William A. Lang (1846–97), one of Colorado’s premier residential architects, practiced in Denver between 1887 and 1895, both individually and in the firm of Lang and Pugh. During that period, Lang designed some 250 buildings and made a name for himself as Denver’s top residential designer, notable for his large, ornate, expensive brick houses fronted by rusticated stone in the Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles. His best-known designs in Denver include the Molly Brown House (1340 Pennsylvania Street), the Ghost Building (800 Eighteenth Street), and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (1160 Lincoln Street).
William Lang was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1846. Little is known about his early life except that his large farming family often moved, eventually ending up in Illinois. During the Civil War, Lang enlisted as a shoemaker in the Second Illinois Light Artillery. After the war, he continued to farm with his family, which finally landed in Albion, Nebraska. There Lang began to practice architecture, apparently without any formal training. He designed an opera house, a school, and residences between 1883 and 1885, when he moved to then-booming Denver.
Between 1887 and the Panic of 1893, he designed grand residences and distinctively styled working-class houses, such as those in Denver’s Baker and South Lincoln Street Historic Districts. He also planned various other building types, including stores, barns, an apartment house, a clubhouse, a church, and offices. Some of his designs were published in the Chicago-based Inland Architect and News Record and the Denver-based Western Architect and Building News. Among his grandest surviving mansions are the Raymond House (1572 Race Street) and Bailey Mansion (1600 Ogden Street) in Denver, and Orman-Adams Mansion (102 W. Orman Avenue) in Pueblo. As a society architect, he was listed in Denver’s Social Record. In 1892 he became a founding member of the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
The Panic of 1893 ended Lang’s once-thriving business and his partnership with Marshall Pugh, which had started in 1889. He is last listed in the Denver City Directory as a waiter. He sold his townhouse, left his wife and daughter, and was diagnosed with dementia (he may have been an alcoholic). In early 1897, he went to live with his brother in the Chicago suburb of Englewood. On August 7, he disappeared and began wandering around Illinois. He was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct in Morris, Illinois, and given an hour to get out of town. On August 21, 1897, a passenger train hit and killed Lang while he was walking along the tracks. He is buried in Marseilles, Illinois, under the simplest of tombstones in a veteran’s plot donated by the Grand Army of the Republic.