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Born: 1809, Died: 3/1/1889

Gordon Parker Cummings, one of the first bi-coastal American architects, left his innovative mark on both Philadelphia, where he was in practice as early as 1844, and California, where he worked during two periods straddling the Civil War. By 1846 Cummings was teaching at The Carpenters' Company school of architecture, a position he maintained until January, 1849. This period of the late 1840s and early 1850s was a busy one for Cummings, and he designed in a wide variety of styles: houses for Frances Hopkinson in Egyptian Revival (1845); a Presbyterian Church on Fairmount in Greek Ionic (1847); the D. L. Hutchinson building in "blended" Greek and Roman styles (1848); a building on George above Sixth streets of a "Roman style similar to Diocletian Baths" (1849); the cast iron Penn Mutual building, the first iron-fronted building in the United States outside of New York (1850); and the Grand Lodge of Colored Masons in "Early English Gothic" (1851). For Thomas Ustick Walter's Two Hundred Designs for Cottage and Villas (Philadelphia: 1846), Cummings prepared three drawings (numbers 21, 50, 105).

The boom town appeal of post-Gold Rush California attracted Cummings to San Francisco where he appears in 1852 with an office at 152 Montgomery Street. From this first stay of two years only two of Cummings designs are known: the Union Hotel (1852-53) and the Montgomery Block (1853), both in San Francisco. According to Philadelphia city directories, Cummings had returned to this city by 1855 although virtually nothing is yet known of his architectural work for the next decade. In 1857 he became a member of the St. Andrews Society, and in 1861 Cummings was one of 19 signers of the application requesting a charter for the Pennsylvania Institute of Architects.

In 1865, according to Alta California (2 August 1865), "Mr. G. P. Cummings, an architect of repute at home and abroad, has returned to this city and resumed the practice of his profession. Mr. Cummings is, we believe, the first, or one of the first, practitioners of his beautiful art on the shores of the Pacific, as several of our important public and private buidings were erected by him." Shortly thereafter Reuben Clark, architect of the California Capitol in Sacramento, went insane and died; Cummings, who had recently been appointed Clark's assistant, was placed in charge of the project (1 January 1866). He remained on the project with one brief interruption until 1874. Following a two-year period of private practice in San Francisco, during which he designed California Hall for the Centennial Exposition, Cummings reappears in Philadelphia city directories, where he continues to be listed for the balance of his life (1878-1889). Cummings died at the age of 80 at the Pennsylvania Masonic Home. He bequeathed his "walking cane with a gold quartz head" that he had received from "the workmen on the Capitol Building of California" to John Baird and his portrait by Emanuel Leutze, painter of the iconic Washington Crossing the Delaware, to his "dear friend" John McArthur, Jr.

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  • Pennsylvania Institute of Architects


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