Bay Area Architects: Bliss & Faville
Walter Danforth Bliss was born in Nevada. His father, a successful banker and entrepreneur, was able to send his five children to the Masssachusetts Institue of Technology. At MIT, Bliss met his future partner William Baker Faville who had been born in San Andreas, California, but reared in western New York State.
Bliss and Faville left MIT in 1895 to work for McKim, Mead & White in New York City. In 1898, they moved to San Francisco and formed a partnership. They leveraged the business connections of Bliss' father to secure residential commissions and build a reputation.
Charles F. Crocker selected the new firm to design the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square and sent the pair to Europe to study the finest hotels in London and Paris. In 1904, the hotel opened. Just two years later, it was being expanded from a U shape to an E shape when most of downtown San Francisco was destroyed by the 1906 Eathquake and Fire. The hotel was damaged, but it was repaired and reopened in 1907.
Bliss bought the lot at 2990 Vallejo Street in 1910 and built his house next door to that of architect Edgar Mathews. The house he built for himself and his wife was an early use of reinforced concrete in a residential building. From the front, the house appears to be two stories high, but it is located on a steep lot and in the rear it is at least eighty feet high. (Given the steepness of San Francisco's hills, many houses, like iceburgs, are largely hidden from view and more formidable than they at first appear.)
Bliss & Faville often imitated buildings designed by McKim, Mead & White. In those days, architectural critics did not fetishize originality for its own sake, and appropriation was praised rather than condemned:
The general resemblance of the [Bank of California to] the Knickerbocker Trust Company in New York will, of course, strike everyone who is familiar with the latter building; but the architects are to be congratulated rather than condemned for their frank and intelligent attempt to make under happier conditions a revised version of a good thing.
(Architectural Record 1906: 471)
Bliss and Faville terminated their partnership amicably in 1925.
Buildings Designed by Bliss & Faville Sequenced By City and Address
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