Frank. J. Helmle

Frank J. Helme Source: Brooklyn Eagle, 1/6/1902

Designed Municipal National Bank. 1

In 1921, the architectural firm, Helmle & Corbett, received the commission to design the GWMNM. The firm's senior partner, Frank J. Helmle (1869-1939), was born in Marietta, Ohio in 1869. He moved to New York for his architectural training, studying at Cooper Union and the School of Fine Arts of the Brooklyn Museum. In 1890, he joined the firm of McKim, Mead & White and stayed for a year before opening his own office. Prior to entering into a partnership with Harvey Wiley Corbett in 1912, he had created a firm with Ulrich Huberty and designed several bank buildings in Brooklyn. The firm also designed the Italian Renaissance Revival Boathouse (1905) and the Tennis House (1910) in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Helmle's versatility as a designer extended to designs for modern, fireproof, multistory buildings having simplified decoration. For example, in 1910 he designed the Bien Building, a loft located on Thirty-Eighth Street on Manhattan. In 1912, Helmle partnered with Harvey Wiley Corbett and the firm took on larger projects both in the United States and abroad. In 1916, the firm designed the functionally innovative Bush Tower on 42n Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York for the owners of Brooklyn's vast Bush Terminal. Three years later, Irving T. Bush hired Helmle & Corbett to design a trade center, known as Bush House, in London. Helmle & Corbett was asked to propose a design for the GWMNM in 1921.4 While designed by Corbett, the building showed Helmle's influence through its fireproof reinforced concrete structure. The proposed memorial also kept within Helmle's design principle: "simplicity should be the watchword." Its exterior, especially the tower, consists of a streamlining of overall form, emphasizing line and height. After 1922, with the GWMNM underway, Helmle engaged himself on other projects. In his final years at the firm, Helmle worked on the Henry Stambaugh Memorial Auditorium in Youngstown, Ohio (1926) and the Horace Bushnell Memorial Auditorium in Hartford, Connecticut (1929-30; now the Bushnell Center for Performing Arts). He retired in 1928 and took up amateur golfing. He died on July 15, 1939.2

Frank J. Helmle was appointed superintendent of public buildings and offices on January 6, 1902. His home address is listed as 115 Hewes Street. Helme was 32 years old at the time of appointment. He "has constructed fire engine houses in Flatbush and Bay Ridge, and also designed the Fire Department repair shops. He received his professional training in the office of McKim, Mead & White of Manhattan..." 3 "Frank J. Helmle, who has been appointed Superintendent of Public Buildings and Offices by Commissioner Redfield, has turned his business over to the firm of Huberty & Hudswell..." 4 Shortly after his appointment, Helmle was awarded the commission for a courthouse on Gates Avenue. The commission potentially saved the Borough money in architect's fees, but it angered other architects in the Brooklyn AIA, as it (and the other commissions that were promised Helmle) meant that that money would not go other architects. 5 Helmle was described as a "member" of the firm Huberty & Hudswell in December, 1902 describing the award of the commission for the Williamsburgh Trust Company and the Empire State Surety Company. 6 1897 - Directory listing for Frank J. Helmle with offices at 322 Rodney Street and house at 137 South 9th Street. 7 1910 - Helmle (aged 41) lived at 126 Westminster Road with his wife Louise, sons James, Jr. and Edward H., and mother-in-law Marie Jamer. Helmle, Sr. was listed as born in Ohio to German parents. He is listed as an architect in general practice. 8 1920 - Helmle (aged 50) lived at 126 Westminster Road with his wife Louise, sons James, Jr. and Edward H., and mother-in-law Mary Jamer. 9

  • 1"Many Architects Anxious To Do Library Work", Brooklyn Daily Eagle; October 26, 1901 (page 20)
  • 2Kate M. Kocyba, George Washington Masonic National Memorial, (Washington: National Park Service, Historic American Buildings Survey, 2010), 3 - 4.
  • 3"Frank L. [sic] Helmle Accepts", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 6, 1902, 1.
  • 4"Mr. Helmle's Successors", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 11, 1902, 2.
  • 5"Designs Only by F. Helmle", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 25 March 1902, 7.
  • 6"New Fulton Street Building", Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 5, 1902, 12.
  • 7Lain's Directory of Brooklyn, 1897.
  • 8U. S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, "Thirteenth Census of the United States - 1910", Brooklyn Ward 29, Kings, New York (Roll: T624_983; Page: 4B); Enumeration District: 1019; Image: 688; FHL microfilm: 1374996.
  • 9U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, "Fourteenth Census of the United States - 1920", Brooklyn Assembly District 21, Kings, New York; Roll: T625_1178; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 1355; Image: 781.