Kurt Vonnegut Sr.

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Kurt Vonnegut Sr.
Born (1884-11-24)November 24, 1884
Indianapolis, Indiana
Died October 1, 1957(1957-10-01) (aged 72)
Indianapolis, Indiana
Nationality American
Occupation Architect
Known for Partner in Vonnegut & Bohn, Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller, and Vonnegut, Wright, and Yeager

Kurt Vonnegut Sr. (November 24, 1884 – October 1, 1957) was an American architect and architectural lecturer active in early- to mid-twentieth-century Indianapolis, Indiana.[1] A member of the American Institute of Architects, he was partner in the firms of Vonnegut & Bohn, Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller, and Vonnegut, Wright, and Yeager. He designed several churches, banks, and became the inhouse architect for Indiana Bell and Hooks Drug stores (prior to World War II), practicing extensively in the Art Deco style. He was the father of chemist Bernard Vonnegut and author Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Early life[edit]

Vonnegut was born November 24, 1884 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the son of Nannie Schnull Vonnegut (d. 1929), daughter of Henry Schnull, and Bernard Vonnegut Sr (1855–1908), an architect and partner in the well-established firm of Vonnegut & Bohn. He attended grammar school from 1890 to 1898 (School No. 10) and Shortridge High School. He attended the American College in Strasbourg for three years from around 1902 and earned a Bachelor of Science in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1908. Afterward, he continued his studies in Berlin, traveling "with his widowed mother and his sister, Irma" (later Irma Vonnegut Lindener), returning in 1910 to join his father's surviving partner, Arthur Bohn.[1]


Vonnegut joined as a partner in Vonnegut & Bohn, and while there he joined the University Club and taught lettering at the Herron Art Institute from 1912-1913 and architectural history from 1913 to 1915, and headed the Art Association of Indianapolis' Art School Committee from 1915-1927. He designed the original logo for the Indianapolis Children's Museum.[1]

The firm did little during the Great Depression and eventually the firm was renamed Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller Architects with the addition of another partner. In 1946, Kurt Vonnegut Sr. was the sole partner and merged with the firms Pierre & Wright (of Indianapolis, Indiana) and Miller & Yeager (of Terre Haute, Indiana) to form Vonnegut, Wright & Yeager, which was located at 1126 Hume Mansur Building, Indianapolis, and 402 Opera House Building, Terre Haute.[2]

Personal life[edit]

On Nov. 22, 1913, Vonnegut married Edith Sophia Lieber (d. May 14, 1944), the daughter of millionaire Indianapolis brewer Albert Lieber and Alice Barus, who had died of pneumonia when Edith was six. Shortly thereafter, Albert Lieber married Ora D. Lane, and later Meda Langtry, a widow near the same age as Edith. Kurt and Edith had had three children: Bernard Vonnegut (1914–1997), Alice Vonnegut (1917–1958); Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922–2007).

Through Lieber's father, a trust fund from Lieber's grandfather Peter Lieber, a later inheritance from Vonnegut's mother, and Kurt's architectural practice, the family was upper-middle class, although during the Great Depression their brewery went bankrupt and Vonnegut & Bohn produced next to nothing. Around this time, Kurt Vonnegut Sr. designed and built a large brick residence for his family located at 4401 N. Illinois Street in Indianapolis. The home was heavily mortgaged and eventually sold during the Depression. A smaller house was designed and built in the suburban development of Williams Creek, Indiana in 1941. Its basement featured a small shop with a kiln for ceramics.[1]

The children attended good schools: Bernard attended Park School and earned a Bachelor of Science and PhD in Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alice Vonnegut attended Tudor Hall School for Girls; Kurt Vonnegut Jr. attended private schools until the third grade when he was removed for financial reasons, then attended Public School No. 43, Shortridge High School and Cornell University, where he studied physics, chemistry, and math before enlisting in the U.S. Army as a private during World War II.[1][3]

Following Edith's death in 1944, Kurt remained somewhat isolated, eventually moving to a small cottage near Nashville, Indiana. Kurt was a lifetime smoker, suffered from emphysema, and died on October 1, 1957 at his home from lung cancer without treatment.[1] He was buried October 3, 1957 in the Vonnegut lot in Crown Hill Cemetery next to his wife and parents.[1]

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote of his brother's profession, his mother's death, and of his father as an architect, writing in Hocus Pocus that "Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance."[4]


  • The first building of All Souls Unitarian Church, 1453 N. Alabama Street, Indianapolis, Indiana[1]
  • Anderson Bank Building in Anderson, Indiana[1]
  • He also designed signature Art Deco buildings for Indiana Bell throughout the state and new buildings for Hooks Drug stores prior to World War II[1]
  • Indiana Bell Telephone Building in Indianapolis, Indiana[1][2]
  • The Schultz Department Store (1913), 216 N. Fourth Street, Lafayette, Indiana, now called the Schultz Walgamuth Building
  • Kurt Vonnegut Sr. residence (c. 1929), 4365 North Illinois Street, Indianapolis, 4th Ward Washington Township, Marion County, Indiana[1]
  • Kurt Vonnegut Sr. residence in Williams Creek, Indiana (1941)[1]