Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Architect Ellery Lothrop Davis (1887.1956) executed a broad spectrum of projects, ranging from residences to educational buildings to military facilities, in Lincoln, throughout Nebraska, and around the Plains region from 1909 until his death in 1956. Davis was born in Florida, son of mathematics professor Ellery Williams Davis. Professor Davis relocated to Lincoln to join the University of Nebraska staff in 1893 and was later dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Ellery graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1906 and from the School of Architecture at Columbia University in 1909. He returned to Lincoln and commenced his architectural career, working briefly as a draftsman for George Berlinghof, then joining him in partnership. The German-born and -schooled Berlinghof had settled in Nebraska in the early 1880s and enjoyed considerable success throughout the region, especially in public commissions such as libraries and county courthouses, before moving to Lincoln in 1905.

The seven-year partnership of the young American and the middle-aged German was highly productive, resulting in major, lasting structures such as the University of Nebraska College of Law, Lincoln High School, Miller and Paine Department Store, and Security Mutual Building (now called CenterStone), all in Lincoln. Their public buildings continued the skillful neoclassicism of Berlinghof's earlier work, while their retail and office structures reflected the tall commercial buildings of Chicago.

Berlinghof and Davis ended their partnership in 1917, and both men's practices apparently were curtailed during World War I. In 1919 Davis hired navy veteran and University of Nebraska graduate Walter F. Wilson (1893- 1970) as a draftsman. By 1921 Davis and Wilson's collaboration had blossomed into a durable partnership. From the beginning, public schools were a mainstay of the Davis and Wilson practice for communities throughout Nebraska. In Lincoln the partnership built numerous elementary and junior high schools and the district's next three high schools in 1939, 1955, and 1966. Nebraska colleges and universities also became major clients, led by the University of Nebraska, where the firm's many projects included Memorial Stadium, Morrill Hall, the Coliseum, the Student Union, and Love Memorial Library. Their broad practice also produced excellent churches, such as Lincoln's Gothic Revival Westminster Presbyterian and Byzantine-flavored Temple B'nai Jeshurun (both 1924); handsome Period Revival houses in Lincoln and elsewhere; and large and small commercial buildings. The Stuart Building in downtown Lincoln (1927-29) is a twelve-story, mixed-use structure combining a large movie theater, shops, and offices (now apartments), crowned by a clubhouse, and featuring Lincoln's only gargoyles.

Ellery L. Davis went into early retirement for health reasons in 1931, five years before his son Ellery Hall Davis entered the firm after also graduating from Columbia. Wilson sustained the firm through the Great Depression but prepared to close in 1942 due to the wartime cessation of private construction. However, military projects supplanted private commissions, and Ellery L. rejoined Wilson in 1942 to develop Buckley Army Air Field near Denver. The enlarged firm also worked as engineers or architects for several Nebraska military installations.

After the war the firm's practice again broadened to governmental, educational, hospital, industrial, and commercial buildings throughout Nebraska. A Colonial Revival chapel for Hastings College in 1948 was a stylistic exception, as the firm's work became predominantly International Style. Ellery L. Davis died in 1956, and Walter Wilson retired in 1965. In 1968 the firm was renamed Davis/Fenton/ Stange/Darling to reflect ownership by Ellery H. Davis, William M. Fenton, James H. Stange, and Howard Darling. In 1994 the name was simplified to Davis Design, which in 2003 remained the dean of Lincoln architectural firms.

Edward F. Zimmer Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Department

Previous: Danish Architecture | Contents | Next: Depression Architecture

XML: egp.arc.015.xml