October, which is German-American Heritage Month, celebrates the contributions Germans and German-Americans have made to American history and culture. In the late 19th century, the largest German-speaking community in the world outside of Berlin and Vienna was centered in the blocks east of Fifth Avenue between 14th and Houston Street, including in the area South of Union Square. This still manifests in the area’s powerful architecture. German-born and second-generation German architects designed many of the loft buildings which give this area its unique sense of place. These lofts have stood through the years, transforming from places of work to gathering places for social reform, to theaters, stores, and residences. Follow along to explore some of the great examples of industrial architecture still standing in the area south of Union Square designed by German architects.
Albert Wager was born in Poessneck, Germany. He gained his formal training as an architect in Stuttgart, Germany before immigrating to New York City in 1871. His most famous work is the Puck building on Lafayette St. Wagner would go on to design two lofts in the area south of Union Square.
Wagner designed 78 Fifth Avenue in 1896 in the Romanesque Revival style with ornate terracotta ornament. This building stands amongst architectural giants of design along Fifth Avenue designed by other great architects Including Buchman & Fox and Maynicke & Franke (Maynicke was also a German immigrant).
48-50 East 13th Street or 35 East 12th St was also designed by Wagner in 1896, also in the Romanesque Revival Style. It features an elaborately detailed cast-iron storefront also typical of Wagner’s style.
Robert Maynicke was born in Germany in 1849; his parents brought him to New York as an infant. Maynicke attended the free night school at Cooper Union where he studied mathematics and engineering, graduating in 1869. Maynicke then joined the renowned architectural firm of George B. Post, where he stayed until 1895. He then started his own practice, focused on the design of commercial loft buildings.
In 1899, he designed 840 Broadway. This trapezoid-shaped loft building is designed in the Renaissance Revival style. It has a pink granite and limestone three-story base, a seven-story brick and terracotta rise, a decorative stone crown, and a metal cornice. Maynicke designed the building for developer Henry Corn.
In 1905 Maynicke joined with Julius Franke, whom he had worked with at George B. Post’s firm, forming Maynicke & Franke. Their firm designed 74-76 Fifth Avenue in 1910. It is an L-shaped building that connects from Fifth Avenue to 13th Street built for developer Henry Corn. It is a rather simple building with secessionist style motifs. Shortly after, their firm was given a large job with the design of 55 Fifth Avenue, again working with developer Henry Corn. This 18-story Renaissance Revival style office and manufacturing building stands on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 12th Street.
William Schickel was born in 1850 in Wiesbaden, Hochbein, Germany. He immigrated to New York at the age of twenty, immediately gaining employment with Richard Morris Hunt. In 1885, he founded an architectural firm with Issac Ditmars and Hugo Kafka. In 1894, he became a fellow at the American Institute of Architects. His firm designed many churches, office buildings, and municipal buildings, including the German Library and Dispensary at 137 Second Avenue.
In 1894, his firm designed the eight-story neo-classical style loft building at 31-37 East 10th Street. And in 1899, his firm designed a six-story neo-classical style loft building at 53 East 10th Street.
Albert D’Oench was born in St. Louis, Missouri to his German parents Marie and William D’Oench. Albert D’Oench attended Washington University in Missouri and then The Royal Polytechnic Institute in Stuttgart Germany. In 1885, he became the superintendent of buildings for New York City — a position he held until 1899. In 1901, he partnered with Joseph W. Yost, with whom he would design such notable New York City Landmarks as the Germania Life Insurance Co. Building.
In 1889, not yet in a partnership, Albert D’Oench designed 12-16 East 14th Street, a.k.a. 7-9 East 13th Street. The loft is a through-block five-story Romanesque revival building.
The German and German-American contributions to this area aren’t merely limited to its impressive architecture. To learn more about the many prominent German residents and businesses located South of Union Square, explore our German History tour on our South of Union Square map.