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Architect Willis Polk: Buildings & Biography

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

American architect Willis Polk helped shape the San Francisco landscape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this lesson, we will discover the life and work of this artist.

Meet Willis Polk

From the magnificent Hobart Building to the stunning townhouses throughout San Francisco, American architect Willis Polk was one of the few architects that shaped the San Francisco region.

While Polk incorporated many styles into his designs, most of the residences he created reflected the Georgian Revival architectural style. In this lesson, we are going to dive into the details of Willis Polk's life and the many buildings that he designed.

The Life of Willis Polk

Born on October 3, 1867 in Jacksonville, Illinois, you could say Willis Polk, was born to be an architect. He showed a deep interest in design and construction. At age eight, he started his training, and by age twenty he was working for Van Brunt & Howe in Kansas City, Missouri.

After getting some experience, he got a job with A. Page Brown, an American architect in New York City. When the firm decided to open an office on the West Coast, Polk decided to move with the firm.

Polk opened his own firm in 1890, but couldn't find commissions that would keep his finances afloat. His luck changed in 1899 when architect Francis Hamilton invited Polk to partner with him. This changed Polk's life and he celebrated a successful career with several partners and eventually his own private firm.

A home designed by Willis Polk
san fran

During his career, he designed many notable San Francisco buildings including the Hobart Building, War Memorial Opera House, and the Hallidie Building.

While these buildings are well known, Polk successfully designed over 100 public buildings during his career and countless residences often designed in the Georgian Revival style. Georgian Revival has aspects of Colonial homes including symmetry, ornamentation, a hip roof, decorative shutters on the windows, and a central front door.

In his later career, Willis Polk shifted from overseeing the completion of his designs to just designing buildings. On September 10, 1924, Polk died at 57. His firm continued under his nephew for another decade before it shut down.

Notable Buildings by Willis Polk

Willis Polk designed hundreds of buildings. Let's take a look at some of his finest designs.

Hobart Building

Hobart Building
hobart

Located in San Francisco's Financial District, the Hobart Building is a fine high-rise designed and built in 1914. It stands at 285 feet and has a unique geometric design. It is an elongated rectangle with a curved façade. The lower half of the building extends outward in a triangular fashion with 'Hobart Building' carved into the stone.

War Memorial Opera House

War Memorial Opera House
war memorial

Willis Polk was in charge of the design of the War Memorial Opera House in 1913 along with a handful of other prestigious architects. The building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style, which is an architectural style that is heavy on ornamentation and grandeur.

The front-facing façade of the building has eight pairs of columns perched above archways. The building was completed in 1932, eight years after Polk's death.

Hallidie Building

Hallidie Building
hallidie

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