Return to Home
On June 26, 1886, Douglas Ellington was born and raised in Clayton, North Carolina to the parents of Sallie and Jesse Ellington. His mother, Sallie was born in Suffolk, Virginia. His father, Jesse was born in Clayton, North Carolina and was a veteran of the War Between the States. Mr. Ellington had a sister named Lucile and two brothers, Eric and Kenneth (The Ellington family called him Robert).
His family’s life was one of survival. They had little money, but a lot of land. To pass the time as a child, young Ellington would draw, design, watch trains pass by, and ride horses. His childhood duties were helping around the farm.
Mr. Ellington‘s education began by attending a public school in Clayton. Later he graduated from Randolph-Macon College. He also studied architecture at the Drexel University in Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris, France, which is French for School of Beautiful Arts. While at the Ecole de Beaux Arts, he became the first southerner to win the Paris Prize (awarded for structural design) and the first American to win the Prix de Rougevin (awarded for decorative architecture), the top honor prize at this school. He became a professor of architecture at Columbia University and Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. During this teaching career, he trained over five thousand students in the field of architecture. After leaving the Carnegie Institute, Mr. Ellington decided to set up a private business as an architect.
With America entering World War I, Mr. Ellington decided to return to the United States instead of staying in France. He worked for the Navy and supervised the development of camouflage for ships. After four years, he went back to Pittsburgh and opened another independent practice.
In 1925, an architect was needed to design the First Baptist Church in Asheville, North Carolina. Mr. Ellington drew a sketch of the church on a napkin. The members approved the drawing and he got the job to design the church. Mayor John H. Cathey loved his work of using color in designing the exterior of buildings that he wanted Mr. Ellington to design other buildings for the city. He designed the City Building, S & W Cafeteria, and Asheville High School. He was going to design the courthouse, but he discovered in a January 2,1927 Asheville newspaper that the Buncombe County Commissioners had hired the Milburn, Heister & Co. to design this building. (Click here to read his letter to the county commissioners).
Two other projects that Mr. Ellington designed were in Maryland and South Carolina. The model town of Greenbelt, Maryland was in the shape of a crescent, with each block containing houses, open spaces and numerous walkways. The restoration of the old Dock Street Theater in Charleston, South Carolina is well known and has been featured in The Architectural Record. These projects are just two of the numerous other projects he had designed and completed.
Mr. Ellington and his family then moved to Charleston, South Carolina. During the school year, they lived in Charleston and in the summer months they lived in Asheville. Mr. Ellington never married. However, he played an important role in the life of his nieces, Mrs. Sallie Middleton and her sister, Mrs. Martha Pettigrew.
While Mr. Ellington is best known for his skill as an architect, his work as a watercolor artist has equally measured to his architectural designs. As early as age nine, he was recognized as a gifted watercolor artist. (Click here to see this paintings/drawings) His paintings have been exhibited locally as well as abroad.
He had a gift of making ordinary things into beautiful art. One Native American decoration used throughout his buildings was a feather motif. When Mr. Ellington would eat out with family or friends, he would often draw shapes and designs on the tablecloth or draw sketches of people who were sitting around him.
On August 27,1960, Douglas Ellington died on Saturday morning at his home in Chunn’s Cove. Those who admire his originality in architecture must be required to recognize his brilliance in the design of his art deco buildings. Douglas Ellington will long be remembered as a famous architect and watercolor artist.
Return to top