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The exterior of the Fisher Fine Arts Library. The facade is red with a tower and arched windows. Photo by Melissa Romero

11 fantastic buildings by Frank Furness in Philly

From a boathouse to one of the most beautiful libraries in the country

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Frank Lloyd Wright continues to be one of the most influential architects today. But much of the architect’s design ethos was shaped by the great Louis Sullivan, who is often known as the “Father of Modernism.”

Yet the work of Sullivan was also shaped by another architect: Frank Furness of Philadelphia. At the early age of 17, Sullivan took on an apprenticeship at the office of Furness & Hewitt. Though brief, Furness managed to leave a lasting impression on the young designer, who would go onto describe Furness as someone who “made buildings out of his head.”

Furness, born on November 12, 1839, was a prolific architect. It’s estimated that he designed nearly 200 buildings, residences, churches, banks, and more between 1878 and 1906, but many of them have since met the wrecking ball or have been altered beyond recognition. Still, many of his showstoppers still remain in Philadelphia and the surrounding region, including these 10 fantastical works below.

This is by no means a complete list of Furness’s existing works, but they offer some of the best examples of his ornamental and whimsical style, plus evolution as a designer over the years. They’re listed in order of the date they were designed and built.

If you’re eager to check out more Frank Furness works, read about the massive, 42-room mansion he designed, which was put up for auction last year, or the brownstone that’s being redeveloped into multi-million-dollar condos.

Have another Furness favorite? Share your pick(s) in the comments.

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1. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

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118-128 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Designed in 1871 and built five years later, the Historic Landmark Building at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is considered the first building that put Furness on the map, so to speak. Furness won the competition along with his partner George Hewitt to design the academy’s art museum and school building. Furness took a leaf from the industrial boom of Philadelphia at the time, taking groundbreaking measures to create a modern building with features like skylights, sandblasted ornamental designs inside and out, and steel and iron construction. The historic building continues to be used as a gallery and studios to this day and has undergone at least two major restorations.

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2. 22 S 40th St

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22 S 40th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

The blocky building at 22 South 40th Street may not be the most historic, nor the most heralded building on this list, but in a time when so many of Furness’s works are getting—or already have been—torn down around the city, it’s important to note the ones that still have some life ahead. This place definitely falls into that category. Designed in 1874, this three-story building is the subject of an upcoming $2.5 million restoration by U3 Ventures, which bought the place last year. They plan to restore the building, which is currently covered in tin siding, to its early 20th century glory. When it’s finished, the interior should be something pretty spectacular—it already has columns and 17 foot high ceilings on the first floor.

3. Mt. Airy Train Station

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119 E Gowen Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19119

Frank Furness designed a number of train stations throughout the Philadelphia region, some of which have been lost to the wrecking ball. But some of his smaller works continue to serve as stations along the SEPTA Regional Rail, including the Mt. Airy Train Station on the Chestnut Hill East Line. It dates back to 1875 and stands out for its gabled roof and Queen Anne Stick-style architecture. (One of Furness’ biggest train stations that’s still standing is the Wilmington Train Station in Delaware.)

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4. Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses

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3400 W Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19104

One of the first things visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo see is a set of two Victorian gatehouses that sit at the entrance. The small, but standout structures were designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt for the first zoo in the U.S. in 1875. They’ve been altered since, but still show off that Furness flair. (He also designed the zoo’s restaurant and elephant house, but both have since been demolished.)

Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

5. Centennial National Bank

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3140 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

One of the few-remaining banks in Philly by Furness is the Centennial National Bank in University City. The architect designed this hulking building in 1876, his first project after parting ways with partner George Hewitt. Today, it serves as an alumni center for Drexel University and it has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination called it “one of the best pieces of architecture in West Philadelphia.”

via Wikimedia Commons

6. Undine Barge Club

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13 Boathouse Row
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Furness’s craftsmanship is on prominent display along the Schuylkill River along the historic Boathouse Row. The architect brought his style and flair to the Undine Barge Club in 1882, at a time when the boathouse was nothing more than a shack. He also designed the club’s Castle Ringstetten, a social gathering spot that’s about three miles upriver from the boathouse.

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7. First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

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2125 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

The Furness-designed church that currently stands at 21st and Chestnut streets is actually the congregation’s third edifice. Furness had especially strong ties to the church—his father Reverend Dr. William Henry Furness was a long-time minister of the First Unitarian Church. Furness designed the sacred space in 1883 at the bequest of his father’s good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. The city’s first Tiffany glass window was installed here.

via Wikimedia Commons

8. Carriage Houses on Irving Street

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1317 Irving St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Furness designed dozens of impressive homes throughout Philly and the region. But these carriage houses that line Irving Street in the Gayborhood are definitely showstoppers. When Furness designed these structures around 1885, they were meant to serve as actual horse stables and carriage houses. Today, they’re homes and rentals.

Photo by Melissa Romero

9. Fisher Fine Arts Library

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220 S 34th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

One of the most iconic buildings that graces the University of Pennsylvania’s campus is the Fisher Fine Arts Library, designed by Furness in the late 1800s. Its fiery red brick facade is just as ornate and eye-popping as the library’s stunning interiors. In fact, Louis Kahn preferred to teach his studios in the Furness building over the actual PennDesign School next door. After it opened in 1891, the library underwent a major restoration by Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown and was renamed the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library. Today, it’s home to the university’s arts and architecture collection and a gallery.

Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

10. Mt. Sinai Cemetery Mortuary Chapel

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1901 Bridge St
Philadelphia, PA 19124

Mt. Sinai Cemetery is one of the oldest and active Jewish cemeteries in Philly, dating back to 1854. Furness didn’t bring his touch to the cemetery until 1892, when he designed a chapel for the cemetery. It’s short and stout, but features the architect’s tell-tale details like Moorish windows.

via Wikimedia Commons

11. The Girard Trust Bank

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10 Ave Of The Arts
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Toward the later end of Furness’s career, Philly began to see a more reserved and conservative version of the architect’s work. Take the Girard Trust Bank building, for example, which Furness designed in 1905 as an ode to the Pantheon in Rome. Fun fact, though: Next door to the domed building used to be home to a 12-story Furness high-rise, the headquarters of West End Trust and Safe Deposit Company. You can see a portion of it in the photo below, before it was razed. Today, it’s home to the Girard Building, which is now the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

1. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

118-128 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Designed in 1871 and built five years later, the Historic Landmark Building at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is considered the first building that put Furness on the map, so to speak. Furness won the competition along with his partner George Hewitt to design the academy’s art museum and school building. Furness took a leaf from the industrial boom of Philadelphia at the time, taking groundbreaking measures to create a modern building with features like skylights, sandblasted ornamental designs inside and out, and steel and iron construction. The historic building continues to be used as a gallery and studios to this day and has undergone at least two major restorations.

118-128 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

2. 22 S 40th St

22 S 40th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104

The blocky building at 22 South 40th Street may not be the most historic, nor the most heralded building on this list, but in a time when so many of Furness’s works are getting—or already have been—torn down around the city, it’s important to note the ones that still have some life ahead. This place definitely falls into that category. Designed in 1874, this three-story building is the subject of an upcoming $2.5 million restoration by U3 Ventures, which bought the place last year. They plan to restore the building, which is currently covered in tin siding, to its early 20th century glory. When it’s finished, the interior should be something pretty spectacular—it already has columns and 17 foot high ceilings on the first floor.

22 S 40th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

3. Mt. Airy Train Station

119 E Gowen Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19119
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Frank Furness designed a number of train stations throughout the Philadelphia region, some of which have been lost to the wrecking ball. But some of his smaller works continue to serve as stations along the SEPTA Regional Rail, including the Mt. Airy Train Station on the Chestnut Hill East Line. It dates back to 1875 and stands out for its gabled roof and Queen Anne Stick-style architecture. (One of Furness’ biggest train stations that’s still standing is the Wilmington Train Station in Delaware.)

119 E Gowen Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19119

4. Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses

3400 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

One of the first things visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo see is a set of two Victorian gatehouses that sit at the entrance. The small, but standout structures were designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt for the first zoo in the U.S. in 1875. They’ve been altered since, but still show off that Furness flair. (He also designed the zoo’s restaurant and elephant house, but both have since been demolished.)

3400 W Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19104

5. Centennial National Bank

3140 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
via Wikimedia Commons

One of the few-remaining banks in Philly by Furness is the Centennial National Bank in University City. The architect designed this hulking building in 1876, his first project after parting ways with partner George Hewitt. Today, it serves as an alumni center for Drexel University and it has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination called it “one of the best pieces of architecture in West Philadelphia.”

3140 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

6. Undine Barge Club

13 Boathouse Row, Philadelphia, PA 19130

Furness’s craftsmanship is on prominent display along the Schuylkill River along the historic Boathouse Row. The architect brought his style and flair to the Undine Barge Club in 1882, at a time when the boathouse was nothing more than a shack. He also designed the club’s Castle Ringstetten, a social gathering spot that’s about three miles upriver from the boathouse.

13 Boathouse Row
Philadelphia, PA 19130

7. First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

2125 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
via Wikimedia Commons

The Furness-designed church that currently stands at 21st and Chestnut streets is actually the congregation’s third edifice. Furness had especially strong ties to the church—his father Reverend Dr. William Henry Furness was a long-time minister of the First Unitarian Church. Furness designed the sacred space in 1883 at the bequest of his father’s good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. The city’s first Tiffany glass window was installed here.

2125 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103

8. Carriage Houses on Irving Street

1317 Irving St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Photo by Melissa Romero

Furness designed dozens of impressive homes throughout Philly and the region. But these carriage houses that line Irving Street in the Gayborhood are definitely showstoppers. When Furness designed these structures around 1885, they were meant to serve as actual horse stables and carriage houses. Today, they’re homes and rentals.

1317 Irving St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

9. Fisher Fine Arts Library

220 S 34th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

One of the most iconic buildings that graces the University of Pennsylvania’s campus is the Fisher Fine Arts Library, designed by Furness in the late 1800s. Its fiery red brick facade is just as ornate and eye-popping as the library’s stunning interiors. In fact, Louis Kahn preferred to teach his studios in the Furness building over the actual PennDesign School next door. After it opened in 1891, the library underwent a major restoration by Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown and was renamed the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library. Today, it’s home to the university’s arts and architecture collection and a gallery.

220 S 34th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

10. Mt. Sinai Cemetery Mortuary Chapel

1901 Bridge St, Philadelphia, PA 19124
via Wikimedia Commons

Mt. Sinai Cemetery is one of the oldest and active Jewish cemeteries in Philly, dating back to 1854. Furness didn’t bring his touch to the cemetery until 1892, when he designed a chapel for the cemetery. It’s short and stout, but features the architect’s tell-tale details like Moorish windows.

1901 Bridge St
Philadelphia, PA 19124

11. The Girard Trust Bank

10 Ave Of The Arts, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Toward the later end of Furness’s career, Philly began to see a more reserved and conservative version of the architect’s work. Take the Girard Trust Bank building, for example, which Furness designed in 1905 as an ode to the Pantheon in Rome. Fun fact, though: Next door to the domed building used to be home to a 12-story Furness high-rise, the headquarters of West End Trust and Safe Deposit Company. You can see a portion of it in the photo below, before it was razed. Today, it’s home to the Girard Building, which is now the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

10 Ave Of The Arts
Philadelphia, PA 19102