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Davis & Wilson


Ellery L. Davis (1887-1956) contributed more to the architectural palette of Lincoln than any other architect, living or dead. For 40 years, Davis designed buildings for the business community, the University, and many public and private enterprises. Nearly all of his large commissions are extant and continue to dominate Lincoln's downtown and the city campus.

Davis was born in Florida in 1887, but moved to Lincoln in 1893, when his father, Ellery W. Davis, accepted a position as a professor at the University. He attended public schools, served as valedictorian of his class at Lincoln High, and graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1903. He then enrolled at Columbia University and received a degree in architecture in 1909. Shortly after, he returned to Lincoln and began to practice architecture.

Davis briefly worked on his own and then in a partnership with George Berlinghof from 1911-1917. Berlinghof was an experienced architect, 30 years older than Davis, and his age and reputation gave Davis the credibility needed to launch his career. Together they designed Lincoln High School, the Miller and Paine buildings, and the Law College building at the University. The partnership was dissolved in 1917 and Davis worked independently for two years.

Around 1920 Davis formed a partnership with Walter Wilson. Wilson served primarily as the businessman and Davis as the designer; together they went on to design some of Lincoln's most important buildings. Their partnership continued until Ellery Davis died in 1956. Wilson continued to serve as chairman of the firm and retired in 1965. Davis & Wilson was renamed Davis, Fenton, Stange and Darling in 1968 to reflect new partnerships, and was renamed Davis Design in 1995.

Important buildings around Lincoln that were designed by Davis & Wilson include many commercial buildings downtown such as Gold's department store, the Stuart Building and Theater, Grainger Brothers building. They also designed Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rudge Memorial Chapel, and numerous public school buildings (Randolph, Park, Sheridan, Hawthorne, and Havelock Elementary Schools, Northeast High School, Everett Junior High) as well as a host of buildings on the University campus, including several sororities and fraternities.

As early as 1911, Davis presented a campus plan to the Regents, who were beginning to recognize the need for a formal plan for growth. He was not hired, but he persisted, and after forming the partnership with Berlinghof, was awarded the contract for the Law College building. In 1914, when the Regents named Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge as the "official architects of the University", Davis was shut out of University commissions for nearly a decade. However, when the stadium was built with private funds in 1923, Davis & Wilson were able to get that commission, working in a partnership with Latenser & Sons of Omaha. After 1923 until after the WWII era, nearly all buildings constructed on the city campus were designed by Davis. Those buildings form the modern core of the campus and include Morrill Hall, Andrews and Burnett Halls, the Student Union, Love Library, the Coliseum and Stadium, and the Women's dormitories (Neihardt complex). After the war, Selleck Quadrangle, Ferguson Hall and the Military and Naval Science buildings were constructed by the firm, although Ellery L. Davis was no longer actively working. His son, Ellery H. Davis, became involved in the firm during these years.

After the 1940's other architecture firms began to compete for design work at the University, although Davis Design has continued to contribute to the architectural growth of the institution.