 106, 108.
After training in Frank Furness’s office, Howe shifted to the comfortable historicism of the Norman revival, but like Price, he found a different muse as he turned forty. Howe’s new directions, presented in numerous lectures and essays, resisted the values of European modernism, asserting instead American roots with different goals and a different American genealogy that included Price.
Sewell, Darrell, ed. Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976.
Price was included in the catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum’s Bicentennial Exhibition, with a biographical note and entries on the Rose Valley community and his early reinforced concrete design for Jacob Reed’s Son’s store in center city Philadelphia. These entries marked the first time that Price had been included in a publication aimed a national audience since 1930. See pages 460, 465–467, 472–473.
Thomas, George E. “William L. Price: Builder of Men and of Buildings.” PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1975.
Working from the archives of Price & McLanahan, the dissertation places Price in the context of the American late 19th and early 20th centuries, which contrasted with the European experience leading up to and including World War I. Thomas provides a broad overview of Price’s career, with photographic prints of many of the original negatives, to demonstrate the original work that Price initiated.
Thomas, George E. “A House Built on Sand.” In Via 7. Edited by Paula Behrens and Anthony Fisher, 8–21. Philadelphia: Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, 1984.
Photographs from the Price archives documenting the astonishingly fast construction of the reinforced concrete Traymore Hotel, between Labor Day 1914 and 1 June 1915, underpin an article in a journal focused on building practices. A hybrid system of massive steel columns and beams in the cores of the lower-level reinforced concrete structure carried the increasing load of the upper stories while the concrete cured.
Thomas, George E. William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000.
Thomas provides an extensive family history and explores Price’s time in Frank Furness’s office while placing him in an American cultural context. The text concludes with an overview of the successor firms, a catalogue of major projects, a checklist of projects, a partial bibliography of Price’s writings, and several of his essays.
Thomas, George E. Frank Furness: Architecture in the Age of the Great Machines. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
Furness’s practice, his industrial clientele, and his links to American philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and Walt Whitman provide the cultural background for Price’s initial and later designs. Central to understanding Price is the comparison between his experience in the Furness office with that of Louis Sullivan, five years earlier, and George Howe, three decades later.
Thomas, George E., Patricia Ricci, J. Bruce Thomas, et al. Buildings of the United States: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010.
Price’s career is placed in the cultural context of Quaker and industrial Pennsylvania, the influential teaching and practice of Frank Furness, and the rising industrial culture that provided the clientele that supported a unique architectural mode; includes extensive bibliography.
Thomas, George E., and Susan Snyder. “William Price’s Traymore Hotel: Modernity in the Mass Resort.” Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 25 (2005): 186–215.
The seashore hotel typology enabled architects to express identities that could be selected by customers. Atlantic City referenced American urbanism with skyscraper hotels clustered along the Boardwalk; after World War II, Miami Beach’s architect, Morris Lapidus, transformed the seashore hotel into an urbane country club; Las Vegas combines theming with a hybrid mall-skyscraper typology that draws on both Atlantic City and Miami models.
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