Architect's design of local memorial up for auction
March 28, 2014 9:47 PM
Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
This ink and watercolor drawing, dated 1907, shows Cass Gilbert’s design for the Allegheny County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. It will be up for sale April 8 at Swann Auction Galleries.
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, finished in 1910, was designed by Henry Hornbostel, one of nine architects who competed for the commission.
By Marylynne Pitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nine architects offered an array of designs for a memorial to honor Pittsburgh citizens who served in the Civil War. The winner of this competition, organized in 1906 by Allegheny County commissioners, was Henry Hornbostel. Finished in 1910, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial is a two-story Beaux-Arts building in Oakland.
Still, it's fun to consider what Pittsburgh might have built by looking at a Cass Gilbert design. The Zanesville, Ohio, native is best known for designing the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., and the Woolworth Building and U.S. Customs House, both in New York City.
A hand-drawn ink and watercolor rendering of Gilbert's conception will be offered for sale April 8 at Swann Auction Galleries in New York City. Measuring 20 by 42 inches, the drawing is on linen-backed paper and framed with an archival quality mat.
"Someone from Pittsburgh would find it intriguing to find an alternate reality of a building that didn't exist on that site," said Rick Stattler, an Americana specialist with Swann Auction Galleries.
"We have had alternate designs for Central Park in New York, and it just captures people's imaginations because they see an alternate reality of a site that they thought they knew so well."
Gilbert wanted the names of Civil War generals carved on the building's exterior, Mr. Stattler said. The drawing's estimated sales price is $3,000 to $4,000.
Michael Kraus, curator at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, will not bid for the drawing.
"We'd love to have it, but it really doesn't do much for our mission. Our mission is honoring American soldiers. If somebody wanted to donate it, we'd love to have it," Mr. Kraus said. "We have Hornbostel's plans for the building."
One of Hornbostel's great strengths was to look at a building's requirements and conceptualize it, a talent that helped him win four major architectural competitions in Pittsburgh during the first decade of the 20th century. Local architect David Vater recently led an after-hours tour of Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, taking 25 people up to see the building's green roof.
"He could see the essentials and then express it," Mr. Vater said, adding that Hornbostel also won commissions to design Carnegie Technical Schools, Rodef Shalom Congregation and the University of Pittsburgh campus.
Of all the designs for the memorial, Hornbostel's is the tallest, Mr. Vater said, and that adds to the building's monumentality.
Gilbert's plan for the memorial "is a foreshadowing of the Jefferson Memorial. I think it's a nice design," Mr. Vater said. John Russell Pope designed the Jefferson Memorial, which was begun in the nation's capital in 1939 and finished in 1943.
Hornbostel's concept was inspired by the original mausoleum at the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus. While the mausoleum had 36 columns, Hornbostel used 40.
"He outdid the ancients!" Mr. Vater said, adding that a cast from the Halicarnassus mausoleum stands in the Hall of Architecture at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Albert M. Tannler, director of historical collections at Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said Hornbostel's design is an example of "Renaissance classicism as it is interpreted and taught in Paris in the 19th century and then it becomes adapted to an American context."
From the 1850s through World War I, many American architects studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
"Washington, D.C., is like a museum of this style of architecture. This is when America thinks it found its style. Of course, it's derivative," Mr. Tannler said.
The auction begins at 1:30 p.m. April 8 and will be streamed live at www.invaluable.com.
The Gilbert drawing is Lot No. 211 and should come up between 3 and 3:30 p.m. in this auction of 320 lots. To register for bidding, go to www.invaluable.com. Bidders using that website pay an extra 3 percent to purchase auction items.
Marylynne Pitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1648.
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