Francis Barry Byrne

Francis Barry Byrne (1883-1967), sixteen years younger than Wright, was born in Chicago, IL. Although Byrne had ambitions to become an architect, he left school at the age of 14 to take a job in the mail order room of Montgomery Ward. He found comfort in riding Chicago's trolley cars all day Sunday, visiting the Art Institute and immersing himself in reading. On a Sunday afternoon in 1902, Bryne’s life changed forever upon seeing a Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. Undaunted, Bryne presented himself at Wright’s Oak Park studio.


Wright, not a great lover of formal education, did not mind that Bryne had not finished his education beyond the 9th grade. Seeing in Bryne the same love and enthusiasm for architecture he himself had in his youth, Wright gave Bryne an apprenticeship at the Oak Park studio. Since he had no formal architectural training, he was relegated to working under Wright assistants William Drummond and Walter Burley Griffin. His training continued until 1907 at which time he was then considered a member of the studio.


While at the studio he helped execute drawings for the Tomek, Beachey and Coonley houses and also for Unity Temple. Byrne left Wright’s studio in August of 1908. He then worked for Walter Burley Griffin for a very brief time.


In 1909 he went to Seattle, WA to form a partnership with former Wright employee Andrew Willatzen (1876-1974) who had left Chicago for Spokane, WA in 1907, after working for Wright on and off since 1902. Willatzen was in Seattle at that time managing the Seattle office of the prestigious firm of Cutter & Malmgren. Together they designed over 50 residences and commercial buildings during their association.


After leaving Seattle in 1913, Byrne sought work in San Diego, California while staying with two of Wright's sons, John and Lloyd. When Walter Burley Griffin won a competition to design the new capitol city of Canberra, Australia in 1913, he offered Byrne the position of manager of his Chicago office. Byrne accepted the job and returned to Chicago in 1914 and managed Griffin’s office. One of his first projects was completing Griffin's Mason City Sam Schneider House. Griffin's Chicago office was officially closed in 1917. In 1915, at age 32, Bryne established his own practice in Chicago, breaking away from the Prairie School concept and developing his own distinctive style as demonstrated in his design Mason City's Hugh Gilmore House (1915), E.V. Franke house (1917) and Melson Mausoleum (1915).


Bryne served briefly with the U.S. Army during World War I, and then continued his Chicago practice. He established a long association with the Roman Catholic Church designing churches and schools for the Chicago Archdiocese. In 1926 he married an artist named Annette Cremin. Byrne met her through his association with the sculptor Alfonso Iannelli. Both Byrne and Wright hired Iannelli to help with numerous of their individual projects.


When his commissions began to diminish in the 1930s, Byrne moved to New York to try to re-establish his practice. Commissions were not plentiful in New York either. To supplement his income he took a job as a building inspector and began a career as a writer.


Byrne returned to Chicago in 1945 and worked on smaller projects and four Roman Catholic churches until his semi-retirement in 1953. His last commission was for a building on the campus of St. Procopius College (1962) (now Illinois Benedictine College) in Lisle, IL, which he executed at age 79.


He died on December 18, 1967 after being struck by an automobile driven by the former president of the American Baseball League, William Harridge. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Evanston, IL.


[adapted from articles in and Wikipedia]




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