Friday, April 10, 2020

Introducing Adolph Fleischman (Mostly Forgotten): A Successful Member of America's First Generation of Jewish Homegrown Architects

Albany, NY. Former Temple Beth Emeth. Wilborn Temple First Church of God in Christ since 1957. Adolph Fleischman, arch (with Isaac Perry)., 1887-89.

Kingston, New York. Temple Emanuel. Adolph Fleischman, architect.
Albany, NY. School No. 5 Adolph Fleischman, arch., 1883.
Introducing Adolph Fleischman (Mostly Forgotten): A Successful Member of America's First Generation of Jewish Homegrown Architects

Samuel D. Gruber

I sometimes find myself rebutting the claim that Jews didn't enter American architecture in large numbers until recently - this because so many well known contemporary star architects are Jewish while the names and works of the predecessors who laid the path are mostly forgotten even when their buildings remain in use and in plain site.

The truth about American Jewish architects is somewhat different - there were scores of active Jewish architects in cities across the country (New York City, Hartford, Albany, Rochester, Newark, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Louisville, St. Louis, Atlanta, Charleston, etc.) from the late 19th century through World War II.

 Its just that only a small number of these were even in their day architectural "stars".  We might give that designation to Leopold Eidlitz, Henry Fernbach, Arnold Brunner, Dankmar Adler, Albert Kahn, Jacques Eli Kahn and few others. Most Jewish architects, however, were not much written about in their lifetimes, or since. Even those "stars" - mostly working in traditional historicist styles - were largely forgotten with the advent of modernism when new Jewish architects rose to prominence  (Alfred Alschuler, Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Marcel Breuer, Erich Mendelsohn, Louis Kahn, Percival Goodman, Max Abramovitz, Gordon Bunschaft, Bertrand Goldberg, Sidney Eisenshtat, Ira Rakatansky, and many others).

I've not found a photo a Adolph Fleischman but here are some of his Jewish contemporaries: Leopold Eidlitz, Arnold W. Brunner, Dankmar Adler, Alfred F. Rosenheim, Albert Kahn, and William M. Levi.
Most American Jewish architects found it hard to break into mainstream high end architecture until after World War I. and even more after world War II. That meant they did not design the fancy houses, country clubs, art galleries and other high-budget commissions so often published in the early architectural press. There are many exceptions, especially when there were Jewish patrons and clients. Overall, Jewish architects still did very well working in the wide field of urban commercial architecture. They designed and built (often as developers, too) thousands of urban housing units, often as apartment buildings and many other kinds of structures.

Jewish architects most often served Jewish clients and donors building movie theaters, department stores, factories, hospitals and, of course, synagogues. Several Jewish architects built schools and other public buildings. A few very successful architects, like Arnold W. Brunner (1857-1925), did all of the above, and also became a leading city planner. Brunner was one of a small group of Jewish architects who was able to take his place not just as a Jewish architect, but as a leading American architect.

Another example of an early American Jewish architect with a successful career is Adolph Fleischman, an Albany, New York-based architect and contemporary of Brunner, who was active in the late 19th and early 20th century, Fleischman was one of the first successful American-born Jewish architects. Like a few others he was a graduate of an early prestigious university architecture program.

Kingston, New York. Temple Emanuel. Adolph Fleischman, arch. Photo: Tony Adamis, 2014.
In 1871 Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell University, pushed to found a program in architecture, leading to the first four-year course in the profession in an American university. By 1879 Cornell University graduated two Jewish architects out of a class of four. Adolph Fleischman and Albert Buchman (1859-1936) both earned bachelors degrees in architecture that year.Fleishman's dissertation, still in the Cornell library, was "The Progress of Civilization as Shown in Architecture." (1879). 

Fleischman was elected an Associate of the A.I.A. in 1884. He went on to become a prominent architect in Albany, New York and designed the synagogue for his own congregation Anshe Emeth (1887-89). Fleishman was active in Bnai Brith and was District-Deputy of Zephaniah Lodge, No. 131, at Rondont, N. Y. (now part of Kingston, NY) where he designed and built Temple Emanuel at Rondout. In 2014 the former synagogue was converted into seven apartments. How good an architect was he? It's difficult to say until we compile a more complete lsit of his buildings. We know he was competant, but his syangogues designs were hardly original.

Kingston, New York. Temple Emanuel. Adolph Fleischman, arch. Now apartments.
His career is recorded in the American Jewish Yearbook, Vol 6, page 92, in 1904:

Fleischman Adolph. Architect. Born December 7 1856, Albany,  New York. Son of Solomon Fleischman and Catherine Lederer. Educated in Albany public and high schools. Arch B 1879 Cornell University Married Rosetta A Mann Fellow American Institute of Architects 1884 District Deputy Independent Order B District No 1 superintendent Sunday School Council of Jewish Women past president Gideon Lodge Independent Order B Synagogue Albany and synagogues in Troy and Rondout New York. Office 59 and 61 North Pearl Residence 277 Hudson Av Albany
Fleischman's obituary appeared in The Cornell Alumni News, Volume 16 (1914).

His career and work needs to be further researched, including the compilation of a list of buildings and clients.  Fleischman is but one of scores of American Jewish architects the International Survey of Jewish Monuments plans to include in an on-line biographical directory of American Jewish and synagogue Architects. For a partial list see here.


Bernice said...

Another Jewish architect you might like to add to your list is Houston architect Joseph Finger, who designed Houston's City Hall (1939), Beth Israel and Beth Yeshurun synagogues, hotels, department stores and other commercial buildings, and private homes. The wiki entry includes an extensive list of the buildings he designed. Finger was innovative, introducing elements of modern architecture to Houston.

Samuel Gruber said...

Bernice, yes, Joseph Finger was an important Austrian-Jewish-Amercian-Texan architect. He is on our list of architects born before 1900 an cetainly merits a good bio entry. There was good article about his career in the Houston History Magazine a few years ago - we attach a link to the pdf, and there is a pretty extensive lsit of his buildings on Wikipedia.

Next time I get to Houston I'll try to tour his buildings - including the old Beth Israel (now the Heinen Theater of Houston Community College)and the Temple of Rest.

Thanks for reading my posts!
-- Sam Gruber