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Dry Dock Savings Bank, New York City, 1875, Leopold Eidlitz, architect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Senate Corridor, New York State Capitol, Albany New York, completed 1880, Leopold Eidlitz, architect.

 

 

He straightened up a bit and told me this story:

"‘You know when I saw you last I was full of the idea of a cyclopean wall, and, as an alternative, of the great arch. The great arch and the temple I concluded must be the winning card; but the cyclopean wall had such a hold on my mind that I would have been willing to barter a year of my life for its success. So I made up my mind to present a plan for either scheme. Of course, you know what it means to prepare two sets of plans in a quarter inch scale within the prescribed time. Then there was the matter of perspectives of the exterior. The programme was silent on the subject of scale, point of view, picturesque treatment, coloring, etc. It was important that my perspectives should be the largest presented and highly colored. I engaged the services of an eminent colorist to do the coloring at the rate of one hundred and twenty dollars apiece ($150 is the current price). Then there was the work of preparing specifications and detailed estimates, consultations with contractors and experts in steamheating, ventilating, plumbing, electric lighting, manufacturers of elevators, etc. it is not necessary to detail to you the immense work involved in preparing completed plans and specifications for a building of the magnitude of the Discount Bank in the short space of six weeks as you are familiar with the subject. I commenced with four draughtsmen; at the end of a fortnight I had six, and we talked seriously of working overtime in order to get through with the perspectives to give the colorist an opportunity to do his work with leisure sufficient to do it well. While buoyed up with hope of success a man can do much work in a short space of time, and so I did in the hours between eight A. M. and six P. M., spending the rest of my waking hours in thinking how the effect of the drawings may be enhanced here and there and the cost of construction decreased everywhere, for this was not merely a question of who could produce the best design to answer a given purpose; but also, who could execute it cheaper than anyone else. The matter of ventilation being seemingly uppermost in the minds of the committee, for they talked about it constantly, I made this my special study and worked upon it nights after all others had retired; and I do think I developed it to a degree heretofore unparalleled in business buildings. I devised two great fans, sixteen feet in diameter, to be placed one in front and the other near the rear of the building to supply fresh air to each of the separate offices; air heated in winter and cooled in summer so that the inmates could regulate its temperature by simply touching a button which, by all electric contrivance governed the ingress of air by means of ingeniously-constructed valves, A system of this magnitude is necessarily costly; and I spent many nights in simplifying the apparatus and reducing the cost to twenty-five thousand dollars, a sum so small when you consider the work accomplished and its great importance in the minds of the committee that I felt sure of success on this ground alone. At times, however, I got very blue, thinking of the many possibilities outside of the merit of my design which might operate against me, and one morning, after I had been working on my plans for nearly a month I awoke in a cold perspiration from a horrible dream. You see I intended to ask permission to explain my plans personally before a final decision; and at stray moments I rehearsed in my mind what I would say on that occasion. I was so full of the subject I expected to command the attention and interest of the committee for hours and finally elicit unanimous applause. So I dreamt that I was standing before a green baize-covered table in the directors’ room of the Discount Bank, the members of the committee on either side and the chairman at the head, and I, of course, at the foot of the table; my drawings pinned up on the wall behind me. Now, the directors’ table, which I had seen many times, was large enough to accommodate twenty-three directors comfortably, besides the president and cashier who acts as secretary. It is about twenty-four feet long. In my dream, however, the table seemed one hundred feet long with the committee sitting away off at the other end of it; the nearest member being no less than ninety-six feet away from me. This discouraged me ever so much; but while they were consulting at the other end in low tones I endeavored to collect my thoughts, and when the chairman said that the committee was ready to hear my explanations, and have me answer some questions, I proceeded at once with a well-studied description of the Erechteum, touched lightly upon the invasion by Xerxes, the defense at Thermopylæ, the subsequent federation of the Greek states, the vast contributions accumulated under Pericles, the building of the outer harbor, the artistic triumphs of Phidias, etc., when I was interrupted by one of the members of the committee by the statement that a directors’ meeting within half an hour necessitated that I should confine myself to the subject of my plans, and that I should be as brief as possible as the committee would probably want to ask me a few questions. Upon this I plunged into a description of my plans, and dwelled at some length upon my system of ventilation, which seemed to interest the committee somewhat, until interrupted by the question "what this matter of ventilation would cost." I answered, "not more than $25,000. "This seemed satisfactory; but one question being asked it opened a flood-gate of them, and I was not permitted to say another word regarding my plans, and the interview rapidly tended to a conversation between the members of the committee, of which I now and then heard a word, or a sentence such as "Ridiculous." "Phidias is not one of the competitors, is he?" "There seems very little business about him." "Humbug, etc.," and then I was gently pushed aside by the cashier of the bank who said the directors’ meeting was opened, and I occupied his place. The janitor. rushed in with a couple of chairs upon his shoulders, and tore a great hole in one of my perspectives, and the president of the bank jumped upon the table, stamped his foot three times, and called out in a loud voice "the board is in session; clear out, all architects;" and I awoke with a shiver.

"‘Whether this horrible dream was owing to overwork, want of sleep, or a late supper, I cannot say, but I do know that it left me in a dreadful nervous condition. Arrived at the office, I found everything dragging; nothing finished, and the men tired and discouraged. Instead of trying to get matters into shape in the office I felt that I could do nothing definite until I had made the rounds of the committee, to learn something of the prevailing state of mind. When I now look back upon this visit it seems to me that they questioned me extensively as to what I was doing, and told me little of what they were thinking about; but a clerk of the chairman, a schoolmate of mine, who noticed my nervous state, told me that nothing would succeed in the competition but the plainest sort of a building, a plain wall with as many and as large windows as are needed to light up the offices, This information upset all my plans and I reluctantly came to the conclusion to prepare a third design, retaining the idea of the temple for the upper stories, but supporting the temple with a plain wall pierced with the necessary openings. If the openings were not made too large, I felt that the æsthetic result must be reasonably fair and pleasing to the committee, probably interior only to the cyclopean wall. I engaged three more draughtsmen, you were good enough to lend me one of yours (many thanks); he was a high-priced man and worked very leisurely, certainly with much repose (no snap), but in the end his work was perfect, and also abundant as he never had to do any of it over again. A new set of estimates had to be prepared for the third design. This was essentially my work, and I can assure you I worked hard. I should not like to live over again those last two weeks prior to handing in the plans, which I did punctually at the one appointed; but I can only say that the moment the drawings were out of the office I fell into a heap in my office chair and finally rushed home and went to bed.

"‘I heard nothing from the committee for a week, when I received a short note from the secretary stating that no meeting would be had in less than a month from date, and that I might expect further notice of a hearing to be granted to architects prior to a decision. At the end of a month I was notified to appear for a hearing at three P. M. of a certain day, and when I arrived at the office of the chairman I met one of the competitors coming out of his private room, and three others waiting outside. Evidently the process of giving a hearing to the competing architects was to be dispatched at one session of the committee. Called in by the secretary of the committee I found the members in close conversation, evidently interesting to themselves, as they did not notice my advent. I looked around the room where I saw the various perspectives pinned up against the walls (no ground plans or other geometrical drawing). One of the perspectives struck me as hideously bad. It represented a Corinthian temple two stories high and on the top of this fifteen stories of plain box with windows distributed indiscriminately over the surface without regard to construction. In the corner of the room next to me stood a megalethoscope on a tressel. I had just time to peep into it when I saw a representation of that same ugly perspective on the wall, a temple with the great ugly box on top of it. The temple was evidently meant to represent the banking rooms, for in front of it on the sidewalk, there was painted a crowd of gentlemen, clerks and bank messengers in the act of rushing in and out of the building. The bank messengers carried heavy satchels; the bank clerks’ portfolios and large pocket-books, and the gentlemen jostled everyone in their hurry. At the curbstone a number of drays were backed up, from which specie and ingots of silver were in the process of being discharged. The ingots were loaded upon an elevator intended to run down to the basement. An apple-stand and a few policemen completed the picture. I saw all this in a very few moments, and when I looked towards the committee they were still engaged at the other end of the room in examining something which stood on the floor. This gave me plenty of time to rehearse a resolution not to say one word upon architecture or art in general, but to confine myself to matters practical, such as the arrangement of the offices, of the access to them, of light and ventilation, heating, etc. I repeated once more my speech, which commenced somewhat in this way:

"‘As men of business, eminently practical gentlemen of the committee, I will not detain you by a dissertation on the æsthetic motives which generated my designs, but will at once proceed to practical results attained, which you will permit me to speak of as matters of interest to you, rather than as achievements of mine.’

"‘I was saved all trouble of saying a single word of all this, for suddenly the chairman turned round and members took their seats at the table which disclosed to my view a plaster model of precisely the same thing I saw in the megalethoscope.

"‘The chairman at once addressed me as follows: Ah! Mr. X, we are very glad to see you here; we have looked with interest at your drawings. Admirable! We all like them! Great industry and enterprise. You need not say one word on the subject; we know it all; and I express the conviction of the members of the committee when I say we appreciate your efforts. Our secretary had prepared a synopsis of your specifications, description and estimates, and I may say without conceit we are perfectly familiar with them. We especially value your remarks upon ventilation So pertinent, "without oxygen, you say, we cannot exist.- But let me ask you. Are you aware that a system of ventilation has been invented, inexpensive, simple, a series of flues with a gas-burner or two at the bottom of each which produce a draught of fresh air into the respective rooms?’

"‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’

"‘I presume,’ proceeded the chairman, ‘you do not read the papers, and are not familiar with the progress of science?’

"‘Pardon, I am aware that such a notion exists: but I am not aware that It answers tile purpose.

"‘And why not, pray?’

"‘Because the number of cubic feet of air to he moved through a given space represents a mechanical force, the equivalent of which in units of heat cannot be produced by less than twelve hundred times the number of burners contemplated by the invention you speak of.’

"‘Who says so?’

"‘I have gone through the Computation on the theoretical principle of the correlation of forces and this is my result. Practically, the number of burners required are greater by reason of inevitable losses by friction, radiation, etc.; but if these losses by the ingenuity of man were reduced to nil then my calculation would be correct.’

"‘ And pray who guarantees the principle of the correlation of forces?’

"‘Such men as Joule and Meyer.’

"‘Are they in the ventilating business? I never heard of the firm.’

"They are in no business whatever. Mr. Meyer, a German scientist in the fore part of this century, deduced the value of the unit of heat in terms of mechanical work mathematically; and Mr. Joule, an English scientist, demonstrated it by a well-known experiment soon afterwards.’

"‘You say, Mr. X, that Mr. Joule lived in England and Mr. Meyer in Germany in the fore part of this century?’

Yes.’

"‘We now count the year of our Lord 1894. What did those gentlemen know of the requirements and construction of business buildings in this country and at the present day?’ He expected

no answer, but continued: ‘I am glad to have seen you again. I can only say your drawings are most beautiful. (To the Secretary.) Call in Mr. Y.’

"‘I have since learned from my friend, the clerk, that Z, the author of the design of the plaster model, has been employed as the architect of the new bank. His paper on ventilation contained the statement that the use of steam engines and fans is obsolete, arid their work is now done by a few gas jets. This statement lie supported with a guarantee of the inventor, who therein agrees to return half the cost of the apparatus if within six months from the time it is put in the building it fails to answer the purpose. The total cost not to exceed fifteen hundred dollars.’

"Now, Doctor, I am done. I am heartily sorry for John. He is a poor man of business, illogical, visionary, sanguine and idiotic at times, not thorough in construction and æsthetics, but as architects go far superior morally and Intellectually to men like Z, for instance. This unfortunate competition has cost him all his little savings, and has materially impaired his health and spirits."

The committee was doubtless pleased with the pictorial illustration of the business rush in front of their future bank, impressed upon their minds repeatedly by the plaster model and the wonders of the megalethoscope.

This pleasure led them to like the perspective, hence the architectural design it represented; they admired the businesslike facility with which Z condemned an obsolete method of ventilation. They took it for granted that it was obsolete because he said so, and because lie promptly supported his assertion with a guarantee from a known business house. They liked Z as an artist, and as a business man, and it is not surprising that they intrusted him with the charge of their new building, and men like John had to go to the wall. The next time we meet, Doctor, I should like to have a talk with you on the human weakness of building committees and the vicissitudes of architecture arising from the same.

--Leopold Eidlitz

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Posted 08/03