Willis Polk

Powerful Essays
San Francisco was becoming a cultural center of the isolated Californian frontier in the late nineteenth century. While advancements in communication and transportation were closing the geographical barriers between East Coast and European influences, San Francisco progressed into a distinctive pioneer society. The city attracted artists, architects, and writers from all around the globe to develop innovative ideas from traditional fundamentals. The most dramatic evidence of San Francisco’s coming of age can be seen in the field of architecture, where design practices were departing away from norms established elsewhere.

A new movement for local design in San Francisco was established during the 1890s, known as Academic Eclecticism. It represented a different approach from the nineteenth-century conception of style, in which design was limited by traditional stylistic parameters. Architects were now taking a more liberal perspective in design, where they fostered gradual evolution of their art by using historical precedents, then modifying and combining them in accordance to contemporary need. The movement’s aim was academic by encouraging architectural development through a scholarly knowledge of the past, which was acquired through formal education. The Bourn Mansion’s Architect, Willis Polk, along with architects Ernest Coxhead, A.C. Scheweinfuth, and Bernard Maybeck principally influenced Academic Eclecticism in San Francisco due to their renowned talent. Each architect was educated in either the East Coast or Europe before moving to San Francisco in the late nineteenth century. The city’s pioneer society and isolation allowed the architects to design freely without the limitations of architectural standards that were impose...

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...later commissioned to design Filoli, Bourn’s country house in Woodside, California. Constructed in 1915, Filoli is a grand masonry building with Georgian characteristics. It was designed for a grand scale of living, with large living areas and magnificent gardens. Polk and local muralist Bruce Porter designed the gardens in a collaborative effort.

The Bourn Mansion represents one of the earliest significant design projects of Willis Polk’s career. It was his first project of its size to be completed, and the first to be built for William Bowers Bourn II. Shortly after, Polk rose to prominence as a leading architect of the San Francisco Bay Area. He is credited for designing important civic, residential and commercial buildings throughout the remainder of his career. Polk played in a leading role in the planning of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
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