William F. Bray was born on April 17, 1877 in Cornwell, England. He married Fannie E. Kate Cooper (b. March 6, 1882) in Cornwell, and then, in 1904, the couple immigrated to California on the S. S. Numidia in 1904 by way of Glasgow, Scotland and New York. The couple settled to Santa Cruz and started a family having five children between 1906 and 1915: John A. (1906) and George H. (1908) William Vernon. Jr. (1909) Ivy M. (1912) and Robert J. (1915). Bray stood five foot seven with dark brown hair, blue eyes weighing hundred seventy five pounds. Before relocating to California, Bray worked for three for the South Nigerian Exploration Company of London, England.
William and Fannie naturalized in 1910. Although Bray listed himself as a carpenter in the 1910 federal census, within two years, he was a registered architect, designing significant buildings, including “Piedmont Court.” The grand apartment house, located in Santa Cruz, California at 260 High Street, designed in the Mission Revival style; at the time of its construction it was described as “Moorish” in design.
In 1913, Bray was offered a job in Africa. The magazine The Architect and Engineer published the offer:
Santa Cruz [California] many lose architect William Bray. The architect has received a flattering offer from the South Nigerian Exploration Company of London, England, in whose employment he served three years before coming to the US. The position, which remains open until March 1914, is that of superintendent of one of the company’s districts in West Africa.
Rather than going to West Africa, the Bray family moved to Tucson, Arizona, in 1914. The territory had become a State only two years before; in 1914 only two architects were listed as practicing in the booming outpost. Bray established an architectural firm, opening offices in the Immigration Building on West Congress.
Bray’s significant architectural work of this period is a clear blend of his English roots with the popular British Arts and Craft movement, the ‘Green and Green’ Craftsman Bungalow style developing in Pasadena, and the impact of emerging California regional styles.
Bray’s Tucson architectural idiom emerged in grand craftsman bungalows in Tucson’s West University Neighborhood and the recently established Menlo Park, which embodied the Arts And Crafts aesthetic. The new style featured strong symmetry, second story massing, and are finely crafted details with local materials and rock, including the dark volcanic Majapala.
The largest concentration of Bray’s work can be found in Menlo Park. His architecture demonstrates not only a sophisticated stylistic balance, but also an adaptation of the bungalow form to the arid Sonoran climate. Bray masterfully uses large decorative attic venting to create air circulation.
In 1915, Merit Starkwaether arrived in Tucson and joined the Bray firm, as did Frank Weller, a graduate of MIT who worked as Draftsman and assistant, and San Francisco based registered architect Curtis Tobey. The practice reorganized, and on July 1, 1915 it became the firm of Bray & Tobey. Tucson Daily Citizen noted, in July 1915:
Both members of the firm are certified architects in the state of California and the conduct of the office is in accordance with all professional rules and precedents prescribed and organized by the American Institute of Architects at Washington D.C.
The partnership dissolved the next year, and R. F. Bancroft became employed as a draftsman for Bray.
In 1916 Bray’s conceptions evolved from the bungalow style into a regional variant of the new Modern Prairie style, which he used in his own house. The Bray House on Grande north of Congress Street is a sophisticated expression of this new architectural modern lexicon. The geometric massing and flat roof line emulate the new architectural language of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1905‑designed Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois while retaining the more ornate Sullivan-esque ornamental details popularized by Hennery Trost in Tucson at the turn of the twentieth century.
The use of cast architectural sculpture and ornamental relief was made possible by the skill of Sid Watkins, who had established an architectural casting company Tucson.
From the Bray House national register nomination:
According to a letter from William V. Bray, the son of the architect, dated April 10, 1972, the ornamental stone work was designed by his father and manufactured by the Watkins Stone and Staff Co. of Tucson.
By 1919, Bray’s office was located at 90 North Church Street, and during that year, he worked with the firm of Roy Place and Lyman to design the winter estate for the Gilliland Family of Philadelphia, located off Oracle.
Bray sold his home on Grande in 1922. He and his family moved to Burbank, California, to live at 815 N. Tujunga Ave in the San Fernando Valley.
The date and location of William F. Bray’s death remains unknown.
Known Bray Buildings
1914. May. Estelle Lutrell House. 637 North Park Avenue (demolished)
1914. Grace Episcopal Church. Stone Avenue & University Blvd. (demolished)
1915. W. H. Hurlburt California Bungalow, Menlo Park. (address unknown)
1915. Manuel King Bungalows (two) Menlo Park. (address unknown)
1915. Consolidated National Bank. Corner Congress & Stone Avenue (demolished)
1915. Geo. E. Marsh Emporium, Nogales, Arizona (address unknown)
1915. Commercial Block. Railroad Avenue. Nogales, Arizona. (address unknown)
1915. A. F. Pesqueira House. (Bray & Tobey) North 7th Ave.
1916. Nathan Kendall Chalet Bungalow. 314 East 1st Street, West University
1916. Richard “Dick” Rondtadt Bungalow. 1039 North 6th Avenue, West University
1916. Alfred Goldsmith Bungalow. 950 North 6th Ave. West University
1916. William Bray House, Prairie Style. 203 North N. Grande, Menlo Park
1916. Remodel of the Nogales Theater owned by the Diamos Brothers
1916. Pima Theater -Steinfeld Project. 36 West Congress Street (demolished)
1916. Diamos Brother Theater, Bisbee, Arizona. (unknown)
1916. Steinfeld Hardware Store (demolished)
1916. Albert Steinfeld Co. warehouse. Nogales, Arizona. (unknown)
1916. Spanish Renaissance Style House, Menlo Park (unknown)
1916. Pesqueira Brother Houses, Prairie Style. 629 North 7th Avenue.
1916. Ignacio Pesqueria House II, West University
1916. Amelia Redondo Cottage. 700 North 6th Street, West University.
1917. Metropolitan Grocery & Delicacies for Seitnfield & Co. (unknown)
1917. Bowman Hotel. 245 Grand Avenue, Nogales, Arizona.
1918. Mary Meltzow & Ella Melso Bungalow Court. Menlo Park. (unknown)
1918. Four Bungalows for Pima Realty Company. Menlo Park (unknown)
1919. Babbitt Bros. Cadillac & Saxon Dealership. Stone Avenue (demolished)
1919. J. Howe Florist remodel. N. Stone Avenue. (demolished) (Tile work)
1919, Belle J. Barnes Building. Alameda Street and Stone Avenue (demolished)
1919. Samuel Moseon Apartment House. Fifth Street and North Park Ave. (demolished)
1920. C. L. Gilliland Estate, Designed for Lyman and Place. Oracle.
1921. Oddfellows Home, Safford, Graham County, Arizona.