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Charles F. Murphy (1890-1985)

Dates of Interview:

June 1, 1981

Location of Interview:

Murphy's apartment in Chicago


Carter H. Manny

Length of Transcript:

71 pages
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Biographical Summary

Charles Francis Murphy was born in 1890 in Jersey City, New Jersey and attended De La Salle Institute business school in Chicago. In 1911 he took a job in the secretarial pool in the D.H. Burnham & Company office, eventually becoming lead architect Ernest Graham's personal secretary. In that position Murphy remained with Graham in Graham Burnham & Company, later renamed Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, until 1937. When Graham died in 1937, Murphy organized Shaw, Naess & Murphy, later known as C.F. Murphy Associates. He was one of the executors of Ernest Graham's will and as such helped found the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Although Murphy was not formally trained as an architect he received his license under a "grandfather clause" and was awarded an honorary degree from St. Xavier College in 1961. He was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1964. Murphy died in Chicago in 1985.

Interview Highlights

Murphy speaks about working at the D.H. Burnham & Company; impressions of Daniel H. Burnham; Ernest Graham; the Insurance Exchange building; Alfred Shaw and the Civic Opera House; the Field Building; the Merchandise Mart; Century of Progress International Exposition 1933-34; the Prudential Building; the First National Bank. Interwoven throughout the text are memories of the people and events of which early 20th century Chicago history is made.

Field Building; Chicago, 1932. Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Tallmadge.

Prudential Building; Chicago, 1955. C.F. Murphy Associates, architects.
Photo by John Zukowsky.

Interview Excerpt

"Before the air rights were passed, E.R. Graham came to me one day and said, 'I want you to go to New York and go to W.C. Potter, the chairman of the board of the Bankers Trust Company and he'll be expecting you, and you are to get some money there.' And I found out what the purpose was. I said, 'Why don't you deal with the Chicago bankers and save chasing to New York?' He said, 'What the Chicago bankers don't know won't bother them.' So I went down there. I saw Mr. Potter. He was waiting for me, and he had quite a bit of money and he said, 'You have to have a guard or two with you.' I said, I didn't think so. I took my shoe off and put the money in there. In $10,000 bills, $250,000. And he still wanted to have a couple of guards accompany me back to the hotel, the Biltmore. I said, 'Just let me go out the front door and get lost in the crowd. I'll get a cab, and I'll be at the hotel in no time.' So I got to the hotel and locked the door.That's before air travel and the 20th Century [train] was right there below. I waited until the time it took off, and I had a compartment. I locked the door. I guess I opened it to let my meal in. I got off at Englewood. My wife was meeting me there with a car, but I called Mr. Graham at the office and said, 'I'm here and I'll be down.' He said,'Oh, thank God, thank God.' That was a lot of money in those days. That money was used to take care of the air rights, to Schuyler's office in the state legislature." (p. 36)

Additional Resources

Charles Francis Murphy images in the R&B Archives
Related archival materials in the R&B Archives
Works by Murphy in the Department of Architecture and Design

Funding for this oral history was provided by the Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago.