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Marcellus E. Wright Sr.

Marcellus Eugene Wright Sr April 8, 1881 – December 7, 1962 was an American architect He was active in Richmond, Virginia and the surrounding region during the first half of the 20th century In addition to his work on hotels, Wright was a pioneer of the Moorish Revival architectural style in his design for the Altria Theater formerly known as the Mosque, which is a major component of the Monroe Park Historic District


  • 1 Personal life
  • 2 Career
  • 3 Selected works
  • 4 References

Personal life

Marcellus E Wright was born on April 8, 1881, in Hanover County, Virginia, the son of Anthony Westley Wright and Isabella Wright née Granger His father was a Confederate veteran who saw military service during the American Civil War at the Battle of Gaines's Mill[1]

In 1906, Marcellus Wright married Ritta Brink Stovall at a ceremony which took place in Henrico County, Virginia The marriage resulted in two children: Marcellus Eugene Wright Jr and Frances Stovall Wright Marcellus Wright Sr was active in local politics as a member of the Democratic Party, and with his wife was involved in the Church of Christ, Scientist[1] He died on December 7, 1962, of what were reported to be natural causes, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery[2][3]

Multiple members of the Wright family went on to make a name for themselves in architecture In 1936, Marcellus E Wright Jr joined his father's architectural firm; he later became a leading light of Virginia architecture leading the firm of Marcellus Wright Cox & Smith[4][5] Oscar Pendleton Wright, brother to the senior Wright, entered into partnership with noted Richmond firm Carneal & Johnston, where he worked on local projects such as St Joseph's Villa[6]

During his life, Marcellus Wright Sr served as an active member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and from 1939-1940 was President of its Richmond Chapter[7] He was also a Freemason, having attained the thirty-second degree in the Scottish Rite[8]


At the age of sixteen, Wright began work for Richmond architecture firm Noland & Baskervill, where he stayed for five years before moving to the Philadelphia firm Cope & Stewardson He received his education from the Virginia Mechanics Institute, the Philadelphia School of Applied Art, and the University of Pennsylvania, the last of which he graduated from in 1905[4][9] After graduating, Wright swiftly rose to prominence in the Richmond architecture scene; he was one of the eleven founding members of the Richmond Association of Architects, which was established in 1911[10] By 1922, he had attained sufficient stature to have been elected a member of the American Institute of Architects[11]

In April 1925, a collaboration between Marcellus Wright, Paul Philippe Cret, and Berthold Nebel produced the winning entry for a contest to design the Virginia War Memorial Construction proceeded to the point of laying foundations before the project was scrapped A carillon designed by Ralph Adams Cram was erected in its stead[12]

Through the 1930s, Wright served on the Architectural Advisory Committee which presided over the Colonial Williamsburg restoration[13]

Local architect Beth Nickels was hired to join Wright's firm in 1947 as a draftsman and project manager Nickels was recognized by the Times-Dispatch as the first female architect from Richmond and one of the first from Virginia[14]

Selected works

The Altria Theater The Hotel John Marshall

Marcellus Wright's works include:

  • The Altria Theater 1925, dedicated originally for use by the Shriners and operated as the Acca Temple Shrine; due to its multiple minarets and domes the building was known for years as "the Mosque" It was designed in partnership with fellow Virginia architect Charles M Robinson In consideration for listing by the National Register of Historic Places, the Mosque was described as "an architectural fantasy on Moorish themesa perfect example of turn-of-the-century American eclecticism"[15]
  • The William Byrd Hotel 1925, the first hotel designed by Marcellus E Wright Located across from Broad Street Station, the William Byrd Hotel was described by the Richmond News Leader as "a monument to Richmond energy, talent, and progressiveness" In 1996, the former hotel was reopened as an apartment building[16]
  • The Wright Pavilion 1927, a component of the Blue Ridge Sanatorium which was sponsored by the Grand Lodge of Virginia and named in honor of Masonic leader George C Wright With capacity for sixty beds, the Pavilion was built to aid treatment of tuberculosis as part of the state-run tuberculosis sanatorium In exchange for funding, members of the Grand Lodge obtained preference in admittance to the state-run facility, and any major changes had to seek Grand Lodge approval This project marked Wright's second major collaboration with Charles M Robinson, as Robinson was responsible for the Sanatorium's initial planning[17]
  • The Chamberlin 1928, formerly known as the Chamberlin Hotel and originally as the Chamberlin-Vanderbilt Hotel due to financial backing from the Vanderbilt family Designed in the Beaux-Arts style and opened as a luxury resort on the Chesapeake Bay, the building is now in use as a retirement home catering to US veterans[18]
  • The Hotel John Marshall 1929, an upscale fixture of downtown Richmond Its main U-shaped structure originally was topped by a terracotta cornice, and rests upon a three-story limestone base[19] Since 2011, the former hotel has completed renovations and now functions as luxury apartments Gubernatorial election festivities were held at the Hotel John Marshall by Virginia Governors-Elect Linwood Holton and Douglas Wilder On other occasions, the hotel played host to multiple Presidents of the United States, including Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan[20]
  • The Parcel Post Building 1933, constructed under the aegis of the Public Works Administration Wright collaborated with the Richmond firm of Lee, Smith & Vandervoort in order to design the building, drawing up plans that were heavily revised due to the ongoing Great Depression A private bill for the relief of the architects was debated in the 74th United States Congress[21][22] The Parcel Post Building is currently maintained as part of the Lewis F Powell Jr United States Courthouse[23]
  • Lunenburg's Old County Courthouse 1939, originally built in 1827, modified and expanded by Marcellus Wright The external stairs of the building are the most visible extant portion of Wright's expansion[24]
  • The Terminal Building of Richmond International Airport 1950, which at the time was still named after Virginia aviator Richard E Byrd[25] At this point, Wright's son was managing day-to-day operations of the family firm; he later remarked that the design was one of his least favorite due to compromises that he was required to make[26]


  1. ^ a b Tyler, Lyon Gardiner, ed 1915 "Marcellus Eugene Wright" Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography 4 New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company p 517mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-right
  2. ^ Shuck, John March 24, 2012 "Marcellus E Wright" Find a Grave Retrieved January 14, 2017
  3. ^ "Marcellus Wright, Noted Richmond Architect, Dies" The Bee Danville, Virginia Associated Press December 8, 1962 p 2 Retrieved January 14, 2017
  4. ^ a b Edwards, Kathy; Howard, Esme; Prawl, Toni 1992 Monument Avenue: History and Architecture National Park Service p 129 Marcellus Wright, Jr, joined his father's practice in 1936 The firm continues as Marcellus Wright Cox and Smith Architects today
  5. ^ Slipek, Edwin April 3, 2002 "Marcellus Eugene Wright Jr [Obit]" Style Weekly Richmond, Virginia Retrieved January 14, 2017
  6. ^ Winthrop, Robert P November 14, 2013 "Architects of Richmond: Carneal & Johnston" ArchitectureRichmond Retrieved January 14, 2017
  7. ^ "Our History" Richmond Chapter, Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution 2014 Retrieved January 14, 2017
  8. ^ Brownell, Charles E 1992 The Making of Virginia Architecture Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts p 360 ISBN 0-917046-34-X
  9. ^ Kollatz, Harry March 2012 "A Grand Lady's Revival: The Hotel John Marshall's landmark sign rejoins the skyline" PDF Richmond Magazine Retrieved January 14, 2017 Richmond architect Marcellus E Wright’s design resonated big-city sophistication In the Marshall, he distilled his studies at the Philadelphia School of Applied Art and experiences in a dozen European countries
  10. ^ Brownell, Charles E 1992 The Making of Virginia Architecture Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts p 91 ISBN 0-917046-34-X
  11. ^ "New Members Elected" Journal of the American Institute of Architects 10 6: 208 June 1922 Retrieved January 14, 2017
  12. ^ Harbeson, John December 1966 "Paul Cret and Architectural Competitions" Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 25 4: 305–306 doi:102307/988361 JSTOR 988361
  13. ^ McDonald, Travis C 2006–2007 "The Fundamental Practice of Fieldwork at Colonial Williamsburg" Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 13 2: 39 JSTOR 20355382
  14. ^ Robertson, Ellen April 15, 2012 "Beth Nickels, first female architect in Richmond, dies at 93" Richmond Times-Dispatch Retrieved January 14, 2017
  15. ^ "Monroe Park Historic District National Register Nomination" PDF Virginia Department of Historic Resources Retrieved January 14, 2017
  16. ^ Virginia Department of Historic Resources 1999 Loth, Calder ed The Virginia Landmarks Register 4th ed University of Virginia Press p 430 ISBN 0-8139-1862-6
  17. ^ Sucre, Richard "The Early Institutionalization of Blue Ridge Sanatorium and the George W Wright Pavilion" Blue Ridge Tuberculosis Sanatorium University of Virginia Retrieved January 14, 2017
  18. ^ "Chamberlin Hotel National Register Nomination" PDF Virginia Department of Historic Resources Retrieved January 15, 2017
  19. ^ Wilson, Richard Guy, ed 2002 Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont Oxford University Press p 220 ISBN 0-19-515206-9
  20. ^ Kollatz, Harry March 2012 "A Grand Lady's Revival: The Hotel John Marshall's landmark sign rejoins the skyline" PDF Richmond Magazine Retrieved January 14, 2017
  21. ^ Logan, Marvel Mills February 24, 1936 Report on S 3769 74th Congress, 2nd Session Report ProQuest Congressional 9990 Srp1886 Retrieved August 20, 2018
  22. ^ Ryan, Elmer James April 30, 1936 Report on S 3769 74th Congress, 2nd Session Report ProQuest Congressional 9997 Hrp2562 Retrieved August 20, 2018
  23. ^ Kalish, Evan April 18, 2017 "Parcel Post Building Former – Richmond VA" Living New Deal Retrieved August 20, 2018
  24. ^ "Lunenburg County" US Courthouses Retrieved January 15, 2017 The building was enlarged in 1939 and the exterior stairs added The architect was Marcellus E Wright Sr of Richmond
  25. ^ "Terminal Building, Richard E Byrd Airport, Richmond, Virginia" Rarely Seen Richmond Virginia Commonwealth University 1959 Archived from the original on March 9, 2016 Retrieved January 15, 2017
  26. ^ Lowery, David December 13, 1979 "High-Rise Architect Designs Prison Solutions" Richmond News Leader Richmond, Virginia p 35

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