One of the best-known and most adept practitioners of the Colonial Revival style, especially as it was applied in Pennsylvania, R. Brognard Okie was born in Camden, NJ, to Dr. Richardson B. and Clara Mickle Okie. After studying mechanical engineering at his father's alma mater, Haverford College, for two years, he completed his education in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1897 and gaining practical experience from a summer (1896) spent with William L. Price. After college he was employed by Arthur S. Cochran and soon became his associate, but in 1898 he, H. Louis Duhring, and Charles Ziegler organized Duhring, Okie & Ziegler, an office which would endure through 1918, with Okie continuing in independent practice until his sudden death in an automobile accident. In the year prior to his death a few projects had appeared with Okie & Okie on the title block, acknowledging the partnership which he had established with his son Charles Okie.
Although Duhring, Okie, & Ziegler had expressed a versatility with style, while staying within the popular Cotswold mixed with Pennsylvania farmhouse trend, Okie specialized in the restoration and reconstruction of Pennsylvania colonial and vernacular residences. He restored such landmarks as the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia and reconstructed the estate of William Penn, "Pennsbury Manor," in Tullytown, PA. An early indication of his abilities occurred when he was apponted by the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition for the reconstruction of High Street, an project in which he was associated with E. Perot Bissell and John P. B. Sinkler. For a troubled and financially plagued exposition, the High Street reconstruction marked a pinpont of success. Although his specialty certainly was restoration and reconstruction, Okie also designed new residences in the attractive Pennsylvania colonial style and by the late 1920s and beyond was much in demand as a residential designer (see his residences for Nicholar R. Dupont, Wilmington, DE, Ernst R. Behrend, Erie, PA, and Charles A. Higgins, London Grove, PA).
George Koyl characterized Okie's design as as an "expression of an American way of life," but he further described some of the characteristic details of Okie's work:
One recognizes in houses of his design the common denominator of undressed fieldstone walls, with either pointed or struck joints . . . Door and window frames of solid oak or cypress and sills cut out of 6" or 8" pieces of solid white oak . . . The flat lintel, built of three stones including the center key, or the segmental arch of the same undressed fieldstone . . . Along the eaves of facade there is usually a prominent square box cornice with pole gutter . . . Thin bargeboards . . . setting the chimney back sufficiently from the wall face for a narrow strip of overlapping shingles . . . Chimneys are a feature of Mr. Okie's houses, just as are the fireplaces within. Of generous size, beautifully proportioned, they are always well related to walls and roofs.
This checklist of Okie features, so recognizable to his contemporaries, can define the Okie approach to a Pennsylvania colonial style. It is no wonder that speculative builders often copied the Okie style, and historians can find characteristic Okie details recycled by such popular architect/builders as Walter Durham.
Okie joined the AIA in 1919 and received emeritus status in 1932.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- University of Pennsylvania
- Haverford College
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