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Temple Emanu-El, New York City, 1866–1868, Leopold Eidlitz, architect. Demolished in 1927.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fifth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets with Temple Emanu-El, on the right. The structure, by Eidlitz in association with Henry Fernbach, was considered one of the finest synagogues in the world. It held nearly 2,000 worshippers.

 

"What is it this morning, John, you are radiant?"

"‘I don’t mind telling you. The National Discount Bank is going to build a seventeen-story fire-proof building.’

"‘Well, John, have you been employed as the architect?’

"‘Why, no, it is to be a competition?’

"‘Then I presume you have been invited to compete and are to be paid for your sketches?’

"‘Nothing of the kind. Really, I cannot make you out.’

"‘Well, John, let me explain. You know that in most competitions members of the committee are bent upon employing architects in whom they have a personal interest. The only possible guarantee I can have on entering the lists in a competition is in the fact that I am invited to compete, which shows that someone on the committee desires that I should ultimately be employed as the architect of the building, and in order to make sure that the invitation is not in empty compliment, I insist upon being paid for my sketches.’

"‘There I differ with you entirely. I prefer that no one should he paid for his sketches, it keeps out the strongest men in the profession and makes my chances of success all the better. What is more,’ continues John, slyly, ‘suppose there is a committee of five, there certainly is not more than one in the five who cares for architecture per se, the other four are bent upon employing their friends. This one man may be in favor of paying for sketches, but he is overruled by the other four who agree with me that architects of reputation must be kept out at all hazards. Hence it is that you are but rarely invited to compete, and lose your opportunities.’

"‘I presume you have secured an invitation from one of the five?’

"‘Not as yet, but I expect to do so. I have made a formal application in writing to the committee as a whole, requesting permission to submit plans, specifications and estimates of costs of the proposed building for the consideration of the committee. My letter contains references to respectable parties which will not be disregarded, more especially as such a permission involves no expense. In addition to this, I have called upon four out of the five to request their personal patronage in the matter. I have told each of them that I rely upon his acknowledged influence with the committee, and his superior judgment in matters of building to bring out the intrinsic merits of my design, which without his help would probably not be properly understood, and I asked each of them for his personal views of what the building ought to be architecturally, constructively and economically. I told them that without being in possession of these personal views I should not attempt to enter the competition at all. One of the four said that the committee would probably issue a programme of requirements to all the architects, and that lie &d not intend to anticipate this by giving his private views. The other three, however, were greatly pleased with my suggestions, and two of them invited me to dinner to talk the matter over at leisure.’

"‘You are in clover, John,’ I said; you will probably be proposed by three of the committee, and find yourself in a majority at the start.’

"‘So I thought at first, but I since found out that one of the gentlemen who invited me to dinner has a nephew just returned from the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He intends him to be employed as the architect of the building. I did not know this when I dined with him. He seemed frank in his conversation; but interspersed it with perplexing questions such as: Which of the five orders will you select for your design? What is the relative cost of granite and terra cotta? How far would you go in the matter of ventilation in an office building? What are the proper proportions of a room? Do you deem it essential that all carving shall be done after the building is up? What is the relative cost per cubic foot of brickwork here and in Paris? How do you like the American factor of safety? I Subsequently discovered that these questions tended to elicit proof that I did not know much of architecture in general and of architecture as practiced in Paris in particular. The gentleman who did not invite me to dinner saw me at his office, where he showered upon me his views without giving me all opportunity to put in a word edgewise. These views related mainly to heating, lighting, ventilation and general economy of construction. He said he did not care much about architecture as long as the building was sufficiently showey to command tenants,’

"‘Well, John, it seems to me now that your chances of success are pretty slim. What is the use of going into a competition without pay when you have no friends on the committee?’

"‘True, but you make no allowance for the merits of my design. I propose to carry the day on the bottom rock of merit.’

"‘But I thought you told me that four of the gentlemen of the committee did not know or care about architecture in the abstract.’

"‘Yes, that Is so; but I intend to outstrip every other plan proposed, and make my design an education to the committee, an object-lesson in architecture. I have some ideas, and that is just what I intend to talk to you about. What do you think of the Temple of Jupiter Stator?’

"‘Shades of Phidias, John, you do not propose, l hope, to build a temple forty feet wide and two hundred and twenty feet high and fill it on the inside with offices.’

"‘Not quite so bad as that. I propose a temple at the top, to contain the three uppermost stories, as the crowning glory of the building.’

"‘And what will you do with the fourteen stories below the temple?’

"‘That is what I called to consult you upon. What do you say?’

"‘I can suggest nothing better than a dead wall of cyclopean masonry.’

"‘Well, I am so glad, that is just what struck me at once. If I could build such a wall on Broadway, a cyclopean wall forty feet wide and one hundred and seventy feet high my fortune, would he made. Just think of the excitement of the press when the wall reaches a hundred feet in height, built of huge stones of from ten to forty feet in length and from two to eight feet in height, say quarry-faced stonework twenty feet high and then a polished course of granite, with bas-reliefs of the War the Rebellion (Sheridan’s ride through the Shenandoah Valley), then again a bulk of rough quarry stone of more or less heights, and another hand course of polished stone. Think of the trucks with six to twelve horses unloading single stones in front of the building, of the immense cranes, tackle, gear and steam engines raising this gigantic material to its place on the wall; think of the crowds of people watching the progress of the work from the street and opposite windows and roofs; think of the papers that would be read before learned societies on the probable use of such a structure, of the inquiries by foreign associations of architects; think of the order for new buildings that would flow into my office; and mind you it is all so perfectly practicable. I should light the rooms with minute incandescent lamps spread in ornamental groups over the walls and ceilings. I should pump air of any required temperature into the offices, air permeated with the essence of new-mown hay, of the seaweed or the mountain fir. I should supply each tenant with just the season he prefers—spring, summer or autumn: he shall be at the shores of the sea today, or at the top of the mountain tomorrow, or, if he likes tropical heat, with the dry atmosphere of Egypt, flavored with just a suggestion of the essential oil of the lotus, all he will have to do is to touch a button and the janitor would change his atmosphere in a few minutes. I ask you would not offices of this description be in demand and bring high rents? Why, the occupants would he overwhelmed with clients just from motives of curiosity to see how the thing works. If I could talk to that committee for an hour or two twice a week during the next month I am sure I could convince them of the brilliancy of my scheme. As it is, they are doubtless prepossessed in favor of windows, a common prejudice which has so far prevented a true revival of antique architecture. Schinkel, the greatest of modern Greeks, had to succumb to the window mania, and so must I no doubt and the question still remains unanswered: How am I to treat the fourteen stories below my temple of Jupiter?’

"‘If you set yourself the problem of balancing a full-fledged temple one hundred and seventy feet above the sidewalk of Broadway and cannot use a cyclopean wall, I can suggest nothing, that will answer the purpose.’

"I have been thinking that a great arch might do it. The arch is expressive of strength. What do you think of an arch with voussoirs ten or twelve feet high?’

"‘That would do well enough if you had room for abutments to sustain the lateral pressure indicated by such an arch. There is not room enough in forty feet for an arch such as you have in mind, and also for its abutments, considering we height. You would find upon due calculation that your arch will be ridiculously small.’

"‘Of course you know,’ said John, ‘that the end piers are tied together at every story with iron beams, and there is practically no lateral pressure; besides, the arch is supported vertically by the piers between windows at short intervals.’

"‘In that case, John, you need no arch at all, but if you present to the public a great arch, as you say, with an expression of great strength, then the public is entitled to proper and sufficient abutments, or else you are not pursuing architecture as a fine art.’

"‘We cannot have everything in this world; I shall have to stick to the arch and abandon the abutments. I thought you might help me out of this dilemma, but now I see that I shall have to shift for myself. Wait till you see my drawings, I think you will admit that I have done my best under the circumstances, and no man can do more.’

"And with this John left in a huff, and I saw nothing of him until after the competition had been decided. He came into the office in great state of excitement, dashed his hat upon the floor, and dropped into a chair. I knew at once that his sanguine expectations regarding the Discount Bank competition had not been realized, a blow which involved disappointment in various directions, and a pecuniary loss which poor John could not well afford.

"‘I would not mind being beaten by a better man, but this is too bad,’ he bursted out after a while, with tears in his eyes.

"‘Tell me all about it, John,’ I suggested, in order to divert his mind. [continued]

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Posted 08/03