Robert Closson Spencer Jr. was born in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin on April 13, 1864. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree
in mechanical engineering in 1886 and then entered the architecture program at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one year after fellow Prairie School colleague
Dwight Heald Perkins. Spencer left M.I.T. in 1889 to work in the Boston architectural firm
of Wheelwright & Haven and then Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. He married Ernestine
Elliott on November 28, 1889 and in 1891 won the Rotch Traveling Scholarship which
provided him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe with his wife for the following
two years studying architecture.
The Spencer family returned to the United States in 1893
and Robert went back to work for Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, but this time in their
Chicago office. He stayed with the firm until 1895 when he established his own practice in
Chicago next to Frank Lloyd Wright in the Schiller building.
The following year he moved his office into the loft of
the Steinway Piano building and shared offices with Dwight Perkins and Frank Lloyd Wright.
He was known as a very prolific writer and in 1900 wrote the first of many articles for
the Architectural Review, highlighting the work of his friend Frank Lloyd Wright. In the
same year he authored a series of articles in The Ladies Home Journal about midwestern
In 1905 Spencer went into partnership with Horace S.
Powers, a Chicago native and graduate of the Armour Institute of Technology (now the
Illinois Institute of Technology). Spencer functioned as the designer and Powers
contributed as the office manager. They designed residential structures primarily in
Chicago and the surrounding suburbs with some additional commissions scattered across the
Midwest. The partnership left time for Spencer to found The Casement Hardware
Company of Chicago in 1906. The company invented and manufactured hardware for casement
windows. Their partnership lasted until 1923 when Spencer returned to private practice.
In 1928 Spencer joined the faculty of the school of
architecture at Oklahoma A&M. This was short-lived as he left there in 1930 to join
the faculty at the University of Florida until 1934. He then painted murals for the United
States government until his retirement to Tuscon, Arizona in 1938. He died on September 9,