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Subject: Saga in Steel and Concrete - 403-411
Date: Fri, 23 May 2003 09:56:45 -0700


The following selection is taken from "Saga in Steel and Concrete:
Norwegian Engineers in America" by Kenneth Bjork published by the
Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) in 1947. The volume is
still available from NAHA at where you will
also find the first 33 volumes of Studies and Records online. This
chapter is published with the kind permission of NAHA. The book this
selection is drawn from is under copyright and permission has been
granted for educational purposes and it is not to be used in any way for
commercial purposes.

Closely associated, both technically and socially, with the engineers
from Norway are the architects, though a much smaller group. It would be
a mistake to regard them primarily as artists or stylists; often products
of one of the Old World technical schools, they might as properly be
termed engineers as architects. An able spokesman belonging to their
profession has said: "Surely modern architecture should not be the
deplorable creation of the would-be style inventors. . . . Since the
mound-builders and cave-dwellers, no people, until modern times, ever
attempted to adapt a style of a past epoch to the solution of a modern
problem. In such attempts is the root of all modern evils." {1} Norwegian
architects as a whole would agree with this. In practice they have done
honest work along sound structural lines, and their names, generally
speaking, are not associated with the eclectic tendencies once so common
among their professional colleagues.
Perhaps the first Norwegian architect to migrate was Carl Michael Eger,
who, says one source, was the son of a royal chamberlain. Eger received
his technical education at Düsseldorf in Germany, and obtained his early
experience under the then famous Norwegian architect, Nordan, in
Christiania. In 1869 he was awarded a government stipend for study
abroad. Coming to America, he apparently found life in the New World
congenial, for here he remained. His first position in this country was
with the Architectural Iron Works of New York, and there he made the
acquaintance of Niels Poulsen, a farsighted Dane whose memory is
perpetuated in the present American-Scandinavian Foundation. In 1876
Poulsen and Eger founded the Hecla Iron Works, a firm that soon became
known for its excellent ornamental iron and bronze products. Eger is
credited with the design of the bronze group, "Lioness and Her Young,"
which was sent to Christiania and placed atop St. Hans's Hill near the
city. Throughout Eger's career he displayed energy, shrewd business
sense, and a generous nature. When he died in 1916 he left considerable
sums of money for an old people's home on Staten Island, and for Our
Saviour's Church, the Norwegian Turn Society, and the Norwegian Society,
all of Brooklyn. {2}
The early 1880's marked the arrival in America of an architect whose
early life in Norway had been somewhat stormy. He was Joakim Mathisen, a
native of Trondhjem and a graduate of the Hanover Polytechnicum. At
Hanover he had studied under Professor von Haase, an authority on Gothic
churches; and upon his return to Norway he took employment with the
architect Eilert C. B. Christie. Norway was experiencing at the time what
has been termed a "national romantic" movement. In architecture this took
the form of a keen interest in the Middle Ages and a movement to restore
the national monuments of that period. Christie, himself profoundly
influenced by men of the von Haase type, had been charged in 1872 with
the stupendous task of restoring the ruins of the cathedral at Trondhjem,
succeeding H. E. Schirmer, who had begun the project in 1869.
Mathisen, according to Magnus Bjørndal, became convinced that the
restorations of Schirmer and Christie, which were based on German models,
were wrong, since the prototype of the Trondhjem structure was the famous
Lincoln Cathedral in England. A bitter controversy grew out of the
differences between employer and assistant. When Mathisen boldly appealed
to the Storting, about twenty of Christiania's architects signed a
resolution defending Christie's designs; as a consequence, parliament
ignored the appeal of the earnest young architect. Further, we are told,
"At least two of the architects, and probably others, of the twenty who
signed the resolution had done so under political pressure, in spite of
convictions to the contrary, and it is a black page both for the
architects and archaeologists of Norway, and not the only one by any
means, in connection with the restoration of the Cathedral."
Whatever the merits of Mathisen's case, he was thoroughly discredited in
the eyes of his professional brethren and he migrated to America in 1883.
In New York he entered the architectural offices of R. H. Robertson and
quickly proved himself by designing, during the 1880's, a number of
prominent buildings in the East. Later he moved to San Francisco as
manager of an office for a New York firm; in 1890 he opened an office of
his own there. Known for careful, scholarly work rather than great
originality, he enjoyed a wide practice which included several
commissions from Japan. {3}
No less interesting and at least equally independent in his ideas was
Arne Dehli, who, like Mathisen, received his architectural training in
Germany, at the technical schools of Dresden and Stuttgart. While at
Stuttgart Dehli came under the influence of such renowned professors and
architects as von Leins, Dollinger, and Reinhardt; a group, Magnus
Bjørndal informs us, who then rivaled the Vienna school of architects.
Returning to Norway, Dehli entered the office of Adolf Schirmer, later
state architect, in Christiania; he left for the New World in 1882. In
1885 he, too, entered the office of R. H. Robertson and was later put in
charge there.
During his student days, Dehli had studied for some time in Italy. In
1889, with an assistant named G. Howard Chamberlin, he set out on a
year's study trip to England, France, and Italy; in 1890 he published the
result of his observations in a book entitled Details of Byzantine
Ornament. In 1894 he published a second work, Norman Architecture of
Palermo and Environs, which was issued at Boston, London, and Leipzig.
On his return to New York, Dehli opened an office with his friend
Chamberlin and quickly built up an extensive architectural practice. From
time to time he also published articles on such subjects as fireplace
design and various systems of contracting. His professional activity
included decorative work with wood, wallpaper, silver, pedestals,
furniture, and the like. He also designed, among other structures, St.
Jerome's Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx, the Emory Methodist
Episcopal Church in Jersey City, the nurses' home for the Norwegian
Hospital, and Christ Church in Brooklyn, besides a considerable number of
residences. He designed business structures for Glackner's, P. W. Engh's,
and the Borden Condensed Milk Company in Manhattan. For the Brooklyn
parks department he planned the zoological building in Prospect Park. At
first associated with Chamberlin and later with a man named Howard, Dehli
practiced alone after 1908. During the First World War he was architect
for an export company in New York that did business with the Scandinavian
countries. Active in his profession until he died in 1942, he retained
throughout his life a keen interest in a variety of subjects, but his
greatest enthusiasm was for his own field of work. {4}
Dehli's attitudes may be briefly stated: do good work along conservative
lines according to the rules, remembering always that no form is
finished, but is in a state of continuous development. He spoke harshly
of the eclectics and of those who hold that the Gothic style grew out of
certain features found in the Romanesque. {5} Another early immigrant
architect was Kristian Schneider; who came to the United States about
1885 and worked and studied under the great Louis Sullivan. Schneider won
recognition with his design of the golden arch in the Transport Building
at the Columbian Exposition. He was also known for the bronze
embellishments on the Carson, Pirie, Scott Building and the decorative
work on the Auditorium and the old Schiller and McVicker theaters --- all
in Chicago. During most of his professional career, which continued until
1935, he was employed by the American Terra Cotta Company. {6}
Olaf M. Topp, a graduate of Trondhjem's Technical College, left for
America in 1887. Working at first as an engineer, he soon moved over to
the related field of architecture and settled in Pittsburgh. It is as a
designer of churches that he is best known. Among the 35 church
structures that he planned are the Asbury Methodist Episcopal, Christ's
Lutheran, and the Darmont Presbyterian. He also took a keen interest in
office and industrial buildings, designing, for example, the Jenkins and
Empire buildings and the Jenkins Arcade of the Press Building --- all in
Pittsburgh. {7}
Meanwhile, farther west, Olaf Thorshov was designing many of the
best-known structures in Minneapolis. These include the Dayton Company
Store and garage, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Northwestern Hospital, the
Walker Art Center, the Yeates Medical Arts Building, the central
Y.M.C.A., Minneapolis General Hospital, the Plymouth and Palace
buildings, the State Theater, the Radisson, Dyckman, and Curtis hotels,
the Strutwear Knitting Company's building, Norway Hall, and the Lavoris
Chemical Company's building. He also planned the Concordia College group
in St. Paul. Thorshov was born in Norway and was eighteen years old when
he migrated in 1901; he began the study of architecture in Minneapolis in
1906. Several years later he entered the architectural firm of Long and
Long, which was reincorporated in 1925 under the name Long and Thorshov,
with the latter as head of the company. One of the finest examples of
Thorshov's work is the Walker Art Center on the side of Lowry Hill; it is
built in the Venetian-Byzantine style. {8}
Walker Art Center (Original Front
Christian Ucherman Bagge was an architect of definitely artistic
temperament and inclination; he specialized in making perspective
drawings of the many buildings erected during his long association with
the D. H. Burnham (later Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White) firm of
Chicago. A graduate of the Royal Arts and Handicrafts School, Bagge
arrived in Chicago in 1903. It was some time, however, before he
discovered the field of his greatest interest-an event that occurred
while he was employed by Burnham to make drawings of the famous Chicago
Plan. This plan incorporated a number of ideas, commercial and aesthetic,
and included arrangements for cutting through Ogden Avenue to Lincoln
Park and widening such streets as Roosevelt Road and a part of Michigan
Avenue, as well as double-decking Michigan Avenue from Randolph Street
north across the Chicago River. Bagge worked almost exclusively with
perspective drawings, most of them colored, making sketches of such
structures as the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Civic Opera
House, the Wrigley Building, the Merchandise Mart, and the Union Station.
Before his death in 1932 he had acquired a distinguished reputation in
his specialized line; he was also locally known for his dislike of our
machine civilization. {9}
Erling Øwre, whose work has been discussed in connection with the tunnel
story, occupies a position similar to Bagge's as architect with the New
York City Tunnel Authority. Together with Ole Singstad, Øwre made his
start in tunnel work during the construction of the Holland Tunnel. {10}
Ivar Viehe Naess, like Thorshov, received his first technical training in
the New World. Coming to Chicago in 1890 at the age of twenty, he
attended an evening high school, the local art institute, and Armour
Institute before returning to Europe in 1897 to study architecture at
L'École Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris. D. H. Burnham had seen
evidences of some of Viehe Naess's work in the Chicago Trust and Savings
Bank, done no doubt when he had designed interiors and furniture for the
A. H. Andrews Company; and in 1900 he asked Viehe Naess to join his
company. Burnham at that time was beginning to work on bank buildings.
Viehe Naess remained with Burnham until 1912; during the last six years
he served as chief draftsman and had an important part in planning many
of the principal banks and office buildings in the country. In 1913 he
began his own practice in Chicago and thus continued to figure in one of
the greatest building epidemics in American history. Banks, office
buildings, churches, hospitals, and other institutional structures
followed close on one another. Among the buildings that he designed were
the Home National Bank in Arkansas City, Kansas; the Norwegian-Lutheran
Deaconess Hospital in Chicago; the Elmhurst Hospital; and the South
Chicago Savings Bank Building. In 1924 he won a gold medal for designing
and constructing the best Chicago building of, the year-an office
structure for the Standard Corporation on East Superior Street. {11}
Viehe Naess also had charge of the architectural planning, under the
direction of Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, of the Chicago Civic
Opera House; he thus helped to transform a site along Wacker Drive
covered by old buildings and docks into a beauty spot supporting a modern
French Renaissance structure of 45 stories. {12}
The Chicago Opera House: Twenty Wacker Drive
It may be true, as one writer has said, that "the mission of the
moving-picture theatre is to vulgarize America"; certainly it is a fact
that in the development of the movie house "Architecture was seized upon
and dragged into the arena to make the Roman holiday complete." {13} But
the movie is now a recognized part of American life and the movie house
an architectural feature of loop district, suburb, and village
everywhere. In the growth of this machine-age theater a more than
incidental part was played by S. E. Sonnichsen. Sonnichsen attended the
Royal Arts and Handicrafts School in Christiania and the Baugewerk School
at Eckernforde in Schleswig-Holstein, graduating as an architect in 1902.
Leaving in the same year for America, he drifted from job to job in New
York, Chicago, Denver, Cheyenne, and Seattle. It was in Seattle, serving
as chief draftsman for W. M. Somerwell and Company, that Sonnichsen began
to work as an architect. When the company moved to Vancouver in 1911, he
accompanied it and took part in designing churches, schools, hospitals,
libraries, and private homes. Returning to Seattle in 1918, he opened his
own architectural firm, and did an extensive business.
In Seattle Sonnichsen was architect of beautiful Norway Hall. This
building, it might be remarked, contains several paintings by
Sonnichsen's brother, Yngvar, that depict scenes from the Viking age. The
structure itself was built of wood in the Norwegian bonde tradition. {14}
Sonnichsen also designed and built plants for machinery companies and
foundries, fish canneries in Alaska, smokeries for the Pacific Alaska
Cannery Company, railroad piers for the Canadian Pacific Railway,
warehouses for the Pacific Fruit and Vegetable Corporation, wharves and
piers of all kinds, a hospital, a power plant, and a baseball grandstand.
He was ready not only for a rest but also for a specialized line of work
when he went to California in 1923.
When he arrived there he became acquainted with B. Marcus Pretica, a
well-known theater architect of Los Angeles, and formed a partnership
with him. Since then Sonnichsen's work has been the design and
construction of movie palaces. Sonnichsen was superintendent of
construction for the Pantages Theater and office building in San
Francisco and had charge of plans and specifications, supervision,
contracts, and general office management for the Pantages Theater in Los
Angeles during 1925-26. Then he built the Pantages theaters at Hollywood
and Fresno and the Warner Brothers theaters in San Pedro, Huntington
Park, and Beverly Hills. While Pretica and Sonnichsen have been hailed as
leaders in west coast theatrical architecture, their work has included
industrial plants, office buildings, and apartments. During Sonnichsen's
association with Pretica, the firm's Los Angeles office was entirely
under Sonnichsen's personal direction, and he was responsible not only
for office management but also for plans and designs.
Sonnichsen, asked to discuss the architecture of the movie house, replied
that he has always been a "firm believer in the theory that form follows
function" and that he has "endeavored to adhere to this principle as
diligently as possible, avoiding false fronts and the misuse of
materials, observing the duty of an architect with due respect to his
client and the public at large." He has tried "to produce a proper
functional plan correlating therewith all requirements for proper
seating, acoustics, ventilation, etc., and careful observance of public
safety regulations as well as thought for the patron's comfort. The
decorations have been incorporated as an integral part of the building to
form a suitable frame or setting for the presentations; in the motion
picture house this should be kept simple, leaving the screen to tell its
story without distraction from surrounding sources." {15}

<1> Thomas Hastings, "Modern Architecture," 98, in Ralph Adams, Thomas
Hastings, and Claude Bragdon, Six Lectures on Architecture (Art Institute
of Chicago, The Scammon Lectures for 1915 -Chicago, 1917).
<2> Nordisk tidende, May 18 and 25, 1918; Nordmands-forbundet, 9:414
(1916); Rygg, Norwegians in New York, 91.
<3> Magnus Bjørndal, "Joakim Mathisen," in Norwegian-American Technical
Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 9 (January, 1932). A more sympathetic picture
of Christie and his work is given in the biography of him by Olaf
Nordhagen in Norsk biografisk leksikon, 3:3-7 (Oslo, 1926).
<4> The writer was fortunate in having a lengthy interview with Dehli in
New York City in May, 1941, and also received considerable information
from him through correspondence.
<5> For more information, see Magnus Bjørndal, "Arne Dehli," in
Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 12 (April, 1931).
<6>Skandinaven, August 16, 1935.
<7> Alstad, Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 66; Wong, Norske utvandrere,
<8> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, p. 9 (September,
1928); Nordmands-forbundet, 19:518 (1926); Minnesota Federation of
Architectural and Engineering Societies, Bulletin, 13:29 (July, 1928);
Wong, Norske utvandrere, 218.
<9> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 6, no. 1, p. 10 (April,
1933); Skandinaven, March 1, 1935.
<10> Alstad, Trondhjemsteknikernes matrikel, 165; Alstad, Tillegg, 46.
<11> Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 11 (March,
1929); materials in the archives of the Norwegian-American Technical
Society, Chicago.
<12> See Viehe Naess's able analysis of this building in
Norwegian-American Technical Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 1, 12-14
(February, 1930).
<13> Tallmadge, Architecture in America, 483.
<14> "Norway Hall in Seattle," in American-Scandinavian Review, 10:430
(July, 1944).
<15> Letter to the present writer, March 49, 1941; for sketches of
Sonnichsen, see Johan Selnes, "En telemarksgutt i California," in
Nordmanns-forbundet, 45:146-148 (May, 1934); and Jarlsberg og Larviks
Amtstidende (Norway), January 41, 1934. Sonnichsen furnished considerable
additional material.

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