In the Eastern District, comprising the communities of Bushwick, Williamsburg and parts of Greenpoint, the name Theobald Engelhardt is almost synonymous with architecture.
The man was everywhere. He was truly a son of the neighborhood, and throughout his career, would in many ways physically define the neighborhoods settled by a thriving and successful German community.
He was born in Williamsburg in 1851, the third son of Philip and Katherina Engelhardt, who had emigrated to America during the period of Germany’s failed revolutions, which were unsuccessful attempts to unify the German states.
Thousands of Germans came to America around 1848, fleeing political persecution, and many settled in Brooklyn, in the Eastern District.
Young Theobald was educated in the local Turn Verein School, where his teachers including his aunt, and his father built the building, and was one of the school administrators.
He would later go on to graduate from Brown’s Business College, and then received a certificate in Architectural Drawing from Cooper Union.
He then settled down to work with his father, a successful carpenter and builder, where he remained until his father retired in 1877. At that time, Theobald Engelhardt opened an office in Williamsburg and began his practice.
And practice he did. The German communities of Brooklyn were booming with business. Philip Engelhardt was responsible for building several breweries in the area, and Theobald soon followed suit.
From his office at 906 Broadway, in a building he designed, he began to design the factories, breweries, homes and churches for the men who were building fortunes in commerce and trade.
His most famous brewery that is still standing is the Ulmer Brewery and office complex, at 31 Belvidere Street in Bushwick. This recently landmarked complex stands out as marvelous pieces of commercial architecture, the German Rundbogenstil (round arch) style of architecture evident in the brewery building.
The office building is a small Romanesque Revival masterpiece, decorated with terra-cotta trim, a mansard roof, dormers and a beautiful wrought iron fence.
In addition to Ulmer’s, Engelhardt designed at least nine other breweries for S. Leibmann and Sons, and several more for Leonard Eppig Breweries, all between 1880 and 1904.
Engelhardt was not confined to designing just breweries. He designed William Ulmer’s mansion on Bushwick Ave, more famous as the home of a later owner, explorer Frederick Cook.
He also designed the Bossert Mansion, also on Bushwick Avenue, home to the hotelier who would built Brooklyn Height’s Bossert Hotel.
He designed many of the areas German Lutheran churches, including St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Greenpoint, and the soaring St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School on Bushwick Avenue.
He designed in many styles over the years; mostly Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival, and Queen Anne.
In addition to all of his architectural work, Engelhardt was a leader in the German community. He sat on the board of the German Savings Bank of Brooklyn, was one of the directors of the People’s Bank, and a board member of the German Hospital, which he also designed in 1901.
In 1899, his home was on Wall Street, now been renamed Arion Place, for the famous Arion Singing Society Hall.
He is credited with designing Arion Hall, as well as its addition, and Theobald was a high ranking member of the Society and Choir, becoming president in 1903.
In 1902, he won the contract to design the new Eastern District Turn Verein headquarters, located at Bushwick and Gates Avenue, an organization he was a member of. Part of that building still exists today.
He also designed the Bushwick and Eastern Dispensary, a charitable clinic for the poor. He was also a member of the architectural department of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, the precursor of the Brooklyn Museum.
While most of his architecture can be found in the Eastern District, Theobald Engelhardt did venture to other parts of Brooklyn.
In Crown Heights he designed the Pirika Chocolate Factory building on Dean St, the Mason Mint building (Maison au Candy Co.) on Middagh and Henry in Brooklyn Heights, and the small, but beautiful Trinity German Lutheran Church, now a 7th Day Adventist church on DeGraw Street in Cobble Hill.
Theobald Engelhardt’s son, Theobald Henry Engelhardt, would join his father in his architectural practice in 1908. He was a graduate of Pratt Institute and the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1915, Engelhardt Senior would leave Brooklyn for the first time, and move to Richmond Hill, Queens, where he lived until is death in 1935 at the age of 84.
After over 45 years of practicing, Engelhardt left behind an impressive legacy of manufacturing, commercial, and residential buildings, as well as churches, hospitals and dispensaries, mansions, row houses, tenements, and banks. Many of these still remain, most in the Eastern District.
See my Flickr page for more photos. Here is a partial list of buildings designed by Engelhardt, not specifically mentioned in the article, but certainly part of his large body of work:
The Greenpoint Home for the Aged, 137 Oak St. (1886-7)
Weidmann Cooperage, 75 N. 11th St. (1900)
Northside Savings Bank, 33-35 Grand Ave (1889)
Eberhard Faber Pencil Plant, 60-64 Kent Ave. (1895)
Hygeia Ice Company Plant, Kingsland and Lombardy St. (1902)
North American Brewing Co. Hamburg Ave (1910)
Private Houses, 122-124 Milton St (1889)
Empire State Dairy Company, B’way and Hewes
Empire State Milk Plant, 5th St at 4th Ave.
Empire State Dairy, location in Long Is. City and Hillside, Queens
Empire State Milk Depot, East NY
Thomas Shoe Company, 5th and Hewes
[Photos by Suzanne Spellen]