Willis Jefferson Polk (October 3, 1867 – September 10, 1924) was an American architect best known for his work in San Francisco, California. For ten years, he was the West Coast representative of D.H. Burnham & Company. In 1915, Polk oversaw the architectural committee for the Panama–Pacific International Exposition.
He was born in Jacksonville, Illinois and was related to United States President James Polk. He began his architectural training when he was eight years old in a local contractor's office. In his teens, he worked in his father's carpenter shop in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1887, Polk moved to Kansas City to join the firm of Van Brunt & Howe, who had just established a branch office there. A few years later he studied under former Van Brunt associate William Robert Ware at Columbia University in New York City. He also worked at the firm of A. Page Brown. In the 1890s, Polk moved to San Francisco to launch his own firm. He struggled to earn commissions, and in 1897 he declared bankruptcy. However, an opportunity presented itself in 1899. Francis Hamilton, of the local firm Percy & Hamilton, died, and George Washington Percy asked Polk to be his new partner. Polk was primarily in charge of design and employee management, while Percy focused on the business end. The partnership gave Polk a relief to his debt and the opportunity to work on large-scale commercial structures. The partnership designed five buildings, including One Lombard Street. Addison Mizner was one of his apprentices and later a partner.
Willis Polk's early career included work with McKim, Mead & White, as well as Bernard Maybeck. Polk also worked with Daniel Burnham in Chicago, and then moved to San Francisco to establish and direct Burnham's San Francisco office. Before long, Polk started his own firm and spent many years designing highly regarded California commercial and residential architecture...
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