This Nashville-based architectural firm, founded by Thomas Marr in 1897, grew rapidly in the 1910s and 1920s as it specialized in the design of theaters, schools, hotels, and other commercial buildings. Marr began his career as a draftsman for Nashville architect George Thompson, and two years later he enrolled in an architectural program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Marr opened his Nashville architectural practice as a residential architect, but house commissions accounted for little of the firm’s overall work.
Joseph Holman started his career as an office boy in Marr’s firm and rose rapidly to partnership. Holman built the firm into a major power, aggressively pursuing both public and private contracts. He courted long-term clients such as Tony Sudekum’s Crescent Amusement Company, for which the firm designed numerous theaters. In the 1920s the firm developed a close relationship with Nashville’s powerful financial empire Caldwell and Company. Caldwell financed numerous Marr and Holman commissions including the Andrew Jackson Hotel, the Harry Nichol Building, and the Cotton State Life Building. Holman offered access to project financing to other firms in Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina in exchange for making his firm a partner in their projects. This relationship helped account for the firm’s tremendous growth during the 1920s, placing it in a very advantageous position over its competitors until the demise of the Caldwell empire in 1932.
The development of the Marr and Holman firm presents a microcosm of the evolution of architectural firms in the United States. Marr began as a draftsman and became one of Tennessee’s first technically trained architects. His fortuitous association with Holman reflected a movement within larger firms toward divisions of responsibilities according to individual strengths, as Marr assumed responsibility for project design and office supervision, while Holman’s personal connections and business acumen enhanced the firm’s growth.