Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Queen's Crown Jewels

The Germania Building

This building may be too "known" to fit my criteria for inclusion in these essays. However, because the Germania Building sits at the southwest corner of 12th & Walnut Streets in Over the Rhine, I have a feeling some Cincinnatians have not experienced this wonderfully detailed building in much detail.

Completed in 1877, it was designed by Johann Bast for Heinrich Arminius Rattermann, to house the German Mutual Insurance Company of Cincinnati. The Germania Building is not individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, however, is a contributing building to the Over the Rhine Historic District.

"The Over-the-Rhine Historic District encompasses 362.5 acres of the original German community. The majority of structures are two-, three-, and four-story brick or stone edifices erected in the last half of the 19th century for residential and commercial uses. Vernacular, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Queen Anne styles predominate. The area was once one of the largest German-American neighborhoods in the United States."

Heinrich Rattermann was born in 1832 and immigrated with his family to Cincinnati in 1846. He founded his insurance company in 1858. The company’s previous building still stands at 13th & Walnut and the company’s German name, Deutsche Gegenseitige Versicherungs Gesellschaft von Cincinnati, can still be seen. More than just the owner of an insurance company he was a prominent member of the German community in Cincinnati and the United States for that matter. He organized the first "German Day" in Cincinnati in 1895 and was a prolific author of books, poetry, and operas. He established "Der Deutsche Pionier", a journal devoted to German immigration in 1869. And he was a founding member of the Saengerbund and the German Literary Club of Cincinnati among others.

Most historians classify the building as Renaissance Revival. I find it somewhere between 1st Renaissance Revival, commonly known as Italianate, and 2nd Renaissance Revival which was the more literal interpretation of the architecture of Rome and Florence. Extremely decorative, it includes a front façade of limestone along Walnut Street and red brick with stone window lintels along 12th. Carved Eastlake details decorate the stonework. The large and ornate bracketed cornice is made of cast metal as is the storefront. The fourth floor was added later but it appears that the gable decoration is original and raised when the extra story was added. Two sculptures by Leopold Fettweis (1848-1912) are prominent design features. Germania, who symbolized German culture and the German spirit, is in a niche above Walnut Street. Apollo, god of music and poetry, peers out above what was an entrance on 12th Street.

Leopold Fettweis, a Cincinnati-born artist, was the eldest son of Charles Fettweis Sr., himself a sculptor who owned a marble yard at McMicken Ave and Vine Street. Two other brothers, Charles Jr. and Otto, also followed their father in the business. Fettweis was an instructor of clay modeling at the Ohio Mechanics Institute and is the sculptor of a number of statues in and near Over the Rhine. These include the Col. R.L. McCook (1878) and Frederick Hecker (1883) busts in Washington Park and the Friedrich Ludwig Jahn relief (1911) in Inwood Park. In the book, Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary I found a fascinating and curious comment that Leopold ". . . was apparently somewhat less talented than his brother Charles Fettweis Sr."

In 1915 Rattermann’s extensive library was purchased by the University of Illinois. Additionally during and post World War I, Rattermann’s company was renamed to the Hamilton Mutual Insurance Company. And the building and Germania herself were renamed "Columbia." Panels were installed high on the façade above Walnut Street to cover the company’s German name and the motto "E Pluribus Unum" was carved on Columbia’s robe. Rattermann died in 1923. His house at 510 York Street in the West End was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places but has since been demolished. However the Germania Building still stands in all her glory as she has for 130 years.

Research for this piece came from Cincinnati Observed by John Clubbe and an article by Jeanne Johnston on iRhine.com


Kevin LeMaster said...

When Building Cincinnati becomes huge, I'm going to buy that building and put my offices there. :D

GetCincy said...

Heard about the safe in the Germania Building? Read about it! Quite interesting.


Anonymous said...

Hello. I have been browsing the net for the insurance options and bumped into your blog. By the way, it is very interesting. I have heard about Germania Insurance a lot and I consider it to be a mediocre one, judging from the customers’ reviews which I found on numerous sites on www.pissedconsumer.com in particular.