America’s Restoration Architect
A strong advocate of the Colonial Revival style, which reintroduced the architectural traditions of America’s early years, Walter Macomber (1894–1987) built a national reputation for his renovations of some of the nation’s most treasured historic properties.
Born in Revere, Massachusetts, Macomber learned architecture by apprenticing at the Boston Architectural Club with his father, who was an architect, cabinetmaker, and builder. He paused his career during World War I to volunteer with the American Unit of the French Ambulance Corps, and in 1916 he received the Medal of Honor from the French Republic. Returning to Boston, he joined the architecture firm of Perry, Shaw, & Hepburn, and when the firm was commissioned by Colonial Williamsburg to restore Virginia’s first capital, he was named first supervisor of the project. He arrived in Williamsburg in 1928, just one year after John D. Rockefeller, the wealthy financier, agreed to fund the restoration. Over the next six years, Macomber supervised the reconstruction of the Governor’s Palace and the Capitol as well as the restoration of the Christopher Wren Building. The reconstructions were meticulous, based on historical documentation, historical archaeology, and fieldwork. Macomber also researched historic paint colors, and before he left Williamsburg in 1934, he trained his workmen in 18th-century construction techniques.
For the next thirty years Macomber served as resident architect at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s mansion on the Potomac River. In the late 1950s he opened an architectural practice in Washington, D.C., directing restoration projects for Stratford Hall, Ford’s Theater, Fairfax County Court House, and Scotchtown, Patrick Henry’s birthplace. He also contributed to restorations at embassies throughout Washington as well as at the White House. In all his projects, he demonstrated a respect for the balance and symmetry so important to 18th-century building forms in America.