William H. Lee, known as a designer of both theatres and academic buildings, was born in Shamokin, PA, the son of Kimber and Clara (Creasy) Lee. He graduated from Shamokin High School in 1905 and attended Trinity College in Hartford, CT, for one year before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied architecture until 1908 and then returned to Shamokin and worked in the Shamokin Lumber Co. from 1908 to 1912. (According to his listing in the American Architects Directory
of 1956, he also apprenticed with Furness & Evans
in 1910.) In 1912 he established his own architectural firm in Shamokin and did not return to Philadelphia until 1919, when he opened architectural offices at 32 South 17th Street, according to a notice in the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders Guide
(2 July 1919). In the following year the PRERBG
announced that the Ritcher-Lee Co.
had been established as a combination of the firms of A. A. Ritcher
and H. I. Eiler
of Reading and William H. Lee of Philadelphia. The South 17th Street office is noted as the Philadelphia outpost, and the Reading, PA, office at Sixth and Court streets was also continued. Thereafter Lee's career flourished in Philadelphia, but he retained many of his ties to Shamokin and the surrounding towns.
Immediately notable were the number of theatres which he designed, and for which he has received considerable attention; but by 1927 he was also completing the first of several buildings for Temple University in North Philadelphia. Perhaps these well-publicized commissions led to other academic projects, for Lee was soon involved in worked for Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA; and ultimately he became the chief architect for Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Eastern College, serving them from 1947 until his death. In 1964 Lee and younger architect Walter Thaete established Lee & Thaete Associates, with whom Lee was working as a consultant when he died.
Lee joined the AIA in 1927 and later received emeritus status. He was also one of the founders of the Philadelphia Police Athletic League.