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Male, US, born 1880-07-02, died 1965-04-11

Associated with the firms network

Bebb and Mendel, Architects; Gould, A. Warren, Architect; Howard, John Galen, Architect; Purcell and Bailey; Purcell and Elmslie, Architects; Purcell, William Gray, Architect

Professional History


Draftsman, Henry Ives Cobb, Architect, Chicago, IL, 1903; Draftsman, Louis Sullivan, Architect, Chicago, IL, 1903; Draftsman, George Elmslie, Architect, Chicago, IL, 1903; Purcell traveled to Los Angeles in 1903; Clerk of Works, John Galen Howard, Architect, 1904, working on the California Hall at the University of California, Berkeley; he moved to Seattle, WA, 1905; Draftsman, Bebb and Mendel, Architects, Seattle, WA, c. 1905; Draftsman, A. Warren Gould, Architect, Seattle, WA, 1905; he traveled in Europe, during 1906 with a colleague, George Feick, Jr., and then re-settled back in Minneapolis, MN; Partner, Purcell and [George, Jr.] Feick, Minneapolis, MN, 1907–1910; Partner, Purcell, Feick and Elmslie, Architects, Minneapolis, MN, 1910-1912; Partner, Purcell and [George Grant] Elmslie, Minneapolis, MN, 1913-1922.

Archivist and historian Mark Hammons characterized the partnership of Purcell and Elmslie: "Elmslie assumed charge of design and planning in the Purcell, Feick & Elmslie office and developed a relationship with Purcell that was in some ways ironically similar to the role that he had performed for Sullivan. Though brilliantly creative, Elmslie often lacked a practical sense of the economic constraints of a project and sometimes became unrealistically extravagant. Purcell was able to guide Elmslie toward more feasible solutions and could successfully relate the concepts behind the innovative forms to clients and craftsmen alike. Together the two men balanced the abilities of one another and formed one of the most artistically sensitive and productive practices among the progressive architects." (See Mark Hammons, Biographical Notes: George Grant Elmslie (1869-1952), accessed 06/17/2015.)

Following his break with Elmslie (1869–1952), Purcell opened his own practice in Portland, OR, 1922; in the 1930s, He designed a handful of residences in Southern CA, in association with the Portland, OR, architect, James Van Evera Bailey (1903-1980). Due to his diagnosis of tuberculosis in 1930, Purcell worked only intermittently after 1931. During Purcell's career in Minneapolis, he became one of the most successful architects to work in the Prairie Style, building extensively across the states of MN and WI.

Professional Service

Director, American Institute of Architects, Oregon Chapter, 1922-1924; Oregon Architect License # 0102; according to Richard Ellison Ritz, "Purcell designed perhaps a half dozen houses and the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, during his stay in Portland. He also made designs for bungalow apartments, which, however, were not built." (See Richard Ellison Ritz, Architects of Oregon, [Portland, OR: Lair Hill Publishing, 2002], p. 325.)

Professional Awards

Fellow, American Institute of Architects (FAIA), 1963; this award came about due to the lobbying of the AIA College of Fellows by colleague, James Van Evera Bailey. Purcell was one of four Southern CA architects to be elected to the AIA College of Fellows in 1963, the others being Charles Luckman (1909-1999), Edward A. Killingsworth (1917-2004), and Charles Day Woodford (1910-1987).



Graduate, Oak Park High School, Oak Park, IL, 1899. B.Arch., Cornell University, School of Architecture, Ithaca, NY, 1903;

College Awards

Won the Andrew D. White Competition of 1902 at Cornell University; White was a former President of Cornell and U.S. Ambassador to Germany. The web site Find A Grave adapted information from Mark Hammons, Finding Aid to theWilliam Gray Purcell Papers,(Northwest Architectural Archives, Manuscripts Division, University of Minnesota Libraries, 1985). Hammons wrote of the White Competition: "The design that he submitted was laughed at by others preparing their own entries, for the drawings featured no classical ornament and the plan was strictly organized according to the minimal requirements of the program. To the astonishment of his faculty and classmates, Purcell distinguished himself by winning first prize."



Purcell relocated frequently during his life, living in both the Midwest and on the Pacific Coast. Born in Willmette, IL, (or Winnetka, IL, the records are not clear) Purcell, grew up in his grandparents' household in Oak Park, IL, near the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1906, Purcell indicated on a US Passport application a home address of 319 North Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park, IL. Blessed with a wealthy family, Purcell could travel comfortably, and became something of a vagabond in his working career, settling in Chicago, IL, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, Seattle, WA, Minneapolis, MN, Portland, OR, and Pasadena, CA. Following the dissolution of his Minneapolis partnership of Purcell and Elmslie, Purcell moved to the West Coast, working in OR from about 1925 until 1930. A diagnosis of tuberculosis forced him to move to a dry desert climate in CA in the early 1930s. Following his 1935 release from a tuberculosis sanatorium, he moved to Pasadena, where he would build an estate he named "Westwinds." William Gray Purcell spent the remainder of his life in Southern CA, dying in Los Angeles at the age of 84.


His father, Charles Abraham Purcell (b.1854), was a wealthy executive with the malting firm founded by his brother, William, The W.H. Purcell Company (later part of the giant American Malting Company), and was an active member of the Chicago Board of Trade. (See Chapter XXV, "Malting and Brewing,"A History of the City of Chicago: Its Men and Institutions. [Chicago: Inter Ocean, 1900], p. 288-289.) His mother was Anna Cora Gray Purcell (1861-1914). Anna and Charles lived, early in their married life, with her father, William Cunningham Gray (1830-1901), and mother, Anna Catherine Garns Gray (1838-1934). W.C. Gray was a lawyer and significant journalist, the Editor of The Interior, a prominent Presbyterian Church publication, based in Chicago. Anna and Charles also had another son, Ralph C. Purcell(1887-1913), who spent his short life in IL.

Charles and Anna Gray Purcell moved out of her parents residence but became estranged early in William Gray Purcell's life, and, by age 6, the boy requested to return to live with Willam C. and Anna Garns Gray during his childhood. In 1886, W.C. Gray, an avid outdoorsman, (and Nettie Fowler McCormick [1835-1901], widow of Cyrus H. McCormick [1809-1884], inventor of the reaper and founder of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company,) bought a three-square-mile swath of forest land in northern WI. The two families shared the property, and William Gray Purcell spent many of his summertimes at this wooded retreat. Despite his parents rift, Purcell grew up spending time with the Grays and his busy father, who lived on the same block as Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park. His mother, Anna Cora Gray, suffered from depression, and later committed suicide in 1914 while residing in Los Angeles, CA.


William Gray Purcell married twice, He first wed Edna Summy (1881-1959) on 12/29/1908 in Chicago. He married Cecily O'Brien Purcell (1903-1960), whom he met while he resided in the Banning tuberculosis sanatorium. William divorced Edna and married Cecily in 1935; he left the sanatorium after his second marriage and moved to Pasadena, CA.


With Edna, William adopted to boys, James A. and Douglas. Following his 1935 marriage to Cecily, he had a son, James Purcell.

Biographical Notes

At age 25, a US Passport Application of 03/01/1905 described Purcell as being 6-feet tall, with blue eyes, curly, dark hair, a full face and fair complexion. (See, Source Citation: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; NARA Series: Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925; Roll #: 2; Volume #: Roll 0002 - Certificates: 6581-8181, 02 Feb 1906-14 Mar 1906.) Purcell made a 1906 European grand tour with Cornell classmate George Feick, Jr. (b. 1881), paid for by C.A. Purcell.

Purcell contracted tuberculosis in the early 1920s, and, for treatment, moved to the West Coast permanently. He resided at a sanatorium in Banning, CA, for four years, 1931-1935. He moved to Pasadena, CA, in 1931, after receiving a large inheritance of $1,250,000.

Associated Locations

  • Wilmette, IL (Architect's Birth)
    Wilmette, IL

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    The web site, Find A Grave, (accessed 06/17/2015) indicated Purcell's birthplace was Winnetka, IL, as did a US Passport application of 03/01/1906. A World War II Draft Registration Card stated his birthplace to have been Wilmette, IL.

PCAD id: 95