Monday, November 10, 2008

USA: Georgia’s 19th-Century Jewish Architects, Alfred Eichberg and Hyman Witcover

USA: Georgia’s 19th-Century Jewish Architects, Alfred Eichberg and Hyman Witcover

by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) In response to my blog entry on Savannah, Georgia (USA) Jewish-American architect Hyman Witcover, Atlanta-based architectural historian Richard Funderburke has responded with information about Witcover’s mentor and colleague Alfred Eichberg (born: NYC, 1859) a professional architect in Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia, from 1880 until about 1900, with whom Witcover first found employment as a draftsman, and who around 1899 Eichberg made his partner. Funderburke writes that “Eichberg was extremely successful during the twenty years from 1880 to 1900 and seems likely to have been the first professional Jewish architect to live and practice in Georgia and the Deep South [he designed buildings in N.C., Florida and S.C. as well].”

Eichberg’s “parents moved to Atlanta [from New York] about 1869 when Alfred Eichberg was ten years old. His parents became extremely wealthy and influential in the German and German-Jewish community. They were social and economic leaders -- and Alfred followed in their footsteps as a community leader here and in Savannah which was the major center of his architectural practice. He worked with a local architect as a teenager -- a gentile who designed the synagogue of which his father was chairman of the building committee. Alfred then went to the German technical college in Stuttgart from about 1876 to 1880. At that time and before his 21st birthday, he returned to Atlanta and entered practice as an architect with one of the city's most established architects -- as his full partner.”

”Eichberg designed synagogues in Brunswick, Ga. and Sumter, S.C. He also did renovations on the major synagogue in Savannah -- among many other buildings for the German-Jews of Georgia and for many gentiles as well. Hyman Witcover became his draftsman around 1894 and then his partner around 1899. Eichberg mysteriously gave up his Savannah practice in 1900 and returned to Atlanta presumably to help run the family businesses. Although he listed himself as an architect for many years thereafter in the city directories, he did not have an office as such and there are no buildings credited to him after 1900.”

Richard writes that “I am pretty sure he was the first Jewish professional architect to maintain a practice in Georgia, and probably the Deep South It is my contention that he led the way for Jews in this profession in the South.”

Richard is currently writing a long article on the life and work of Alfred Eichberg which I, and I am sure many others, await with great interest. Personally, the early parallels with his near contemporary Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) – a subject of my own research – are tantalizing. Brunner, of course, stayed in New York, and after 20 years of mostly working for Jewish individual and community clients was able to break out of that architectural “ghetto” by winning an important national competition (for the Cleveland Federal Building in 1901). Eichberg took a different route. In the more tolerant (to Jews) environment of the South, Eichberg and Witcover were able to easily serve Jewish and non-Jewish clients. At least in the case of Witcover, active involvement in the Masons facilitated access and acceptance.

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