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John McArthur Jr.
Local ID #: MakersofPhila-210
Morris, Charles, ed. Makers of Philadelphia: An Historical Work. Philadelphia: L. R. Hamersly & Co., 1894., p. 210
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Born: 5/13/1823, Died: 1/8/1890

John McArthur, Jr., is chiefly remembered as the architect of Philadelphia City Hall (1872-1901), the tallest and largest public building in the United States at the time of its completion. He was born at Bladnock on Wigtown Bay in the western lowlands of Scotland; and he came to Philadelphia at the age of ten to live with his uncle, the master builder John McArthur. Apprenticed to a house carpenter, the lad also attended classes at The Carpenters' Company architectural school, then being conducted by William Johnston and G. Parker Cummings. He also attended lectures at the Franklin Institute given by Thomas Ustick Walter, who was nearing the peak of his own career and would later be employed by McArthur at the Philadelphia City Hall in the late 1870s and 1880s. Walter would write in 1854 that after John Notman, McArthur was the best architect in Philadelphia.

At the age of twenty-five McArthur won his first competition for the Philadelphia House of Refuge (1848). From that point he secured a steady stream of commissions. In the 1850s he designed three hotels in Philadelphia -- the Girard House (1852), La Pierre House (1853), and the Continental Hotel (1858) -- as well as churches, private residences, and commercial structures. During the Civil War McArthur was responsible for designing and erecting twenty-four temporary hospitals as architect for the Quartermaster General's Department in Philadelphia. Following the War he became Architect to the Department of the Navy and in 1871 Superintendent of Federal buildings under construction in Philadelphia.

During the post-War years (and before securing the Philadelphia City Hall commission for the final of three times), McArthur designed several structures notable for their mansardic roofs if not their fully developed Second Empire styling, particularly the residence of Dr. David Jayne(1865), the Public Ledger Building (1866), and Pardee Hall, Lafayette College (1873). In 1874 McArthur was offered the position of Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department when Alfred B. Mullett resigned. McArthur declined the appointment, stating that the Philadelphia City Hall project, now finally underway, was of "more account to any architect than the management of the public buildings of the United States at a beggarly salary, and hampered and pestered by political intriguers." McArthur devoted the balance of his life to the Philadelphia City Hall and died on January 8, 1890, a full decade before his chief monument was completed.

Written by Roger W. Moss.

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  • Franklin Institute
  • Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia

 

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