James C. M. Shirk represents that first wave of Philadelphia architects who went abroad to study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Returning home to Philadelphia, these architects often undertook entries in important architectural competitions as well as commissions for public and institutional buildings. Shirk was born in Philadelphia, the son of U. S. Navy Commander James W. Shirk and Mary W. Shirk. After graduating from Central High School in 1886, Shirk entered an apprenticeship with Addison Hutton, with whom he remained until September, 1888, when he left for a 14-month sojourn in Europe. While in Europe, Shirk studed at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in the Atelier Pascal. Upon his return to Philadelphia in 1891, Shirk and another Hutton alumnus, Charles L. Hillman established Hillman & Shirk. This partnership lasted only one year, however, under that name; and in 1892 the partners formally returned to Hutton as principals in the firm. In June, 1893 Shirk withdrew from this arrangement and established an independent practice with offices in the Philadelphia National Bank Building. Although Shirk's practice, like that of Hutton, was chiefly residential, he did gain a number of institutional commissions, including the Pennsylvania State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (Harrisburg, PA), as well as several buildings for the Philadelphia Home for Incurables (Fairview, PA). In a 30 September 1898 letter preserved in the First Baptist Church Archives in Philadelphia, Shirk mentioned his success in several competitions to support his desire to compete for the building. Mentioned in that letter are his first prize for the War Library and Museum for the Loyal Legion, the first prize for a "building in Erie, Pa.," probably the Marine National Bank at Erie, and the third prize for the Pennsylvania State Building for the World's Fair.
Shirk joined the T-Square Club in 1891. According to his Journal of the American Institute of Architects obituary, Shirk was residing in Scranton, PA, when he died; however, the stationary used by Mrs. Shirk to notify the national AIA of his death used the letterhead of the Hotel Miami in Dayton, OH.
Sandra L. Tatman.
Clubs and Membership Organizations
- American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
- T-Square Club
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