You certainly know his buildings, but probably do not know his name. Theobald Engelhardt played a huge role in shaping our local architectural heritage. His buildings are local landmarks and some of our most gorgeous buildings are his handiwork, yet few people today realize his important local legacy.
Timing can mean the difference between success and failure, and Engelhardt began his career just as a local building boom was hitting Greeenpoint. Born in Williamsburg in 1851, Engelhardt—a German-American—came of age just as German influence in this area was at its peak. Engelhardt became one of Brooklyn’s most prolific architects, designing hundreds of structures that include a range of buildings from factories and churches to stores and homes.
He followed in his father Philip Engelhardt’s footsteps. The older Engelhardt, a German who emigrated here after the failed political revolutions of 1848-49 began as a North Brooklyn builder. His son Theobald received his early education at the Williamsburg Turn Verein School, a German language school. He then studied at the Cooper Institute where he received a certificate in architecture in 1869. After graduation, he apprenticed in his father’s construction firm, where he prepared blueprints, supervised construction projects and quickly mastered the trade.
After his father’s retirement in 1877, Theobald established his own architectural firm, which quickly took off. This article is too brief to discuss all of his buildings in North Brooklyn. His major area of construction was logically enough in the heavily German area of Brooklyn, Bushwick, where he built breweries, mansions for German-American beer barons and the iconic Arion Hall, amongst other structures.
In the 1870s and 1880s Greenpoint was a very German neighborhood, and local Germans employed him to build the amazingly beautiful St. John’s Lutheran Church on Milton Street as well as its amazingly elegant former parish house at #124 just across the street. The church, completed in 1889 with its imposing tall green spire and elegant red brick façade is a thing of beauty, but its beauty is quirky.
It has gothic elements such as pointed arches, stepped buttresses, flying buttresses and foils that lend a “Spikey” quality to the church that no other Brooklyn House of worship seems to equal. The former parish house across the street has an amazingly elegant façade that blends perfectly with the church. #124 is hands down one of the most beautiful homes in Greenpoint.
In 1886 the Ex-governor of New York and unsuccessful presidential candidate Samuel Tilden commissioned Engelhardt to build the iconic Greenpoint Home For The Aged on the corner of Oak and Franklin. It has stood the test of time and remains one of the most admired local buildings. Again, the red brick façade of the home has something wonderfully gothic about it. (I recently wrote a post about it).
These three structures alone would have won Engelhardt fame, but he was not through constructing beautiful local buildings. In 1895 Engelhardt received another German-American commission when he designed 60-64 Kent Street, which was part of the Eberhardt Pencil Factory complex. The building is a unique mix of practical and aesthetic blending industrial functionality with German Renaissance Revival beauty. The building, like all his other Greenpoint creations, received landmark status in 2007.
Engelhardt also designed the Weidmann Cooperage in 1900, which later became the trendy Wythe Hotel, but we won’t talk about that because it is in Williamsburg. Engelhardt died in the 1930s in his eighties, having built 300 buildings just in North Brooklyn. His contributions in beautifying our area are still appreciated more than a century after their completion, but his name remains obscure.