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Coit Tower San Francisco California in a blue sky day USA

A quick tour of some of America’s Best Known (or little known) Architecture

By Joan Rykal

Nowadays, the landscape of American architecture is as varied as the cultures that make up this country, from the famous settlements of early Native Americans, to Colonial style homes that reflect the changing diversity of the country over the centuries. Masterpieces designed by Canadian Frank Gehry populate our major cities along with those designed by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and American Charles Luckman. Frank Lloyd Wright, father of the Prairie School style of architecture, has both residential and public buildings throughout America.

There is so much history behind these structures- from big cities to small towns across America, you’ll find incredible works designed for specific reasons, created in homage or simply just because.


St. Augustine, Florida.

As the oldest continually occupied city in the U.S., St. Augustine is bound to have a structure or two that startles architecture buffs. Founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who was Florida’s first governor, the original city was burned to the ground by English forces in 1702. At that time, Spanish inhabitants decided to rebuild the city and surround it with a wall hoping to avoid any future attacks. The Cubo Line was constructed- an earthen wall that was reinforced and rebuilt many times over the next 100 or so years. Today, visitors can see reconstructed parts of the wall plus what remains of the Old City Gate. The City Gate was constructed in 1808 during a reconstruction period of the Cubo Line. Today what remains of the City Gate welcomes visitors to Old Town St. Augustine.

In 1887, industrialist Henry Flagler, who was instrumental in the development of Florida’s Atlantic coast, commissioned a hotel to be built in St. Augustine. The result was a Spanish Renaissance Revival style masterpiece, inspired by the royal palace in Seville, Spain, complete with towers, spires, and a red tiled roof. The hotel opened on Christmas Day 1888 and ceased operating in 1932. In its heyday, guests could enjoy a steam room, sulfur baths, the largest indoor swimming pool in the world at the time, a gymnasium, and a three-story ballroom. Today it houses The Lightner Museum.

There are many ways to see the rich architectural history of America’s oldest city, including trolley tours and walking tours. One to consider is the Homes & Buildings Tour of St. Augustine. For more information visit


Chicago architecture is an amazing mix of old and new. Take the Monadnock Building, when completed in 1893, was the world’s largest office building. Designed by the architectural firm, Burnham & Root, it was a wonder in many ways – it was the tallest load-bearing brick building ever constructed and the use of aluminum in the decorative interior stairways marked the first use of the material in building construction. Added to the National Register of Historic Places, the building still stands and houses offices, retail shops, and restaurants.

Willis Tower in Chicago.

Just down the street from the Monadnock Building is its 20th-century architectural counterpart, the Willis Tower, originally known as the Sears Tower. Standing at 110-stories, at the time of its completion in 1973, it was the tallest building in the world. While it is still the tallest building in Chicago, it now ranks as the 17th tallest building in the world. The tower has approximately 16,000 windows and has more than 25,000 daily visitors who enjoy restaurants, retail, and amazing views of the city from the Skydeck and the Ledge.

The works of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, can be found in and around the Chicago area. The majority of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Chicago are in the form of homes in the city and nearby suburbs. You can tour his own home and studio in nearby Oak Park too. Visit for information.

From a van der Rohe standpoint, the main campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology is a must-see. Additionally, apartment buildings designed by him dot the city’s famed Lakeshore Drive. Visit for more information.

To learn more about Chicago’s skyscrapers and structures and take a boat tour sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. For information visit


If you think of architecture in San Francisco, most likely the city’s famous Painted Ladies come to mind. This is the name given to the rows of delightfully painted Victorian homes. By definition, a Painted Lady must have three or more paint colors adorning the exterior. One of the most iconic locations for these colorful beauties is Alamo Square’s “postcard row” on Hayes and Steiner streets.

San Diego, California cityscape at Alamo Square.

Because she wanted to “beautify the city,” Lillie Hitchcock Coit left one-third of her estate for the purpose of civic beautification. The city’s historic Coit Tower, built in 1933, was the result of her bequest. This 210-foot, Art Deco style tower stands atop San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill and offers spectacular views of

the city.

Amid San Francisco’s skyline stands the Transamerica Pyramid, soaring 48 stories up, making it the city’s second tallest skyscraper. But it’s not the building’s height that makes it unique – rather, it’s the unique pyramid shape. At the time of completion in 1972, it was the tallest skyscraper west of Chicago. If you’ve seen a photo or a movie depicting San Francisco at night – the red beacon that is shown sits atop the Transamerica Pyramid.

The city offers plenty of tours to see the beautiful homes and buildings of the City by The Bay. Visit for details.


The skyline of Philadelphia, PA.

Philadelphia is credited with creating America’s first row houses – mainly because they were affordable and easy to build on the city’s narrow lots. Row houses were home to the city’s rich and poor and the housing concept became “an example of egalitarian housing for all.” Today, more than 50% of the city’s housing is still row houses.

Philadelphia’s City Hall is the largest all-masonry, load-bearing structure without a steel frame in the world! Construction began in 1871 and completed in 1901. Its exterior is comprised of limestone, granite, and marble. At the time, it was designed to be the world’s tallest building.

At one time, there was a gentleman’s agreement in the city to not building a structure taller than the statue of William Penn that sat atop City Hall. That all changed in the 1980s with the construction of Liberty Place, a skyscraper complex designed by architect Helmut Jahn. Two skyscrapers, one 945 feet high, the other 848 feet, comprise this mixed-use property. This addition to Philadelphia’s skyline has made it one of the most appealing in the country.

For a listing of Philadelphia’s architecture tours visit

These are just some of the few of the standouts in our America architectural history. For more information and lists of cities to tour visit

To plan a visit to one of our sites near these Architectural beauties, visit our website,

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