TV preview: Film draws on architect Hornbostel's love for Pittsburgh



Henry Hornbostel created classical buildings filled with sumptuous sculptural interiors. The College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University, Rodef Shalom synagogue and the monumental Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall are among the local landmarks that flowed from his imagination.

He had a national reputation, too -- 22 of his structures are on the National Register of Historic Places. Architects and historians know Hornbostel's work. Now, people who have often walked through some of the 70 Pittsburgh buildings or private homes he designed may truly appreciate this native New Yorker, who also was an ardent traveler, a dapper dresser, an animal lover and a lifelong party animal.

'Henry Hornbostel: In Architecture and Legacy"
When: 10 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on WQED.

American Ark Films, a local company, has produced an excellent documentary called "Henry Hornbostel: In Architecture and Legacy" that airs at 10 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on WQED. Scripted by Greg Rempel and smoothly narrated by Pittsburgh native Tamara Tunie, this 58-minute homage to Hornbostel employs a lineup of renowned architects and architectural historians to recount his long, productive life. Before his death at age 94 in 1961, "Mr. Architecture," as he was known in Pittsburgh, had left his distinctive stamp on Downtown, two university campuses in Oakland, North Park and South Park, plus private homes in the East End.

The son of a wealthy stockbroker, Hornbostel was born in Brooklyn, attended Columbia University in 1887-91 and studied architecture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

In 1904, Hornbostel won the commission to design the campus of Carnegie Institute of Technology's campus. His plan was chosen from more than 40 entries, and construction began in 1905. In 1907, he designed the Hell Gate Bridge in New York, the largest steel-arch bridge in the world at the time.

Hornbostel came to Pittsburgh to supervise construction of the Carnegie Tech campus and stayed to establish the school of architecture, serving as its first dean. He created the School of Applied Design building, now the College of Fine Arts. The ornate entrance to his former office is modeled after the City Hall of Toulon in France.

Len Caric, the film's producer, said Hornbostel "wanted a part of the building to look like him." How many architects can boast that a stone mason carved their face into Bacchus, the god of wine? The bust is part of the College of Fine Arts' entry portal.

Hornbostel also started the Beaux Arts Ball, an annual themed costume party famed for its bacchanalian excess. Students enjoyed Hornbostel's sense of fun. Jennie Benford, a former CMU archivist, recalls that when Hornbostel's pet monkey died, students held an elaborate funeral procession across campus and buried it in Schenley Park.

Besides his joie de vivre, Hornbostel's strengths included an ability to site buildings on hilly, oddly shaped plots of land, a passion for employing local artists, and his dramatic use of Guastavino tile on the underside of a stairway in Baker Hall and at the entrance to Hamerschlag Hall.

One of the film's great visual treats is seeing actual footage of this flamboyant man, who drove a Packard convertible, accompanied by his beloved collie in the front seat. The film opens with him emerging from his home in Harwinton, Conn., where he lived after retiring in 1939. Dressed in a trench coat and sporting his trademark white Van Dyke beard, he could be a spy in a John le Carre novel.

During the concluding minutes, there is footage of outdoor birthday parties at a 100-acre farm called The Elms, the Connecticut home he restored with his second wife, Mabelle Weston, a Peabody High School teacher who was 30 years his junior. The couple married in 1935 after Hornbostel's first wife died. Many Pittsburghers traveled to Connecticut to attend these annual gatherings; the party footage belonged to Hornbostel's great nephew, Tom Schoenemann of Harwinton, Conn.

"He gave us the master film. We had it redone," said Mr. Caric, adding that Brady Lewis at Pittsburgh Filmmakers helped him find a way to restore the old movies.

Re-enactments that show Hornbostel as a young man were staged at Hartwood Acres, and local actor Matthew Kroh portrays the young Hornbostel with plenty of verve. Mr. Caric plays Hornbostel's partner, George Palmer. The two men are shown playing checkers and toasting their success in winning the competition to design Carnegie Tech's campus.

Some viewers may find these re-enactments amusing or distracting. The attempt to convey Hornbostel's lighthearted nature verges on silliness when Mr. Kroh plays Hornbostel at age 50 but hasn't aged a whit.

Paying tribute to Hornbostel's eclectic ways of employing classical forms are architectural historian Barry Bergdoll and internationally known architects Michael Graves and Mack Scogin.

Mr. Scogin designed CMU's Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future Generation Technologies.

Robert A.M. Stern, dean of Yale's school of architecture, observes that Hornbostel's design for the Hell Gate Bridge represents a great example of "the architecture of infrastructure."

Adding context and nuance to Hornbostel's story are local architect David Vater, who co-edited a 2002 book about Hornbostel written by the late Walter Kidney.

Charles Rosenblum, a teacher at CMU who did his doctoral dissertation on Hornbostel, and Martin Aurand, an architectural archivist at CMU, outline Hornbostel's role in the City Beautiful movement and his national reputation.

Ms. Benford sums up Hornbostel's career by noting that he never sold Pittsburgh short.

Given the breadth of this architect's contributions to our cityscape, that's a statement viewers can easily agree with.


Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.

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