David Hull Holmes was born on the 18th of July in 1874 in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child David attended St. Louis public schools and as a young man, Washington University. While a student there a serious illness interfered with his planned career, and forced him to seek a sunny and arid west. By 1889 Holmes had decided on a career in architecture, enrolling for four years in the St. Louis Manual Training School (the Green Brothers alma mater), studying under Harvard‑trained professor Calvin M. Woodward. Degree in hand, he worked for the architectural firm of Eames and Young, and registered in mechanical and architectural drafting at Washington University. In 1895, at the age of twenty-one, Holmes left St. Louis, travelling through American West, exploring California, staying for a stint in Santa Barbara, and finally settling in Boulder, Colorado. Three years later he met and married Helen Pierce of Denver on the 5th of September, 1898.
In 1898, having married a young women from Boulder, he accepted a teaching position at the newly formed Territorial University in Tucson, Arizona. He arrived in September of that year to teach a variety of classes. In 1901, He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in in mechanical arts and drawings.
By 1903 campus needs had expanded; the regents commissioned Holmes to design his first major Tucson building and oversee its construction. The result was Herring Hall, simplified classical revival building which emulated a Greek temple with columns and unadorned pediment.
Holmes slowly began his active architectural practice. When the Carnegie Institution established the world’s only desert botanical laboratory in Tucson, D. T. MacDougal, one of the founders, requested that Professor R. H. Forbes of the University recommend an architect for the job. Professor Forbes’s suggested his brother, S. F. Forbes of Douglas; Holmes was selected to supervise the construction. When expansion required more buildings, Holmes was chosen to design them. The project provided an opportunity to experiment with an integrated ventilation system which was developed and implemented by Trost and Trost.
There, in the then still-wild west, Mr. Holmes established his architectural vision, his innovations, thereby separating “Eastern” accepted building design standards from the beginnings of “Western” factors and influences. To this day his multiple works in Tucson, both on campus and off, reflect the South West: thick walls; local materials; deep overhangs; efficient ventilation and natural cooling; multi- and natural colors; with Mediterranean styles and motifs. All of which came to define his work in the decades to come. David stayed away from the excesses of ornamentation. Almost all of his Tucson work is visibly in use today. See reference of a 2008 trip there by Joe and Caroline Stepanek, who, with drawings in hand, walked door to door. In short, early educational influences, primarily from Frank Lloyd Wright, became manifest: simplistic, functional, and natural.
Holmes taught at the University of Arizona in Tucson for ten years; designed several University buildings; and served as Secretary of Faculty during the period 1902-05. Not only did he design four campus buildings and oversee construction on campus generally, as the University’s Building Supervisor, he acted as Interim University President on two or three occasions. Not busy enough, he did independent architectural work, such as for hotels, homes, businesses and a church in Tucson as well. See references below by Gary Matthews and by R. Brooks Jeffery for descriptions of all of his work in Tucson.
Holmes resigned from the University in 1905, after serving for six years, and formed the Holmes and Holmes architectural firm with his brother Jesse “Jack” Holmes – for eight years.
As partners, the brothers were asked that May to design the 825 North 7th Avenue house of County Supervisor E. L. Vail. The brothers two other buildings in 1905, the simplified mission style Trinity Presbyterian Church at Scott and Ochoa, and the Los Angeles Furniture Company building on the southwest corner of Congress and Sixth Streets, commissioned by Anton Hittinger. A second story was added to accommodate the offices of the growing Randolph System. The design was influenced by the Chicago School and remains characteristic of that style. Today, the building is known as the Chicago Music Store.
In 1907, Holmes designed his own house at 827 East 3rd Street which provided an opportunity to experiment with various techniques and styles. Other homes designed in the West University area included the 1906 L. H. Hofmeister House at 25 East 3rd Street and the 1907 George Tompkins Residence at 335 east second Street. In the El Presidio district, in the area known as Snob Hollow, the firm designed the H. H. Rockwell House at 405 West Franklin Street and the 1907 Cameron Cottage at 298 North Franklin.
That year. the firm competed for and was awarded the commission to design the Old Pueblo Club. In 1908 they added the Rodgers Hospital to the south.
Other major building included the 1908 Heidel Hotel (McCarther Building), the 1908 Rincon Apartments, the University of Arizona Science Building 1908-1909; the new Whitwell Hospital, 1909-1910, and the 1910 fire station on South 6th (demolished). Other significant buildings included two Stienfeld Buildings, the Opera House on Pennington, and the Eagles Hall on Stone.
In 1911, J. H. Holmes moved to Globe, Arizona, to oversee the construction of the Elks Club, and to create the leading architectural firm in Globe. David Holmes sold his house on 3rd and in 1911 designed the D. H. Holmes House at 732 East 3rd Street done in the clinker brick California Bungalow Style. The last major documented work of the Tucson firm was the University of Arizona “Arizona Hall (South Hall)” dormitory located on South Drive.
David Holmes moved to San Diego in 1912 establishing an architectural firm designing several commercial buildings. In 1914 Holmes was elected to the Special Harbor Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. And he also worked with the Southern California Climatizing Association which introduced exotic plants to the U.S.
In 1917 the Holmes moved to Boulder to be with his parents when brother Horace Burbank Holmes died (father of Judge H.B. Holmes II). Years earlier, in 1908, Holmes’ father, Jesse senior, bought the plot on University Hill for what would become 720 11th St.
World War I interrupted his plans for continuing his architectural work, so he turned to Tungsten mining and to quarrying until well after the war, until 1929.
Holmes became an active civic leader in Boulder and in Denver. Over the years, he served as Chairman of the State Highway Committee that oversaw development of U.S. 36, the Boulder-Denver “Toll Road,” and became an avid booster of paving the State’s highways. He was on the Boulder Hospital Board as it changed from a university to a community hospital. He joined the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the Parks Board; the Humane Society serving as their Vice President; and Holmes joined the City-C.U. “Town and Gown” Board.
In 1919 he bought Boulder’s iconic sentinel, Red Rocks, later to be sold to the City for $3,000. From his own Fountain Formation quarry, visible today to the south of the “Red Rocks” ridge, he built a home for his parents in 1922 at 720 11th Street. As his father died a few years later, his parents never did move in; 720 was sold to the Alpha Chi Omega sorority for the period 1927-1933, and his mother moved to the Boulderado Hotel.
In 1928 Holmes bought five acres south of Baseline Road near Chautauqua, a large plot to provide two cul-de-sac’s for new residences on the south ends of 11th and 12th St. What had been envisioned as his architecturally-guided homes in his western styles, with gardens in the middle of each street, did not work out as the owners went their own ways. Holmes himself had planned for his own house on the-then City’s edge. And ultimately 12th St became a through street to Chautauqua itself. But to this day real estate maps still show this area as being the “Holmes plot.”
In 1929 Helen died. Leaving Boulder again, Holmes lived in New Jersey and in New York from 1929 until 1934. He moved to become president of Thomas Young Nurseries in Bound Brook, New Jersey (and served as co-managers with his brother Jack). The nursery was then the largest commercial growers of orchid in the world.
In 1934 Holmes returned to Boulder for the third and last time. Two years following Helen’s death, David Holmes was introduced to LaVergne DuCasse Edmond of Paris in 1931. She had attended the Sorbonne and the Conservatory of Music in Geneva. They married on April 30, 1935, in Virginia, and honeymooned in Cuba and in South America; they returned to live at 720 11th.
During World War II he was active with the War Price Administration Board in Boulder as well as with “Bundles for Britain” and the War Loan (bond) drive in Boulder County. At a regular meeting of the Boulder City Council in May of 1946 Holmes was chosen as a member of the Building Review Board. Following the war, Holmes and his bride travelled widely and for long periods. Holmes died in Boulder on the 19th of January, 1967. He was 92 years old, and was interred in the Holmes Family plot in Green Mountain Cemetery.