Paul J. Pelz

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Paul J. Pelz
Paul J. Pelz.jpg
Seitendorf, Silesia
BuildingsLibrary of Congress; Healy Hall, Georgetown University; Carnegie Library (now Hazlett Theater), Pittsburgh

Paul Johannes Pelz (18 November 1841 – 30 March 1918) was a German-American architect, best known as the main architect of the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Life and career[edit]

Paul J. Pelz was born November 18, 1841 in Seitendorf (now Poniatów), Waldenburg, Silesia, now part of Poland. His father, Eduard Pelz, was elected as a representative of Silesia to the Frankfurt Parliament in 1848. Subsequent political repression led him to emigrate to the U.S. in 1851 while the rest of the family temporarily stayed in Breslau, where Paul studied at the colleges of St. Elizabeth and Holy Spirit. In 1858, Paul Pelz joined his father in New York City and served there as apprentice to architect Detlef Lienau. In 1864, he was employed as chief draftsman by Jewish architect Henry Fernbach, best known for his later design of New York's Central Synagogue. In 1866, Pelz became a member of the American Institute of Architects.

In 1867 he moved to Washington DC and was engaged as a civil engineer for the United States Lighthouse Board, where from 1872 to 1877 he served as chief draftsman. His work won a prize for the Lighthouse Board at the 1873 Universal Exhibition in Vienna.[1]

In 1873, Pelz and John L. Smithmeyer, another Washington-based architect, together won the competition for the architectural plans for the Library of Congress. Their winning design proposal was partly based on notes Pelz had taken on prominent public libraries when he traveled to Europe to collect the prize in Vienna. In the ensuing years Pelz also partnered with Smithmeyer on other projects. However, the difficulties experienced on the Library of Congress project, with many delays from congressional dithering, eventually strained their collaboration. In 1888 Pelz became the lead architect for the Library of Congress as Smithmeyer was dismissed; Pelz in turn was dismissed in 1892 and succeeded by Edward Pearce Casey. Pelz had the main role in the design of the building and the execution of its exterior, while Smithmeyer was instrumental in securing the commission and Casey supervised most of the interior finishings.[2]

Pelz's offices were in the Corcoran Building on 15th and F Street NW, which hosted several prominent architecture firms, now the site of the Hotel W near the US Treasury Building. He designed churches, public buildings, private houses and commercial buildings, and also participated in key debates of the time on Washington's urban design. In 1887, while still in partnership with Smithmeyer, he proposed an exuberant neo-medieval design for a new memorial bridge across the Potomac in honor of Ulysses S. Grant, a predecessor plan to the Arlington Memorial Bridge which was eventually built in the 1930s.[3] In 1898, at the request of socialite Mary Foote Henderson, he proposed designs for a new Executive Mansion to replace the White House on what is now Meridian Hill Park.[4] Pelz was a prominent participant in the 1900 Convention of the American Institute of Architects and presented a plan there for the remodeling of the National Mall which was a key source of the McMillan Plan the following year.[5]

Pelz's first wife, Louise Dorothea Kipp, died in 1894. In 1895, he remarried with Mary Eastbourne (Ritter) Meem (1849–1914). On 30 March 1918, he died in Washington, D.C. He is buried together with his second wife in Oak Hill Cemetery.


Like other architects of his time, Pelz mastered a range of architectural styles and was willing to switch across them depending on program and client's taste. His designs included Romanesque Revival (Carnegie Library of Allegheny, McGill Building, Memorial Bridge project), Gothic Revival (Antietam Cemetery gatehouse, Hot Springs Hospital, Grace Reformed Church), a hodgepodge of Neo-Medieval styles at Georgetown University's Healy Hall, French Renaissance (Miller House), Neo-Georgian (Elkins Mansion), American Federal (University of Virginia), Stick Style (several lighthouses, US Soldiers' Home Library), and Beaux-Arts (Library of Congress, Foraker Mansion, Meridian Hill Executive Mansion project). For the Library of Congress project alone, Pelz provided alternative designs in styles that included Romanesque, 13th-Century Gothic, Victorian Gothic, Italian Renaissance, French Renaissance, German Renaissance, and French Classical.[6]



Life Saving Stations[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deutsche Bauzeitung Nr.62, Berlin, August 1898
  2. ^ John Y. Cole (1997), "Struggle for a Structure", The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building, Norton Books
  3. ^ proposed memorial Bridge in Honor of General U.S.Grant by Smithmeyer and Pelz, 1887
  4. ^ Proposed Executive Mansion on Meridian Hill by Paul J. Pelz, 1898
  5. ^ Tony P. Wrenn (2006). "The American Institute of Architects Convention of 1900: Its Influence on the Senate Park Commission Plan". In Sue Kohler; Pamela Scott (eds.). Redesigning the Nation's Capital: The 1901 Plan for Washington D.C. U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
  6. ^ John Y. Cole (October 1972). "Smithmeyer & Pelz: Embattled Architects of the Library of Congress". The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress. 29 (4).
  7. ^ "FortMonroe Resource Inventory" (PDF).

External links[edit]