Sunday, November 19, 2017

A. Lincoln Fechheimer (1876-1954), Cincinnati's Leading Jewish Architect

Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017
A. Lincoln Fechheimer (1876-1954), Cincinnati's Jewish Architect Who Designed Hebrew Union College (and much more)
by Samuel D. Gruber

I recently spent a few days at a conference on the campus of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. The collection of about a dozen buildings comprises a small campus on Clifton Avenue, first laid out in 1907 and opened in 1912, close to the much larger expanse of the University of Cincinnati. Not all of the buildings are of a piece. Now included is an adjacent large Masonic Hall built in 1915 (now Mayerson Hall), and several modern buildings, but the functional and aesthetic core of HUC still consists of brick structures built in the then popular collegiate Gothic style, imported and adapted from the English college architecture of Oxford and Cambridge.  In the context of American educational architecture this was no big deal.  Countless colleges, universities,  Christian religious seminaries and even prep school all were built in this style in the late-19th and early-20th century. 

What makes HUC's campus important in "Jewish architecture,"however, is that it was the first Jewish educational campus erected in America and it was designed by Jewish architect A. Lincoln Fechheimer. For someone used to visiting Ivy League and other elite American college campus, the architecture is familiar, but it is a shock to see the buildings adorned with Jewish stars, the Hebrew Ten Commandments, and Torah scrolls.

Fechheimer's name is not much known now, he does not appear on most lists fo Jewish architects, but he was quite accomplished in his day.  His success exemplifies the productive careers open to Jewish architects in the early decades of the 20th century. Most major American cities had a least one - and sometimes more - established and respected Jewish architect. For Jews, architecture (and the related field of civil engineering) were respectable fields that contributed to society and which also allow a good livelihood. Fechheimer belonged to the second generation of American-born Jews who trained in good American universities and often then completed their architectural training abroad, most often in in the early 1900s in Paris.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. Herman Learning Center, one of the original buildings on campus. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. Former Administration Building.entry portal. Note Torah scrolls flanking attic story. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. Former Masonic Temple (1915) now Mayerson Hall. This building - not originally part of the HUC campus was built at just about the same time. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
The creation of a new purpose-built Reform seminary was a project of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which in March 1903 appointed a committee to consider moving the College, founded in 1875, to a new Cincinnati location. Eighteen acres of land was purchased near the University, facing Clifton Avenue and across from Burnet Woods.  Despite revenue from the sale of the College's previous site, raising money to pay for new site alone - not considering the cost of new buildings, was difficult.

During this long process, noted New York-based (Jewish) architect Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925) was hired as a consulting architect to design a program and to help select architects for the specific tasks. Financier Jacob Schiff, who was a regular patron of Brunner, contributed $25,000 to the building program and this probably had a lot to do with Brunner's appointment. But besides being Jewish, Brunner had more than two decades experience designing for Jewish communal and educational institutions. He was also a well-known national architect. He was still overseeing completion of the impressive Federal Building in Cleveland, for which he had won a competition in 1901 (cornerstone laid in 1905) and since 1902 he has been one of the three architects (Daniel Burnham and John Carriere) named to the Cleveland Board of Supervision of Public Buildings and Grounds, which subsequently came to be known as the Group Plan Commission, in charge of the influential "Cleveland Plan." With this work Brunner began two decades of constant city planning work in more than a dozen cities. In 1903 he was elected president of Architectural League of New York.

Brunner had designed academic buildings for New York University's Bronx campus, and would soon begin important buildings for Columbia and Barnard Colleges.

Perhaps most important for the HUC project, Brunner had designed the new building for the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which as paid for by Jacob Schiff and which had opened in 1903 at 531-535 W. 123d Street. Brunner’s solution was an attractive classical style palazzo-type building which faced the street with dignity and elegance, and into which he deftly inserted a wide variety of functions.The next year (1904), Brunner was engaged to design the new School of Mines (Lewisohn Hall) paid for by another wealthy Jewish Brunner patron, Adolph Lewisohn.

Jewish Theological Seminary, 531-535 W. 123d Street, New York City, 1903. Arnold W. Brunner, architect.

 On January 14, 1907, the Executive Board of HUC heard that:
 “The Building Committee, aided by their Consulting Architect, Mr. Arnold W. Brunner of New York, after a competitive submission of plans, adopted those prepared by Mr. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, who has associated with himself Mr. Harry Hake.  These plans are now on exhibition in the hall wherein the Twentieth Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations will meet.” [Proceedings of the Executive Board, Hebrew Union College  (Jan. 14, 1907)].
Fechheimer was a member of a prominent Jewish Cincinnati family (see the Marcus Fechheimer House, Garfield Place). Despite being born deaf, Fechheimer achieved notoriety as a brilliant draftsman and talented designer from an early age. He attended Columbia University; and then studied at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1900-1904, where he received his receiving Diploma. He spent two years in Chicago, and then returned to Cincinnati where he formed a new firm with Harry Hake in 1906.

Fechheimer and Hake won the competition for the original group of buildings at Hebrew Union College in 1907, and the College moved onto the new campus in 1912.  Buildings from the original design continued to be erected into the 1920s.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. Former Administration Building. A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. Sisterhood Dormitory.  A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect, 1921-25. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Hebrew Union College. Former Freiberg Gymnasium (now Barbash Family Support Center).  A. Lincoln Fechheimer, architect. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.

I find it interesting that Brunner - himself the first successful American-born Jewish architect and an early graduate of MIT -  took an active role in starting the career of the young Fechheimer, who had only recently returned from four years study in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1900-1904), and who, after working two years in Chicago had only started his new firm with Harry Hake in 1906. Besides this, young Fechheimer was totally deaf from birth, so was hardly a known and likely candidate. Of course, he came from a distinguished Cincinnati Jewish family, so that may have influenced the decision as much as Brunner's judgement. Still, I wonder if I advancing Fechheimer's career Brunner was not "passing forward" the early mentoring he had received from (Jewish) architect Henry Fernbach.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Former Wise Center (now Zion Temple First Pentecostal Church) on Reading Road. Fechheimer & Ihorst, architects, 1926-28. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2017.
Fechheimer (with Harry Hake and then Benjamin Ihorst) subsequently designed several important buildings in Cincinnati, including the Moderne-style Wilson Auditorium (demolished, 2013) and Beecher Hall (demolished) on the Clifton Campus of the University of Cincinnati and the (former) Wise Center Building, on Reading Road in Avondale (1926-28).  Fechheimer, Ihorst & McCoy designed the Dale Park School in Mariemont (1924-1925). Fechheimer & Ihorst designed the elegant Ault Park Pavilion (1930). 


 Biographical Dictionary of Cincinnati Architects, 1788-1940]

 "Speech Unto the Speechless: The Remarkable Story of A. Lincoln Fechheimer of Cincinnati...," American Hebrew (Nov. 4, 1921).

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