William Van Alen was born August 10th, 1882 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Van Alen grew up in a environment of low flat-topped buildings in New York. Growing up Van Alen's father passed away in 1890 when Alen was 8 years old. When William was 16 years old he acquired a job with a architect-developer, known as Clarence Fagan True. Mr.True was born in 1860 and was an American architect in New York City. He was the architect that had an influential vision for row-house's. William was an office boy who, in addition attended night school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. .
At the age 20 in 1902, William was hired by the Clinton and Russell Architecture firm to be a draftsman on the Hotel Astor in Times Square. Hotel Astor was one of the projects Van Alen experienced with the Clinton and Russell Architecture firm. Six years later after achieving the Pairs Prize scholarship that allowed him to study architecture - and develop his passion for it. Mr. Alen continued his education in architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. 1911 he returned to New York and formed his architectural firm, and a partnership with another architect H.Craig Severance. In 1914 they completed the Standard Arcade. .
The Standard Arcade is a string of shops on the lower Broadway where the facade's was notable for windows set flush with walls, rather than a set back, a practice that would set a new standard. The firm was growing and bringing in commissions, and began to prosper. Alen got married to Elizabeth Van Alen. No children. But in 1924 10 years later the partnership with Severance broke apart in disagreement between the two. The two argued over credit for the firm's success for the past few years and could not come to an agreement that it involved the two of them. This occurred when Van Alen was given considerable praise for a novel design of an office building (the Albemarle located at 24th Street and Broadway) without a decorative cornice.