A Girard College graduate (1914), Walter K. Durham became one of the most popular Main Line architect/builders of the twentieth century. After his father's death, when the young Durham was less than one year old, the family lived in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia and in Riverton, NJ. Durham entered Girard College on 31 January 1905 and received training in drafting while at the College. When he left Girard on 25 December 1914, the College recommended him for employment at the Harrison Chemical Company at 35th Street and Grays Ferry Road in Philadelphia.
The intervention of World War I interrupted his time with the Harrison Company; and when he returned, he worked in the office of several local builders and took courses at Drexel Institute (mechanical engineering course, 1915-16). By 1919 he is listed as a draftsman in the Philadelphia city directories, and by 1920 he has opened his own office at 323 Walnut Street. During the 1920s Durham established a few shortlived partnerships: Smedley Durham Co., architects and engineers, with engineer Ira D. Smedley, from 1923 to 1925; and Durham & Irvine, builders, with James Irvine, beginning around 1925, through 1936 at least.
After the demise of the Durham & Irvine partnership, Durham employed a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Aaron Hostetter Spencer as his chief designer and subsequently flourished as a builder and developer of Main Line residences, especially in Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Gladwyne, PA. Durham offered a residence which, in style, was similar to the work produced by such well-known architects as Edmund B. Gilchrist and R. Brognard Okie, often relying on colonial details to set the style of the house.
Sandra L. Tatman.
- Drexel Institute
- Girard College
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