Born near Syracuse, New York, Irving Gill (1870-1936) was descended from Quakers and grew up in a family with ties to the building trades; his father was a carpenter and a farmer. Gill trained in architecture through an apprenticeship with architect Ellis K. Hall in Syracuse and, based on Hall’s recommendation, moved to Chicago in 1890 to work for architect Joseph L. Silsbee. By 1891, however, Gill was in the office of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright (who had earlier worked for Silsbee) was working for Sullivan at this time and later claimed that Gill worked under his guidance. The Adler and Sullivan office was engaged with the Transportation Building for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This early modern design was one of the few buildings not in the classical style for which the fair became known and highly influential, and it is likely that Gill may have worked on this project during his brief tenure in the office.
Reportedly because of ill health, Gill moved to San Diego in 1893. There he entered a short-lived partnership with Joseph Falkenham, then established in 1896 an office with William Sterling Hebbard, which lasted until 1906. In the following years Gill worked alone, though he collaborated with architect Frank Mead on a few projects between 1906-1907. Gill's nephew, Louis Gill joined the office in 1911 and became a partner around 1914. Gill increasingly spent time in the Los Angles area, doing work in Torrance and Los Angeles through the 1920s, with Louis Gill managing the San Diego office, until their partnership ended. In the late 1920s, Gill designed several projects, many unrealized, in collaboration with San Diego architect John Siebert.
Gill published several essays during his lifetime, in which he argued for a simple and authentic architecture, famously writing, “[a]ny deviation from simplicity results in a loss of dignity.” Many of his projects show his social concerns for the poor and working men and women, as in his houses for working men and single women, and his designs for the Rancho Barona Indian resettlement village in Lakeside, California.
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