Brown is best known for designing the San Francisco Ferry Building, which opened in 1898, the largest project until then in the city. He introduced the Mission Revival style to Santa Barbara and it was widely adopted in the city to shape its visual identity.
Arthur Page Brown was born in Ellisburg, New York, in Jefferson County; he was descended from Yankees from New England. After attending local schools, he studied for a year at Cornell University School of Architecture but left in 1879 to join the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White. He later traveled in Paris and other major European cities, where he was influenced by the École des Beaux-Arts style, based on historical styles.
He married Lucy Pryor on February 25, 1886, at the Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan, also known as "The Little Church Around the Corner."; she was the daughter of Sara Agnes Rice and Roger Atkinson Pryor. Lucy and her six Pryor siblings were all born in Petersburg, Virginia; her father was a general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Their family moved to New York City in the late 1860s to recover from postwar poverty. Roger A. Pryor became a successful attorney, active in Democratic Party politics, and later was appointed as justice to the New York State Supreme Court. Sara Agnes Rice Pryor founded several heritage organizations and was active in civic affairs. She also had several books: novels, histories and memoirs, published by the Macmillan Company in the early 1900s. Her memoirs were the basis of joint biography of her and her husband by John C. Waugh, which he published in 2002.
The Browns had three children together.
In New York, Brown joined the first office of McKim, Mead & White in 1879; he left for a brief period and joined it again in 1882. At that time, architecture could be learned by a kind of apprenticeship, in which men joined first as draftsmen working with established architects, similar to reading law. After an extensive tour of Europe in 1883-1884, Brown rejoined the firm in 1884. At that point, he started doing some side work for Mrs. Cyrus McCormick. With her patronage, he opened his own office in December 1884, under the name A. Page Brown, as he became known.
In 1889 Brown was commissioned by the widow Mary Ann Crocker to design a mausoleum for her husband, the wealthy California industrialist, Charles Crocker. The massive granite structure is located on "Millionaire's Row" at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. The widow also commissioned him to design an Old People's Home in the city. Brown persuaded the younger Willis Polk to go with him to San Francisco for the work and moved his office in San Francisco, where business was booming. Polk worked in his office until 1890.
The two were among a number of talented architects who moved from the East Coast and established firms in San Francisco, California, in the 1890s because of its opportunities as a new society. With his office and talented hires, for a time Brown led the "reorientation of San Francisco architecture from the Victorian to the academic sphere," incorporating historical styles. He hired Willis Polk, Bernard Maybeck and A. C. Schweinfurth for his office; they became recognized as among four of the most notable architects in the city shortly after the turn of the century.
In 1892 Brown designed the San Francisco Ferry Building, a terminal for ferry service for commuters who traveled across San Francisco Bay. When completed in 1898, the Ferry Building was the largest single project undertaken in the city up to that time. Located on the Embarcadero, it was a prominent landmark across the city. Its 245-foot clocktower, which he designed after the 12th-century Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain, could be seen across the city. Through the 1930s, it was the second busiest transportation terminal in the world.
In 1894, Brown introduced the Mission Revival style to Santa Barbara, where it became popular for a variety of building types, shaping the visual identity of the city to this day. He, Polk, Maybeck and Schweinfurth were also associated with the First Bay Tradition, which they helped popularize along with other architects.
Brown died at his home in Burlingame, California, of severe injuries suffered in a runaway horse and buggy accident.