Vernon Watson


Vernon Spencer Watson was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 22, 1878 to Charles and Emily Watson. He studied architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). After graduation he traveled through Europe before going to work in the office of Daniel H. Burnham. It was at the offices of D.H. Burnham that he met his future partner, Thomas Eddy Tallmadge. Tallmadge spent the summer of 1904 traveling through Europe and after his return he and Watson decided to leave Burnham. One of the first commissions that Watson was involved in was the execution of the Charles H. Reeves Jr. house for architect Lawrence Buck in the summer of 1905. Shortly thereafter in October of 1905 Tallmadge & Watson formed their own partnership with offices in the Ashland Block building at the northeast corner of Clark and Randolph Streets in Chicago, Illinois.

By 1910 Tallmadge & Watson had moved their practice to the Security Building at 189 West Madison Street in Chicago and this was the home to most of the over 250 building designs executed over the course of their 31-year partnership. From the beginning it was evident that Watson was responsible for the Prairie designs that the firm produced, but Tallmadge was more widely known because of his activities as an author/historian and teacher. Watson’s Prairie ideology was well-defined before the partnership began, as could be seen in the execution of the house he built in 1904 for his wife Emma and himself located at 643 North Fair Oaks Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois.

Initially Tallmadge and Watson were well known for their design of modest priced Prairie residences. As the Prairie movement began to wane by the early 1920’s their commissions turned from Prairie residential to historical ecclesiastical architecture. They were successful in designing churches for many different religions and there are over 25 churches attributed to them in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

One of the last projects that Watson worked on was the design of the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a public housing project in Chicago at Diversey and Damen Avenues. It was a mix of two and three story apartments and row houses designed in collaboration with Thomas Tallmadge, Hugh Garden, E.E. Roberts and others. The partnership between Watson and Tallmadge was dissolved in 1936 when he retired to Berrien Springs, Michigan. He later returned to Oak Park where he died on September 28, 1950. He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.