Henry L.A. Jekel: Architect of Eastern Skyscrapers and the California Style
H. Vincent Moses
- Co-Author: Catherine Whitmore
From the introduction: If anyone ever embodied the great Cass Gilbert’s definition of an architect, it was Henry L. A. Jekel. From his seventeenth year to his death in 1960, he engaged architecture “with enthusiastic interest in every detail,” adopting it as his muse and his art form. Given his commitment and talent, Jekel emerged rapidly from the venerable apprenticeship ranks of Buffalo, New York, and New York City, placing him in the cohort of some of the greats of architecture at the turn of the twentieth century. Like many of those designers, Jekel quickly proved himself an architectural whirlwind. In 1899, the Buffalo dynamo came roaring into New York City, intent on “nothing less than complete success.” Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., received him next, where he designed and built the first steel-skeleton skyscrapers in those cities.
The collapse of Jekel’s Philadelphia enterprise in 1904 and the dissolution of his fledgling skyscraper design firm, H. L. A. Jekel Company, Architects, due to his investors’ overestimation of the Philadelphia market for high-rise buildings, turned his plans in a different direction. In 1909, Henry Jekel felt the air and sunshine of Southern California for the first time. In Riverside, the Eastern whirlwind succumbed to the allure of navel orange blossoms, palm trees, and the romance of Mission Revival architecture. After a short sojourn in Buffalo, in 1921, he and his wife, Amanda, finally resettled in Riverside for good.
In May 1960, at the end of his long second act in Riverside, Jekel’s obituary read, “Henry L. A. Jekel, famed architect, dies at 84.” For more than thirty-five years, Henry Jekel’s finely crafted houses and complementary landscapes had found favor with residential and commercial clients throughout the Riverside region. A creative engine of production and master of all variants of 1920s romantic picturesque California Style, Jekel’s docket was never empty of projects. For those reasons alone, long-time residents understood the full significance of his death for the future of Riverside architecture. Many more, however, especially the new postwar arrivals did not, and over time, as the modern took hold, fewer and fewer people, either in Riverside or the East Coast, knew much about Jekel or his measure as a man and architect. By 2011, with many of his finest architectural works disappearing before our eyes, we knew it was time to tell his remarkable story. We were urged on in our quest by preservationists, local historians, and Jekel homeowners, all of whom shared our mission to enhance and preserve Henry L. A. Jekel’s architectural legacy.