Bernard Vonnegut, Sr.
|Bernard Vonnegut Sr.|
Bernard Vonnegut Sr., FAIA, photographed in 1884
August 8, 1855|
|Died||August 7, 1908
|Known for||Partner in Vonnegut & Bohn|
Bernard Vonnegut, Sr., WAA, FAIA, (August 8, 1855 - August 7, 1908) was an American lecturer and architect active in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Indiana. He was a co-founder of the locally renowned Indianapolis architectural firm of Vonnegut and Bohn. He was active in a range of residential, religious, institutional, civic, and commercial commissions. He is the namesake and grandfather of scientist Bernard Vonnegut, father of the architect Kurt Vonnegut Sr. and grandfather of author Kurt Vonnegut.
Early life and education
Vonnegut was born on August 8, 1855 in Indianapolis, Indiana to Freethinker German-American parents Katarina Blank, a homemaker, and Clemens Vonnegut Sr. (1824–1906), a powerful nineteenth-century German-American businessmen in Indianapolis and founder of the Vonnegut Hardware Company.
Growing up in Indianapolis, he was described as the opposite of his father: artistic, extremely modest, retiring, unsociable, slightly introverted. "He had no intimates, and took but little part in social activities. He was never a happy...but was inclined to be reticent, shy, and somewhat contemptuous of his environment...and evidently unhappy in Indianapolis most of the time." He briefly worked for his father's firm but disliked it.
His father was on the Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis and he attended public schools with his brothers (Clemens Jr., Franklin, and George): The German-English School and Indianapolis High School (then at Pennsylvania and Michigan Streets). Throughout his childhood, his artistic talent was noticed. One family lore relates his early designed to work in stagecraft as a theatrical designer after becoming stagestruck, "but learned that almost no one could make a living at that--so he became an architect instead."
On the advice of his father's friend, Alexander Metzger, he "took the course in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later studied at the Polytechnic Institute of Hanover, Germany."
Returning for Germany, he resided in New York City during the late 1870s and early 1880s during the city's "Gilded Age." He worked as a draftsman for a number of years in the offices of famous architect George B. Post. There, according to family lore, he became highy productive and sociable. He felt his creativity and pursuit of arts was appreciated and respected in a way that it was not in Indiana. His happiness was only interrupted when his family ordered his to return to the Midwest and his family's social status and marry a good German girl.
Bernard married Nanette Schnull from a well-respected and wealthy German-American family in Indianapolis (She was the daughter of Henry Schnull and Matilde Schramm). The "Schnull-Vonnegut clan was slightly condescending," and considered near the top of "the pecking order in the social hierarchy of the community, and particularly in the German group...." They had three children: Kurt Vonnegut Sr. (1884–1957), Alex Vonnegut (b. 1888), and Irma Vonnegut (b. 1890). Although not active in the Indianapolis community, he was a cultured man of the arts, and reading poetry of Heine and heavily favoring German culture. He frequently lived abroad and sent his young sons to the American School in Strasbourg. Although Nanette was trained and acquainted in music and literature, she did not share most of her husband's interests and by all accounts theirs was not a happy marriage. "Kurt and Irma...identified with their father, while Alex identified with his mother."
Feeling unappreciated in Indianapolis, he returned to being silent and unsociable. He frequently suffered indigestion and headaches and died at the age of fifty-three, only two years after his father, of intestinal cancer, never living to see any of his children married.
Professional career in Indianapolis
In 1886, he was "elected a member of the Western Association of Architects," which following consolidation with the American Institute of Architects in 1889, he became a Fellow. Additionally, he was a member of the Architectural League of America
He established his own firm in 1883 in Indianapolis before establishing the architectural firm of Vonnegut & Bohn in 1888 with Arthur Bohn (b. 1861). The firm went on to create many landmarks in Indianapolis and greater Indiana, and a number have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places
In 1888, Julia Schnull, the sister of Vonnegut's mother, married J. George Mueller, the secretary-treasurer of the Mooney-Mueller Drug Company in Indianapolis. A Mueller (and probably descendant) joined Vonnegut & Bohn as a partner in the 1940s and the firm was briefly renamed Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller before a 1946 merger that wiped out the latter two names.Photo of Vonnegut and Mueller at Lake Maxinkuckee
List of works attributed to him
- The First Chamber of Commerce of Indianapolis
- The Athenæum (Das Deutsche Haus), 401 E. Michigan Street, German Renaissance Revival style building built in two phases—the east wing 1893–94, and the west wing, 1897–1898. Listed in 1973 on the National Register of Historic Places.(Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr. and Arthur Bohn)Photo of Athenæum
- William H. Block Company (Indianapolis) building (after 1910) (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr. and Arthur Bohn)Photo in 1912, Photo in 1919, Photo in 1919, Photo in 1924,
- The John Herron Art Institute (Indianapolis, Indiana) (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr.)
- The L. S. Ayres Store Building (Indianapolis, Indiana) (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr.)
- The Fletcher Trust Building (Indianapolis, Indiana)
- The Students Building, Indiana University Bloomington (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr.)
- Delaware Street Temple (Indianapolis, Indiana) (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr.)
- Shortridge High School (Indianapolis, Indiana) (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr.)
- The Federal Building (Vincennes, Indiana) (Design by Bernard Vonnegut Sr.)
- archINFORM Bernard Vonnegut Accessed February 27, 2010
- Shaping the Circle Bernard Vonnegut
- Carl Runyon, Bernard Vonnegut, K’s father's father.
- Carl Runyon Clemens Vonnegut Sr.
- "Biographical on Kurt Vonnegut, Sr." Lake Maxinkuckee Its Intrigue History & Genealogy; Culver, Marshall, Indiana
- Society of Architectural Historians, AMERICAN ARCHITECTS' BIOGRAPHIES: Surnames beginning with letter V
- Culver Library:Vonneguts
- "Vonnegut and Bohn Architectural Renderings, 1896, 1911, Collection Guide", "Biographical Sketch". Indiana Historical Society. 2007. Retrieved 2012-11-02.