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Design/Build: The Drawings of Phillips & Holloran, Architects

Cape Ann Museum
Gloucester, Massachusetts
Through October 9

Why should anyone make the long trek to the tip of Cape Ann to see an exhibition of architectural drawings? The charms of Gloucester itself are one obvious answer, as is the stature of the Cape Ann Museum, one of New England’s cultural treasures. 

You may not know or care about Ezra Phillips, Timothy Holloran, or his son, Robert Holloran, but you should care about the idea behind this exhibition: architectural history is also social history. The curators have rooted this notion in physical terms — their thematic “sense of place” — but the accompanying text amplifies the connections between the people who inhabited this place and what they chose to build.

The firm was established in 1894 and continued through the mid-1960s. Phillips produced most of the exhibition’s ink-on-linen drawings, many of which are house plans and elevations. Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Queen Ann, Four-Square — these houses expressed the aspirations of the city’s gentry as well as the rising fortunes of the region’s immigrants and working class. Drawings of hotels, commercial blocks, and banks reflect the expansion of the economic base from fishing and granite to commerce and tourism. 

Why else should you visit this exhibition? Phillips & Holloran represents a business model that still has relevance. As the profession in the 21st century continues to favor large corporate practices, the value and viability of the small general practice based in an outlying community or region are important to recognize. These are places where a talented architect can readily develop the business and social connections that sustain a practice and discover the satisfactions of influencing change as a respected community leader. Not a bad life.

Main Street Elevation, Block for Howard Blackburn, Esq., Main Street, Gloucester. Ezra L. Phillips, 1900. Scale: ¼"=1'. Ink on linen.
Image: Courtesy of Cape Ann Museum