Thursday, December 4, 2008

Publication: New Book on Leopold Eidlitz Wins Award

Publication: New Book on Leopold Eidlitz Wins Award
by Samuel D. Gruber

Dedication of Temple Emanu-El, New York, 1868. From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (Oct. 3, 1868)

Temple Emanu-El, New York, 1868. Harper's Weekly (Nov. 14, 1868).

(ISJM) The Southeastern Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH)has presented its award for best book to Kathryn E. Holliday for Leopold Eidlitz: Architecture and Idealism in the Gilded Age (W.W. Norton, 2008; hardcover). The well-illustrated monograph is the first critical examination of the work of New York architect Leopold Eidlitz (1823-1908), America's first Jewish architect and a founding member of the American Institute of Architects, who was one of the titans of 19th-century American architecture but is mostly forgotten today, though his work was much admired in his time, and as Holliday argues, his organic approach to architecture laid the foundation for H.H. Richardson and his followers.

For readers of this blog the book will of greatest interest for the first chapter, which traces Eidlitz's personal and professional roots to his birthplace Prague, and to Vienna where he trained before arriving in America at age 20 in 1843. Holliday establishes Eidlitz's Jewish origins, though once in America the architect neither confirmed nor denied his Jewish upbringing, and contemporaries and subsequent historians have been unsure of his past. While Eidlitz married his (non-Jewish)boss's daughter, he obviously maintained relations with New York's Jewish community. Holliday provides the most complete descriptions of his two synagogue projects - Shaary Teffila of 1846-48 (with Charles Otto Blesch)and the grand Temple Emanu-El of 1866-68, today Eidlitz's best known building, despite it demolition. As Holliday writes "It is ironic that Eidlitz, with his professional focus on Christian churches and his own desire to leave his Jewishness in the past, became most identified with a synagogue." (p 78). Fortunately, Holliday places her discussion of the synagogues in the context of his church designs, which make them seem both more common, and at the same time exceedingly original and even exotic.

This book is an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in either 19th-century or American architecture. There are too few Eidlitz buildings surviving. In New York City the most impressive are St. George's Episcopal Church at Stuyvesant Square (1846-49) and the New York County (Tweed) Courthouse (1861-81). We are indebted to Prof. Holliday for bringing Eidlitz's rich body of work, and his writing on architecture, back to public and scholarly attention.

Kathryn Holliday teaches architectural history and theory at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Leopold Eidlitz: Architecture and Idealism in the Gilded Age by Kathryn E. Holliday. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008). ISBN: 13: 978-0-393-7339-9

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