Although he labored in the shadow of the better known Frank Furness
, Willis G. Hale shared Furness's personal, sometimes eccentric style, and produced a number of large residences for such Philadelphia luminaries as Peter A. B. Widener. An architect and musician, Willis G. Hale was born in Seneca Falls, NY, the son of Charles H. Hale. He studied at both the Academy of Seneca Falls and Lake Cayuga Academy in Aurora, NY, before graduating from Auburn High School in Auburn, NY. He then apprenticed in several offices in Buffalo and Rochester, NY, and came to Philadelphia in the 1860s, entering the office of Samuel Sloan
but moving by the 1870s to John McArthur, Jr.'s
firm. In 1872/73 he moved to Wilkes-Barre, PA and entered private practice, but by 1876 he had returned to Philadelphia and married a member of the Weightman family, thus assuring numerous architectural commissions from William Weightman and other entrepreneurs in the city.
Hale continued in independent practice throughout the rest of his life, designing a number of major office buildings and banks in Philadelphia, such as the Mechanics' Insurance Building of 1881, the Record Building of 1881/82, and the Union Trust Co. Building of 1884. In addition Hale designed several residential operations for such speculators as Weightman as well as individual homes, such as the P.A.B. Widener residence at North Broad Street and Girard Avenue of 1887. Hale has been compared to Frank Furness stylistically and was included in the approbation leveled at Furness in the series titled "Architectural Aberrations," ("Architectural Aberrations: No. 9 - The Hale Building" Architectural Record, 3 (October-December 1893): 207-2l0), in which his work was accused of ensuring that "the building shall lack unity, shall lack harmony, shall lack repose and shall be a restless jumble." Furthermore, the author complained that Philadelphians looked upon the Hale and other "aberrations" with "fatuous complacency," and, in fact, would point "with pride to the monstrosities of Chestnut street . . ." Toward the end of Hale's life, according to the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide "his connection with the Weightman estate absorbed his attention and he practically withdrew from the competitive struggles of the day."
Hale became a junior member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AlA in 1871 and was also a member of the national organization. In addition he held memberships in the Philadelphia Art Club, the Utopian Club, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Fairmount Park Association, and the Athletic Club of the Schuylkill Navy. Hale was also popular in musical endeavors as a singer in Philadelphia and owned a fine collection of stringed instruments.