Collection Type:

1862 to 1932

William Arthur Thomas was an architect and developer who practiced in Pittsburgh during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thomas was born in Ebbw Vale, Wales, and became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects before relocating in Pittsburgh in the early 1880s. Thomas' professional work included houses, apartment houses, and commercial and institutional buildings built primarily in Pittsburgh's East End neighborhoods of Friendship, East Liberty, Squirrel Hill, Shadyside and Bellefield. He designed competent buildings distinguished by careful detailing, mostly in the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and Craftsman/Bungalow styles.

Thomas' most interesting projects were serial housing groups. Like other developers of the time, Thomas repeatedly purchased and subdivided tracts of vacant land, and erected series of houses. In his case, Thomas designed the houses himself. These houses were related to each other by a variety of means including complementary overall design; the use of similar floorplans behind dissimilar facades; and/or the arrangement of buildings in mirror-image sequences. Thomas and his family often lived in one of the new houses for a time before selling off the property and moving on.

The Thomas Collection is of special significance because Thomas and his work represent in many respects typical architectural and development practices of the time, as the building professions responded to the tremendous growth of the middle class by fostering a massive expansion in urbanization. The designers and developers that contributed to this activity, and the buildings that line our turn-of-the-century streets as a result, have been little studied and are only rarely documented by extant architectural records.

Scope and Content: 

Drawings, blueprints, photographs and papers document Thomas' career and approximately forty of his projects. The Collection is augmented by personal recollections of the architect by his daughter, Mrs. Ruth Thomas Carson.

Select Bibliography: 

Pittsburgh of Today. Pittsburgh: Consolidated Illustrating Co., [1890]. 250.