Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Vallender Building's Significance in Madison's German Immigrant History. 127-129 State Street, Madison, WI

By Gary Tipler

garytipl@ yahoo.com

The Vallender Building is significant an excellent example of a rare architectural style in Madison, the Rundbogenstil or American Round Arch Style, a subcategory of the German Romanesque Revival style, a particularly German rendition of the style employed by German immigrant architects and builders in the United States. It embodies the characteristics of a German-built structure, reflecting the culture and history of its immigrant entrepreneurial builders, owners and inhabitants, the Vallender family.

The Rundbogenstil of architecture contrasted against the Gothic and Classical styles of its time. Heinrich Hübsch (1795-1863), the architect who first developed the style, intended for it to portray a noble simplicity and subdued grandeur of neo-classicism, while reflecting the rise of industrialism and an emerging German nationalism – in a style that was distinctly German. Hübsch first coined the term Rundbogenstil in 1822, and published it in his book in 1828, “In What Style Should We Build?” It was part of a greater discussion among German architects of the period, analyzing the future of modern architecture. The style was intended to reflect construction simply, honestly and artistically, to reflect its historic origins, though to take modern German architecture forward without the entrapments of Classical or Gothic design. In 1839, Hübsch designed the Kassel Synagogue in Kassel, Hesse, the first building in the Rundbogenstil.[1] The style was characterized by functional simplicity with flat unadorned walls, rounded arches above windows and doors, and a simple cornice with slight projection and uncomplicated ornamentation.

The new and ‘modern’ architectural style was embraced in Germany (Prussia), and in the United States, notably by German immigrant architects of that period.[2] It was expressed largely in churches, public buildings and institutional buildings, and made its way into the design of residential and commercial buildings, whether designed by architect, designer or builder. Perhaps the first building in the Rundbogenstil to have been built in the United States was the Astor Library on Lafayette Place in New York. It was designed by German-born architect Alexander Saeltzer, and built in 1854.

In Madison, the main proponent of the Rundbogenstil was the architectural firm of Donnel and Kutzbock. Born in Bremen, Germany, circa 1814, August Kutzbock, an architect, came to the United States in 1852 and settled in Western New York, then in Sanduski, Ohio in 1854. After arriving in Madison in 1855, he partnered with Samuel Hunter Donnel, an engineer, who had arrived in Madison the year before, and they began their work together. Their earliest known works in Madison were large residences and commercial buildings in 1855, and within a short period of time they received important commissions. They designed the City Hall on West Mifflin at Wisconsin Avenue (1857) and the Wisconsin State Capitol (1857-1859). They designed the exuberant house at 424 North Pinckney Street (1857) for Alexander McDonnell, the contractor for the construction of the Capitol, as a showcase for his work. They employed the Rundbogenstil in many of their buildings including the City Hall, the Grand Army of the Republic Hall, the State Capitol, commercial buildings on the Capitol Square and several residences, most of which are gone.

The remaining examples of the Rundbogenstil in Madison are by Kutzbock, who has been assumed to have been the creative designer of the team, based on his commissions following Donnel’s death in 1861. They are the McDonnell residence at 424 N. Pinckney, the Van Slyke House across the street at 24 East Gilman, both designed during the partnership, and the Shaire Shomain synagogue or “Gates of Heaven” Synagogue in 1863, now located in James Madison Park. After Donnel’s death, Kutzbock practiced alone until the fall of 1864, spent some time in San Francisco, but returned to Madison in the fall of 1867, and died several months later.

Madison’s German-speaking community was intimate. Frank Vallender would undoubtedly have known Kutzbock, may well have worked on his buildings and may have been influenced by him during his work. It isn’t known whether Kutzbock had any involvement in this building design. However, the Vallender Building has an extraordinary architectural presence, given its size and the stature of its owners and their respective businesses, and reflects the expertise of its builder.

The Vallender Building is an increasingly rare building type for its period in Madison, a mixed-use commercial and residential building built in the 1860s, built by an entrepreneurial owner for both business and space and residence. All but a couple of the commercial examples of that period, 1850s-1860s, are gone from the Capitol Square and only two other ones remain on State Street that are visibly identifiable of the period, the building at 402 State, the George Sherer building (1866) in which the Badger Liquor business is located and the N.A. Brown Building at 414 State (1855). Another is the building at 128-130 State Street, though it was remodeled in 1928-29, in a design by Frank Riley.[3] The Willett Main building at 103 State wasn’t built for owner residency but is of a similar kind of building, though built in a classical style.

Historically, the Vallender Building embodies the characteristics of a German-built structure, reflecting the culture and history of the immigrant entrepreneurs, Frank and William Vallender. It was hand built of locally-made brick and locally-quarried sandstone and the increasingly rare locally-made vermilion-colored red brick. Buildings built of the locally made red brick were built in older areas that have been undergoing redevelopment for many decades and have demolished.

The Building

The Vallender Building was built in two stages, on Lot 1 of Block 76, with the eastern part of the building being built first, as a two-and-a-half-story building.[4] It is likely that the expansion of the second stage, occupying the corner and the full third floor was begun once it became apparent that the apartment wouldn’t be large enough and that Frank likely wanted to retire from masonry and run a tavern. The building was built with a sandstone rubble foundation with an entrance stair to the upstairs home within the N. Fairchild Street right-of-way. The walls were built with vermilion colored brick, possibly made in John George Ott’s brickyard on East Wilson Street.[5] It is a soft red brick that has exhibited some deterioration on the Fairchild Street side, likely due to overflowing rain gutters, airborne road salt and greater sun exposure. On the State Street side very little deterioration above the splash line above the sidewalk can be found. On the State Street façade, the east half of the façade was altered by jeweler Ernest Templin in his 1946 alteration to install a display window and new entrance on the east side of the façade for his store. A similar storefront alteration was undertaken many years later on the other side. The exterior wooden stair to the second floor was removed in the 1946 alteration and most of the old window and door openings facing Fairchild were infilled with brick.

The integrity of the building is quite strong. It is largely intact except for the removal of some of the first floor masonry piers and others were covered with stucco. Most of the alterations are reversible. As is, the building was listed as a contributing building in the State Street National Register Historic District nomination in the 1990s.

Vallender Family

Franz “Frank” Vallender was born in Germany (Prussia) in 1815.[6] His family had been farmers. With his wife Maria Sophia, son Wilhelm (12), and two other small children, he left Prussian and traveled via Antwerp and arrived in New York on May 3, 1852.[7] Franz changed his name to Frank and worked as a stone mason when he arrived in Madison.[8] That year he bought two lots on which he built a house on the 800 block of Jenifer Street, later renumbered 833. It is a house in which he lived until the 1890s.

In 1866, Frank Vallender bought the triangular corner lot on State Street from Benjamin Franklin Hopkins, a real estate speculator, for $850.[9] By the end of 1867, he completed the present red brick building in two stages at the intersection of State and Fairchild, primarily for his son’s growing family and to house their respective businesses, a saloon for himself and a barbershop for his son William.[10] Frank had been a mason who worked on several prominent buildings including the Federal courthouse and post office that at East Mifflin and Wisconsin Avenue.[11]

Wilhelm Vallender was born in Cologne and, upon arriving in the United States, changed his name to William. Upon completion of the Vallender building, he and his family moved into the two-story home above his barbershop.[12] In 1874, he was elected foreman of the Andrew Proudfit Engine Co., No. 2, located next door. He served as volunteer firemen for many years with the largely German-speaking fire company and in 1875-76, served on the County Board of Supervisors.[13] He continued to operate his barbershop until around 1911 when he retired and lived in the building until his death in 1921.[14] His wife Anna (Mayer) lived there until her death in 1935.

Frank W. Vallender, William’s son, was born in 1866, at around the time that the Vallender Building was being planned for State Street. He also became a fireman and during the course of his service was elevated to Fire Captain of the Fire Station No. 2 by 1910.

The Vallender family was integral to the development of Madison’s early German-speaking community in their contributions to business, civic volunteerism and the Holy Redeemer Church of which they were founding members. The other German-speaking families who married into the Vallenders included members of the Casper Mayer, Heim, Schulkamp, Schweinem, Baas, and DuFreene families.

[1] Bergdoll, Barry, European Architecture, 1750-1890, Oxford, 2000, pp. 184-9.

[2] Curran, Kathleen. Dec.,1988. “The German Rundbogenstil and Reflections on the American Round-Arch Style.” Journal of Architectural Historians, Vol. 47, No. 4: 251-373.

Curran, Kathleen. The Romanesque Revival : Religion, Politics, and Transnational Exchange. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003. pp.1-89.

Capital Times, "Design of Synagogue Here Is Identified" January 11, 1971. p.16.

[3] Miller, Elizabeth for City of Madison, State Street Historic District National Register of Historic Places nomination. (1997). Ada Louise Huxtable, New York Times architecture critic weighed in on the Gates of Heaven Synagogue in Madison.

[4] 1867 City Tax List, p.31, 1867 Special Tax List p. 29, and 1868 Tax List, p.63.

[5] Vallenders undoubtedly knew Ott, a neighbor and leader in the largely German-speaking neighborhood centered along the west end of Williamson, Jenifer and Spaight Streets.

[6] 1900 Census.

[7] Germans To America, Lists of Passengers Arriving At U.S. Ports 1850-1855, Vol. 2, May 1851-June 1852, p.315.

[8] 1858 City directory.

[9] City tax rolls.

[10] Wisconsin State Journal, “Building in Madison.” March 25, 1868. Buildings erected in 1867, a list provided by W.T. Fish, a builder, of principal buildings built during the previous year.

Wisconsin State Journal, Mrs. Schweinem, 90 on Monday, Is Oldest Worshipper at Holy Redeemer, Madison, Wisconsin, March 26, 1944. p.9. Elizabeth Schweinem recounts that her father built the State Street building and was a well known stone mason.

[11] Wisconsin State Journal, December 17, 1900. “F. Vallender Dead.” p.8.

[12] Tax rolls. City directories.

[13] History of Dane County Wisconsin. p.411.

[14] City directories.