Willis Polk

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Works Hallidie Building, at San Francisco, California, 1918.

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Willis Polk

(b. Jacksonville, Illinois 1867; d. San Francisco 1924)

The son of a carpenter, Willis Jefferson Polk was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1867. Apprenticed to a St. Louis contractor at age eight, he eventually established an architectural firm in Kansas City, Missouri with his father. Polk worked for a number of architects across the country before he moved to San Francisco and opened his own office.

Polk was instrumental in redirecting the course of architecture in the San Francisco region according to the ideals of the academic movement. During the 1890s, he produced unusually diverse architectonic forms, space, scale, and imagery. He drew from post-medieval vernacular sources and from classical schemes.

At the turn of the century, Polk emulated the works of Daniel H. Burnham. Polk designed for Burnham in Chicago and assisted him in preparing a master plan for San Francisco. After the 1906 fire, Polk assumed charge of Burnham's new west coast office. The association lasted until 1910 when the office converted to Polk's name.

Polk mainly designed large commercial buildings in the 1900s and 1910s. Fashioned in Burnham's suave, classical style, they showed far less originality than Polk's earlier schemes. Financial mismanagement led to a steady decrease in commissions after World War I. Little of consequence was in the office when Polk died in 1924.

Adolf K Placzek. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects. Vol. 3. London: The Free Press, 1982. ISBN 0-02-925000-5. NA40.M25. p444-445.

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