Saturday, November 12, 2016

Architect John Fraser

British Legation, Connecticut Ave at N Street, NW. 

            Architect John Fraser was first listed in Washington’s City Directory in 1872, when he maintained an office at 515 7th Street, N.W.  In 1874, he moved his operation to 1509 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he would remain through 1876.  He was first listed as an architect beginning with the 1877 Directory, when he designed the houses at 1433 to 1439 Q Street for developer George Truesdall.  He was listed at 1333 F Street in 1890, when he indicated that he had his son join the business that year. 

            Fraser was a native of Scotland and had first practiced architecture in Philadelphia before coming to Washington in 1871.  He first appeared in the Philadelphia City Directories in the 1850s, and had formed a partnership with civil engineer Andrew Palles coined ‘Fraser and Palles’ in that city in 1857. 

            Interestingly, Fraser attracted two architects into his office that would go on to enjoy major success in their own careers; Frank Furness (1839-1912) learned draftsmanship in the office, as did Louis H. Sullivan.  Eventually, Fraser and architect George W. Hewitt entered into a partnership with Fraser, coined ‘Fraser, Furness, and Hewitt.’  The firm lasted until 1871 when Fraser moved to Washington to serve as the Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury.      

Fraser designed several residences and store buildings while in Washington, including the row of houses at 914 to 926 French Street, N.W.  In addition to 1433-1439 Q Street in 1877, he designed the house at 1313 R Street in 1877, 1500 Rhode Island Avenue in 1879, and 1407 15th Street in 1881.  In 1884, Fraser provided the plans for the first portion of the Kahn’s Department Store at Pennsylvania Avenue and 7th Street (destroyed by fire in 1979).  Fraser was also the architect for the British Legation, built in 1872 at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and N Street, illustrated above.  It was torn down in 1931.  

Fraser’s plans for the house at 1500 Rhode Island Avenue were completed in 1879 for owners John T and Jessie Willis Brodhead, pictured at right about 1925.  It was purchased in 1882 by Gardiner Hubbard fro his daughter Mabel, who was married to Alexander Graham Bell.  In 1889, it was purchased by Levi P. Morton, who hired architect John Russell Pope in 1912 to turn the turreted Victorian into a classic revival house at a cost of $20,000.  It remains on the site at Scott Circle in its vastly altered form today. 

Fraser returned to Philadelphia in 1890 along with his son Archibald Alexander Fraser and practiced architecture until his son’s death in 1895, at which time Fraser retired to Riverton, New Jersey.  

Copyright Paul K. Williams

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