News

Urban’s Griest Building Boosted Lancaster PA into the Skyscraper Age

C. Emlen Urban Series – Part 20

On January 19, 1914, Milton S. Hershey wrote an unsolicited letter of reference to U.S. House of Representative William Walton Griest espousing the merits and talents of Lancaster’s young architect C. Emlen Urban.  Hershey concluded the endorsement by stating, “We have a great deal of confidence in his ability as an architect and can safely recommend him as being very capable and very honorable in his line of work.”   Ten years later, Lancaster City would see its first skyscraper rise 14 stories above Penn Square. It would retain its distinction as the tallest building in Lancaster for 80 years.

Supporting the claim that relationships build buildings, Hershey, Griest and Urban were mutual friends and business acquaintances for decades, sharing common ground through social clubs, education and politics. Griest was president of three Lancaster public utility companies:  Conestoga Traction Company, Edison Electric Company and the Lancaster Gas Light and Fuel Company.   The boards of directors commissioned Urban to design a signature structure to honor Griest and house their expanding businesses.

Urban chose two of the most popular styles of the time, French Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance Revival, to define this landmark skyscraper.  The structural steel frame permitted fast construction and had an immediate impact on the city skyline.  At street level, pedestrians enjoy Urban’s gift for humanizing large buildings through his use of graceful arches, decorative stone panels with shields, festoons, urns, pilasters and even stone rope.  The 12th, 13th and 14th floors comprising the building’s crown included a 300-seat auditorium and ballroom with a green and gold frescoed ceiling.  The exterior of the crown is a well-proportioned and beautifully detailed example of Italian Renaissance architecture with glazed terra cotta arched pediments, dentils, curved brackets, balustrades and even a lion’s head cornice.

The Griest Building’s acceptance was so profound and so fast that it quickly stole the thunder from the ever popular Woolworth Building, leading to its eventual demise.  On September 21, 1925, The New Era reported that “Time may bring other skyscrapers to Lancaster, but the Griest Building will never forfeit its claim to priority.”

The full article C. Emlen Urban’s Griest Building Boosted Lancaster in the Skyscraper Age is available on LNP News.

Architecture You Could Bank ON

C. Emlen Urban Series – Part 19

Interestingly, C. Emlen Urban used the description “solid and enduring” to describe his design intent for the Stevens High School during the dedication ceremonies on December 22, 1905.  However, there is no more suitable description than solid and enduring to describe the four freestanding banks that he authored between 1910 and 1923.  The century old buildings remain today—virtually untouched

In 1910, Urban was commissioned by the Union National Mt. Joy Bank to design a structure that would speak to strength and security and remind customers that their accounts were in safekeeping.  He chose a massive masonry limestone symmetrical structure in the Beaux Arts style to reflect that message.  The classic Greek design elements, including paired two-story tall ionic columns, flanking pilasters and an oversized entablature with parapet, reinforce strength and security.

In 1912, Milton S. Hershey commissioned Urban to design a building that would impress the public and encourage people to start saving for the future.  The two-story marble, brick and granite Renaissance style structure includes a well-proportioned Greek pediment and entablature resting on paired columns.  The interior is as impressive as the exterior with marble flooring, mahogany millwork, and an imposing vault door, topped by a 30 day wall clock flanked by lions representing time and strength.  Located at the intersection of Cocoa and Chocolate Avenues, the Hershey Trust Company still retains its impressive public stature.

Urban’s third design, Lititz Springs National Bank, was designed in 1922 and holds the distinction of being his only bank with a corner entrance. The two story masonry structure, at the corner of Main and Broad Streets, softens the intersection with the curved façade and thoughtful detailing.  Although another imposing and impressive design, this bank features generous amounts of windows and natural light.        

Ephrata National Bank retained Urban to design its new building in 1923.  His fourth and final freestanding bank embodies all his knowledge of bank designs to date, and presents another fine example of thoughtful and creative design innovation.  The combination of Vermont marble columns and English bond brick on the façade emulate the Hershey Trust Building, and the eagle perched above the main entry resembles Lititz Springs National Bank. The sky-lit interior, utilizing American walnut millwork, is organized around a 26-ton vault door and frame.  More than 10,000 visitors toured the aptly described “landmark of admiration” on dedication day, July 11, 1925!     

The full article, C. Emlen Urban’s architecture was something Lancaster could bank on, can be found on LNP/Lancaster On-line.

Architect Still Thinking Outside the Department Store Box

C. Emlen Urban Series:  Part 18

We may never know what drove C. Emlen Urban in his relentless quest for excellence, but his passion for architectural innovation and experimentation was unparalleled.  By 1921, the 58-year-old Urban was celebrating his 35th year of practice and had completed well over 130 commissions in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties alone.  Department stores and commercial structures were a large part of his portfolio.  In true Urban fashion, he chose a new and unusual architectural style for German immigrant Miles F. Goodman’s landmark furniture store:  Perpendicular Gothic Revival.

Perpendicular Gothic Revival, named for its emphasis on verticality, ornamentation, pointed arches and stained glass, was growing in popularity in the first quarter of the 20th century.  Urban presumably selected this style, typically reserved for churches and collegiate buildings, as a differentiator in the commercial district of downtown Lancaster.   The six-story structure, utilizing structural steel to create large expanses of glass, exudes success with its use of granite, limestone, glazed terra cotta tile, bronze and leaded glass

There are three notable details on the King Street façade: first, the large sweeping segmental arch with curved decorative leaded glass detailing; second, a rare transverse barrel vaulted storefront entry and lobby; and third, the highly crenelated skyline parapet complete with shields, ribbons, rosettes, quatrefoils and fleur-de-lis.   Close examination of the façade reveals four carved stone lion heads left and right of the arch. The store lauded its 2,000 square feet of floor space, a fireproof steel elevator and padded booths to test grafonolas (phonographs) in quiet privacy. The new furniture store was the talk of the town in 1922 with over 15,000 Lancastrians attending the grand opening on a cold winter day in January

Addition information and photo are available from the full LNP article  Thirty-Five Years Into His Career, Architect Still Designing Outside the Department Store Box.

Lancaster Boys’ High School, a ‘beacon’ for its students

C. Emlen Urban Series:  Part 17

On June 25, 1880, 17-year-old C. Emlen Urban stood before classmates, faculty, school directors and guests of honor as the senior class valedictorian for the Lancaster High School, and delivered a poignant speech of promise and praise.  In 1880, the three story, red brick building was a fine example of 1874 Queen Anne architecture that faithfully served the Lancaster community for more than 44 years.  In 1916, however, the school directors commissioned Lancaster High School alumnus and architect Urban to replace his alma mater with a new and more appropriate structure that would reflect the latest design principles for a modern education.  What an honor this must have been for him, while equally bittersweet.

It had only been 12 years since the school superintendents had retained Urban to design the new Girl’s High School at the corner of West Chestnut and North Charlotte Streets.  However, shortly after its dedication in 1906, the structure was forced to accept boys due to the rapid growth of the city’s population.  The new Boy’s High School would correct the issue and return things to normal, for at least 20 years. Urban seized the opportunity to again showcase his talent and skills by designing a new three-story structure in the popular Beaux Arts style.  The resulting building, that still stands today as Fulton Elementary School, is organized around an impressive and innovative 960-seat semi-circular auditorium with 20 large, leaded glass, ceiling diffusers.  The auditorium is suspended above the gymnasium and indoor running track on massive steel girders

The exterior reflects an equal level of detailing and careful consideration with gold-colored tapestry brick, cast stone balustrades, cut stone bases and capitals, sculptured stone panels, Greek urns, garlands and a most impressive eagle with torches above the main entrance. An enthusiastic School Board President, P. E. Slaymaker, proclaimed the new school to be a “beacon of light …guiding and leading the students in the higher paths of rectitude and right.”

The full LNP article, Building Boys’ High School, and additional photos are available through Lancaster Online.

 

 

 

 

The Fulton Theatre: A Standing Ovation

C. Emlen Urban Series – Part 14

Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, the current day Fulton Theatre has enjoyed nine or more incarnations over its 166-year history. By this point in our series, it should come as no surprise that C. Emlen Urban was among the notable architects who left their mark on one of our city’s most recognizable landmarks.  Designed in 1852 by Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan as the Fulton Hall, the popular Italianate style venue offered the traditional fare of the time including musical entertainment, lectures, church fairs, celebrations, balls, exhibitions, graduation exercises, political meetings and county conventions.

Within only 21 years of its debut, Fulton Hall was ready for a make-over, this time at the hands of one of our country’s most accomplished theatre designers, Philadelphia architect Edwin Forrest Durang.  His interiors represented the best of Victorian high design complete with carpet, upholstered seats, gas sconces and chandeliers.  

On April 25, 1904 the Lancaster New Era announced that the Fulton Opera House had retained 41-year-old Lancaster architect Urban to help propel the Opera House into the 20th century.  In true Urban fashion, he graciously accepted the commission and delivered on the promise.  The news release assured readers that the Fulton will be “one of the best arranged and most beautifully decorated amusement places in the State”

Urban’s plans called for the removal of the entire 1873 interior with the exception of the four walls and the main balcony.  The stage was enlarged, the auditorium expanded, box seats added, an upper gallery was introduced, the ceiling raised, fireproofing added, exit stairs improved and the restrooms were expanded.  Other design interventions by Urban included the introduction of smoking rooms and the grand staircase, a larger lobby space, marble walls, ornate plaster molding and new lighting throughout.

Although there have been other updates since that time, the stunning neo-classical interior that we all enjoy today is essentially the gift and talent of Urban.  As anyone who has ever enjoyed a performance at the Fulton Theatre can attest, he deserves a standing ovation! The full LNP article is on LancasterOnline.com:  Architect’s Work Earns a Standing Ovation at Fulton Theatre.

All photos by Larry Lefever Photography

Gunzenhauser Residence & Bakery: From Rags to Riches!

C. Emlen Urban Series – Part 12

Building strong and lasting relationships is first and foremost to the career of any successful architect.   By 1908, C. Emlen Urban had designed and built a dozen different building types including private residences, churches, manufacturing facilities, a market house, a hospital, a department store, two hotels, a YMCA and even a funeral home, but never a bakery. 

Orphaned and penniless, Christian Gunzenhauser arrived in America at the age of 14 seeking a new life and employment. Following 12 years of learning the trade working for bakeries in Lock Haven, Philadelphia and Lancaster, Gunzenhuser seized the opportunity to purchase the Goebel Bakery at 231 West King Street sometime around 1895.  His attention to detail, focus on cleanliness and utilization of the latest production technologies soon had his brand of breads, pastries and cakes overtaking his competitors.

Gunzenhauser’s rising success afforded him the opportunity to retain Urban to design a new residence at 250 West Orange Street for his expanding family. In addition to sharing an entrepreneurial spirit, Urban and Gunzenhauzer shared membership in the Lancaster Elks Club. It may have been this connection that led to a business relationship that spanned well over a decade.

The three-story Gunzenhauser residence is a unique blend of Georgian, French and Italian Renaissance Revival styles. The Georgian details include the distinctive Flemish bond brickwork, shutters and keystones, however the keystones feature unusual corner blocks. The French influence is found in the steeply pitched and flared hipped roof, while the Italian Renaissance references are the exposed rafter tails and hipped dormer details. The floor plan included servant’s quarters, a wine cellar, a provisional cellar and dedicated laundry spaces reflective of a family with wealth and means.  Urban drew upon his four years of experience with Philadelphia’s controversial architect Willis G. Hale to create this eclectic and rather unorthodox blending of architectural styles.  With the exception of the once open front porch, the building’s exterior is completely intact, 110 years later!

Urban also designed many of Guzenhauser’s bakery plants, horse stables and wagon sheds to house and support his growing operations throughout Lancaster City and perhaps as far away as Harrisburg. The Gunzenhauser story is another example of Urban’s ability to not only secure commissions but also to sustain lasting relationships.

The full LNP News Article, Architect’s Designs Help Trace Christian Gunzenhauser’s Rags-to-Riches Lifetime, includes additional photos and architectural plans.

 

DESIGN INTERVENTION: St. James Parish House is an ‘exquisite’ example of its Georgian Revival inspiration

C. Emlen Urban Series – Part 11

Architects typically hit full stride in their early 40s, and C. Emlen Urban was no exception. With his practice in full swing and his reputation for producing high-quality work growing exponentially, Urban was able to be more selective with the commissions he accepted and the architectural styles he designed.

Approximately two years prior to the Stevens Girls High School dedication, the bishop of St. James Episcopal Church offered a blessing for its newly constructed Parish House at 119 N. Duke St. Its architect was none other than Lancaster’s favorite design professional, 41-year-old Urban.

Respecting the adjacent Federal-style church and rectory, Urban selected Georgian Revival style for the 1903 three-story, five-bay brick Parish House. This monumental yet understated structure is one that is easily overlooked by the passer-by. Today, and even in the earliest known photographs of the Parish House, massive shade trees along the narrow sidewalk make it difficult to appreciate and fully enjoy the architecture and detailing. Behind the canopy of branches, however, lies Urban’s largest and most exquisite example of nonresidential Georgian Revival architecture.

The Parish House exhibits textbook Georgian Revival details, including Flemish bond brick, quoins, a water table, two belt courses, keystone window lintels, six-over-six window panes and classic Ionic columns. However, the real magic occurs at two locations on the facade. Directly over the main entrance door is a cast-stone balcony supported by two large decorative consoles and, above that, a stone pediment with the date inscribed in Roman numerals. The second location is Urban’s attention to detailing at the roof cornice; the deep soffit consists of square blocks with pegs, round rosettes, dentil molding and the traditional use of Greek “egg and dart” trim.

The full digital version of the LNP News article can be found on LancasterOnline.

C. Emlen Urban: Part 10

Architect’s extravagant 1905 Stevens School is a lesson in forecasting the future

With the arrival of a new century in 1900, C. Emlen Urban continued to rise in popularity and notoriety in all circles of engagement, public, private and social.  The recent completions of the Stehli Silk Mill, the Wharton School, Stager Hall at Franklin & Marshall College and the Quarryville School set the stage for a commission that would test the mettle of this young rising star.

In 1902, the School Board of Lancaster commissioned 39-year-old Urban to design the girls high school. After visits to recently completed commissions by other architects in York, Reading, Chester County and Atlantic City, Urban returned to Lancaster to design what would be considered the most extravagant, controversial and expensive high school between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The center-city site at Chestnut and Charlotte streets, with tree-lined streets, rolling topography and generous sidewalks, was the perfect setting for his three-story all-masonry structure. He employed three architectural styles: beaux-arts, Italian Renaissance and Greek Classical. Urban’s four-year apprenticeship 20 years earlier with Philadelphia’s avant-garde architect, Willis G. Hale, gave him the confidence and skills necessary to effectively mix and match these diverse styles. The purple brownstone foundation blocks, golden bricks, elaborate terra cotta ornamentation, green copper cresting and hand-carved chestnut entrance led to severe public criticism for the significant cost overruns that occurred during construction.

Full LNP Article:  Architect’s Extravagant 1905 Stevens School is a Lesson in Forecasting the Future

C. Emlen Urban: Part 9

Architect’s work on Lancaster’s Stehli mill was smooth as silk

On October 22 and 23, 1897 the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal and New Era newspapers announced that a major international silk manufacturing company would begin construction on the world’s second largest silk mill operation to be located along Martha Avenue.   Stehli & Co. of Zurich, Switzerland was “induced” by the Lancaster Board of Trade to locate their first United States operation in Lancaster County Pennsylvania.  When announced, the initial construction would employ over 500 men and women in a three-story structure measuring 50 feet wide by 250 feet long utilizing 600,000 bricks and housing 300 looms!  When all five phases of expansion were completed in 1925, the mill employed more than 1,600 workers, contained 250,000 square feet of floor space, 2,500 windows, 1,100 looms and was 883 feet in length, making it the longest single building in America and the second longest in the world.

Stehli & Co retained Lancaster’s 34 year old architect, C. Emlen Urban, to be their architect of record. As in the past, Urban’s business connections and personal relationships in the community positioned him to receive this landmark commission that would expand his geographic reach to two other Stehli states: North Carolina and Virginia.

Credit for historical photos:  LancasterOnline.com

Full LNP Article:  Architect’s Work on Lancaster’s Stehli Mill was Smooth as Silk

C. Emlen Urban : Part 8

Architect C. Emlen Urban develops a sweet partnership with candy entrepreneur Milton S. Hershey

C. Emlen Urban understood the power of relationships as well as anyone in the business. Shortly after launching his career in 1886, he joined the most prominent social clubs in Lancaster including the prestigious Hamilton Club. This club in particular provided Urban with an opportunity to meet other successful business persons in the community including James Shand, Peter Watt, A. B. Rote and, perhaps most fortuitously, Milton S. Hershey!   Hershey (age 32) and Urban (age 27), two young and emerging entrepreneurs, teamed up in 1890 to design alterations to Hershey’s personal residence with his wife Catherine Hershey.

This residential venture was the beginning of a long and illustrious career between two friends spanning more than 40 years. Similar to Urban’s experience with Peter Watt and the Watt & Shand department store, the relationship began by designing a residential project followed quickly by numerous commercial ventures.  Residential commissions are always the most challenging, risky and exhausting because of the intense personal nature of the design decisions. Urban’s success with the three-story Shingle Style mansion and carriage house for the Hersheys resulted in several major commissions that would take him well beyond Lancaster City.

Full LNP on-line article:  C. Emlen Urban’s Sweet Partnership with Milton S. Hershey