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Daniel H. Burnham

Daniel H. Burnham, Architect [1846-1912]

Daniel H. Burnham [†], Architect (1846-1912) is considered the father of the "City Beautiful" movement in the U.S. Portions of the text below were adapted from the Preface of a 1921 biography written by Charles Moore. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

The Centennial Celebration at Philadelphia in 1876, after the Civil War, developed a new consciousness of nationality and inherent power; and during the next fifteen years the arts, especially architecture and sculpture, reached excellencies never before attained in this country. The celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus, the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893, caused our architects and landscape architects, our sculptors and our painters to work together for the first time. The spiritual result of that cooperation has been a feeling for public service awakened then among the artists themselves. The eminent material result was a group of buildings, not only of individual dignity and beauty, but also expressing that higher beauty which results from harmony in style, arrangement, and landscape setting.

The Chicago Fair marked a long advance in American appreciation and encouragement of the fine arts. And artists considered the future to a growing extent in terms of cooperation and of public service. Thus they recognized for the first time the necessity of some establishment for the sound training of their successors, who would be called upon to deal with the problems and fulfill the opportunities of increasing wealth and national power. The impulse to plan American cities for unity, amenity, and beauty was born of the Exposition. So, too, was the idea of establishing at Rome a school for training art students in the traditions and achievements of the past. The acquaintances developed at Chicago stimulated the several arts; for the great majority of our artists had some part in the work there, and came away with the satisfaction of success. The one man who from the beginning realized the great possibilities the Fair offered for the encouragement of fine arts in America was Daniel H. Burnham. He selected the artists, induced them to undertake the work as a public service, secured to each a full opportunity for expression, maintained harmony among them, and fought their battles with committees and contractors.

Such was his success and his training that he was thereafter continuously in public service. First he was called to lead in the re-planning and development of the National Capital. Then Cleveland and San Francisco appealed to him. Next the Government again sought his aid for Manila and the summer capital of Baguio. All the years from the time of the Fair he had been pondering in his mind the needs and possibilities of Chicago. At last the chance for action came. His abilities, his prestige, his vision were given to his home. He saw in his dreams the finest commercial city of the world standing on the shores of Lake Michigan — the finest city in which to work and to live.

To this end he planned more largely, more comprehensively, and more finely than any one had ever planned before. He saw his plans recorded in such manner that they will remain an incentive and a guide to his own and to succeeding generations. As a reward he lived to see the Plan of Chicago undertaken by the people of that city in a spirit and on a scale to insure ultimate accomplishment.

These results were achieved only by struggles, long, arduous; and often delayed by temporary defeat. Not all of his undertakings have been carried out, as yet. In some instances things have been done contrary to his advice. Yet as lessons his failures are hardly less valuable than his successes. No one man alone accomplishes such great undertakings; nor is he at all times the leader in the realization of his own ideas. The successful man owes much to the spirit of his age, and very much to the men with whom he is associated. The story of Mr. Burnham's life is in part the story of many other lives that touched his; of influences more powerful than the individual can command. In telling the story every attempt has been made to estimate at their true value the work and influence of those who cooperated with him. It was a glorious company that fought under his leadership — McKim, Saint-Gaudens, the Olmsteds, Frank Millet, Theodore Thomas, are but typical names. Scarcely an architect of prominence during a quarter of a century, scarcely a cause dear to the profession, but finds a place on these pages. Where plain words were spoken they concern not individuals but causes; for in Mr. Burnham's catholic nature were no personal animosities — only friendships.

He was first of all a man, with all a man's virtues, and also with some failings — that are not cloaked. Attempt has been made to disclose enough of his personal, private life to place him in true relation to his public, professional work; for there was in his mind no marked separation between the two. He was essentially the same man in home and office; and he labored to bring up his children as dependable, serviceable members of the community. Here he met with complete success. It is impossible to acknowledge all the help given in the preparation of this book. Many acknowledgments are recorded on the pages themselves. Much of Mr. Burnham's public career came under the observation of the author, who believes that he knew the workings of the Burnham mind well enough to insure that Mr. Burnham himself would not disapprove seriously of anything written herein.

Charles Moore

Washington, February, 1921

City Beautiful: Some noteworthy, surviving accomplishments spawned by the City Beautiful Movement.

Monument Avenue Historic District, Richmond, Virginia; listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1967.

City Beautiful influences can be seen throughout Richmond's Northside and are especially evident in the Hermitage Road Historic District. Hermitage Road itself is an expansive boulevard, one hundred feet wide, down the center of which ran the neighborhood's transportation system, the Lakeside Streetcar Line. The street is an extension of Richmond's Boulevard that terminates at Byrd Park at a statue of Christopher Columbus. The southern half of the Boulevard in particular includes all aspects of the City Beautiful Movement, including civic spaces.

† Moore, Charles, Daniel H. Burnham, Architect Planner of Cities, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1921.

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