German Architect builds America’s first Skyscrapers

German Architect America’s Skyscrapers
Paul Gmelin was born in 1858 in Ulm, Germany. He assisted in planning several of New York’s first skyscrapers.

He began his career in New York as a draftsman with the Bridge Builders Magazine. While with that periodical was asked by the late Charles McKim to make a perspective drawing of the Boston Public Library, afterward known as a skilled designer, he was employed in consecutive periods with several prominent architectural firms in New York, including Babb, Cook & Willard, Cyrus Eidlitz, and Eidlitz & MacKenzie. With the latter, he worked on the New York Times Building plans and was credited with having much to do in preparing the original design.

Beginning professional practice in 1910, Mr. Gmelin joined Andrew MacKenzie and Stephen Voorhees in a partnership that was maintained for sixteen years. Following Mr. MacKenzie’s death in 1926, Mr. Ralph Walker took his place in the firm with a subsequent name change. In an early phase of his career, Mr. Gmelin assisted in planning several of New Yorks’s first skyscrapers, and during the busy years of his later practice was identified with the design of the following structures: New York Telephone Building at Albany, 1913; Walter Lispenard Building, New York, 1914, and the Brooklyn Municipal Building, 1924. He died in 1937 at his home in Cranford, N.J., at the age of seventy-nine. German Architect Builds America’s Skyscrapers

German Architect Builds America's Skyscrapers
The Brooklyn Municipal Building is located at the southwest corner of Joralemon and Court Streets. It houses many City offices, including the City Clerk (where marriage licenses are obtained), and offices for the Departments of Buildings, Probation, Finance, and Environmental Protection. The building was designed by McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin and completed in 1924 at $5,800,000.

Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker was a prestigious New York architectural firm. The firm had an illustrious heritage, the parent company being founded in New York City by Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz in 1885. In 1900 he added partner Andrew C. McKenzie, and when Eidlitz left the firm in 1910, he was replaced by Stephen Francis Voorhees (1878-1965) and Paul Gmelin. Following McKenzie’s death in 1926, Ralph Walker, who had been employed for several years with the company, was added as a partner, and the name was changed to Voorhees, Gmelin, and Walker. In 1938, reflecting new changes in the partnership, the name was changed to Voorhees, Walker, Foley, and Smith, and in 1955 to Voorhes, Walker, Smith, and Smith. Mr. Voorhees held a senior partner position until January 1959, when he became a consultant. Following Perry Coke Smith’s retirement in 1968, the firm’s name was changed to Haines Lundberg Waehler, and in its current form is known today as HLW. The firm was well known for its Art Deco buildings. See also the book: “The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height” German Architect Builds America’s Skyscrapers.

The Passport German Architect America’s Skyscrapers

A red standard U.S. passport with 32 pages was issued on 6 June 1930 for him, Rosa, and his son Stephen. Page six shows an American Consulate Stuttgart entry by Vice Consul Shiras Morris Jr., where Stephen was excluded in 1932. Page seven had a British double visa from 1930 when Stephen was still included. Page eight has a Swiss border stamp, and page nine has a German visa from 1930.

In October 1931, his passport was renewed until 1932 at the American Consulate in Stuttgart by Vice Consul George. C. Minor¹. Page eleven has a German visa dated Aug 1931. Page 31/32 border stamps from Italy and Switzerland. The last mark is from 16 April 1932, leaving Italy. Minor, George C. — of Charleston, Kanawha County, W.Va. U.S. Vice Consul in Tirana, as of 1927-29; Stuttgart, as of 1931-32; Moscow, as of 1934-38; Toronto, as of 1940; Ottawa, as of 1940-43.

The passport comes in excellent condition and is a fantastic example of Germans building a new nation – America. Around 50 million German Americans live in the U.S. today, according to a 2010 census. The largest self-reported ancestry group in the States, their numbers beat Irish, African, English, Mexican and Italian Americans, making up around 17% of the American population in 2009. Not bad for a colony that began with just 13 families from Krefeld.

The first Germans arrived in the U.S. as early as 1608 – but it was the 1683 movement that indeed marked the beginning of America’s German settlement. This was when a group of religious dissidents approached Francis Daniel Pastorius in Frankfurt am Main.

As a trained lawyer and agent for the German Society – a group of German land investors – Pastorius seemed like a good bet to help them buy land in Pennsylvania. They wanted to build a settlement there. And when they arrived on American shores, that’s precisely what Pastorius enabled them to do. Pastorius negotiated the purchase of 5,700 acres of land from William Penn – the Englishman who had founded Pennsylvania a few years earlier. On this land, Germantown was born.

Of course, those early settlers didn’t come from Germany as it is today. In 1683, Germany didn’t exist as a country. It wouldn’t do so until 1871. Instead, separate German-speaking states mostly ruled themselves as parts of the Catholic Holy Roman Empire. But religious tensions in the German states had exploded since Martin Luther published his ninety-five theses in Wittenberg in 1517, calling people to follow the Bible rather than the Pope. The Thirty Years’ War, which broke out in 1618, was one of the most destructive in European History – and it was against this backdrop that many Germans decided to emigrate.

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