Architect Pics: Leon C. Weiss

Leon C Weiss c. 1930s from “The Jewish Community of New Orleans” by Irwin Lanchoff and Catherine C. Kahn. 2005

Leon Charles Weiss was a busy man.  In addition to an independent practice, he was a partner in four other firms throughout his life.  So busy he had to pose for this photograph while catching up with his correspondence.  I mean look at that stack of paperwork to his right.

Here’s what the MDAH HRI Database has to say about him:

Leon Charles Weiss born (1882) Farmersville, La.; graduated College of Technology, Tulane University of Louisiana, 1903; from post-graduate department, College of Technology, Tulane University of Louisiana, 1905.  From 1905 to 1912, as a partner of the firm of KEENAN & WEISS, consulting engineers and architects, New Orleans, La., designed and superintended building projects in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana and Mississippi; in 1912, the firm was dissolved by mutual consent. From 1912 to 1918, in an independent business, engaged on engineering and architectural projects.  Located in the Maison Blanche Building in 1918.  Entered US Army service September 26. 1918 obtaining the rank of Captain in the Quartermasters Corps.

According to the “Who’s Who In the Construction Division of the United States Army,” Weiss was a member of the Elks, the Louisiana Engineering Society, the American Institute of Architects, the University Club, the New Orleans Press Club, the Motor League of New Orleans, and the Tulane Forensic Society.

In 1904 he was appointed to the Engineering Faculty at Tulane while pursuing his Masters Degree in Engineering.  Not wasting any time after graduating, Weiss jumped right to work.  In 1905 he formed the firm Keenan & Weiss with Walter Cook Keenan in New Orleans.  Weiss’s first marriage c. 1908 was to Carrie Hirsch from Vicksburg.  He would have a son, Leon C. Weiss Jr., with Ms. Hirsch.  It might have been due to this association by marriage to a Vicksburg family and Weiss’s membership in the Elks that led to his first MDAH HRI-recorded building built in Mississippi.  The Vicksburg Lodge No. 95, BPOE was looking to rebuild in 1908 following a fire that burned the 1903 lodge.  Competition was stiff with twelve entries.  Among them were some of the big names in Mississippi Architecture at the time, such as Harry North Austin, R. H. Hunt, and William Stanton & Son.  I have never seen any of the other entries but the beautiful image of the Elks Club building above makes it obvious why the Keenan & Weiss design won out.  Unfortunately this building was demolished in 1968.  The other documented buildings remaining standing from this partnership are the Valley Department Store, and the Fischel-Feld House in Vicksburg and the Hancock County Courthouse in Bay St. Louis.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

About a decade later the B’nai B’rith Literary Club must have taken a liking to the Elks Building because they had a building of similar overall massing designed by Weiss while he was in independent practice.  The “Who’s Who In the Construction Division of the United States Army” says during this time of independent practice he was “engaged on engineering and architectural projects; designing some of the finest industrial plants in the South and many imposing residences.”  The other building documented as being designed by Weiss in Mississippi at this time is the now demolished Beth Israel Temple in Greenwood.

B'nai B'rith (B.B.) Literary Club.  Vicksburg, Warren County. Photo by J. Baughn, MDAH.  Retrieved 12/07/12 from Mississippi Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) Database.

B’nai B’rith (B.B.) Literary Club. Vicksburg, Warren County. Photo by J. Baughn, MDAH. Retrieved 12/07/12 from Mississippi Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) Database.

During his service in the Army Quartermasters Corps he had several assignments including the Western Cartridge Company in East Alton Illinois as the civilian Personal Assistant to the Construction Officer, he was later stationed at Camp Meade, Maryland as the Constructing Quartermaster, where he might have spent time at the Hostess House.

Upon leaving the Army, Weiss joined up with F. Julius Dreyfous to start the Weiss & DreyfousHis second marriage post-1915 was to Dreyfous’ daughter Caroline, and the couple would have two daughters.  The Weiss & Dreyfous firm designed two documented building in Mississippi: the Kress Building in Biloxi and the City Bank & Trust Building in Natchez.

Detail from postcard of Franklin St., Natchez, Miss. City Bank and Trust Building. Sysid 92937. Scanned as tiff in 2008/07/22 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Detail from postcard of Franklin St., Natchez, Miss. City Bank and Trust Building. Built c. 1907 Weiss & Dreyfous Archts. Sysid 92937. Scanned as tiff in 2008/07/22 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

In 1923 Solis Seiferth became a partner and the firm changed its name to Weiss, Dreyfous, & Seiferth to reflect this.  One of this firm’s jobs was to remodel one of Weiss’s earlier designs the City Bank & Trust Building in Natchez.  Other remodeling work in Natchez by this firm was the Natchez Hotel and the house “Monteigne”.  New work included the Gerard Brandon V House and the Eola Hotel.  The only documented work by this firm in the state outside Natchez is the Henry Clay Hotel in West Point.

City Bank and Trust Building Remodeled c. 1926 Photo By Author Nov.2012

City Bank and Trust Building, Natchez MS. Remodeled c. 1926 Weiss, Dreyfous, & Seifert Archts. Photo By Author Nov.2012

Weiss, Dreyfous, & Seiferth didn’t have much work in Mississippi in the 1930’s mostly because Weiss had caught the favor of Louisiana Governor/Senator Huey Long and was busy designing the Louisiana State Capital, LSU’s campus, Charity Hospital, and being involved in the Louisiana Hayride scandal.  Weiss was charged in 1939 as part of said “Louisiana Hayride” scandals.  The charge was for “having used the United States mail to defraud in regard to an unspecific building contract for Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.”  Of the many inappropriate expenditures made one of the most ridiculous was the moving of the Bienville Hotel of New Orleans during 1935 only to move it back to the same spot two years later at the cost of $75,000 each time (or a total of $2.5 million in 2013).  A successful conviction sentenced Weiss went to prison in 1940.  He began serving his term on January 22, 1942 and was released on March 1, 1944.  By 1949 he had formed a partnership with Edward B. Silverstein as Weiss & Silverstein.  Silverstein was Weiss’s mother’s maiden name so it is possible that the two were related. According to the MDAH HRI, the firm only did two known remodeling jobs in Mississippi, both of which have since been obliterated, before Weiss died suddenly of a “heart ailment” on Wednesday April 1, 1953.

Weiss & Silverstein Advertisement The Times Picayune 09-03-1949

Weiss & Silverstein Advertisement The Times Picayune 09-03-1949

So be on the look out!  You never know when you might find a cornerstone that has a name that has been missed before.



Categories: Architectural Research, Banks, Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Churches, Courthouses, Historic Preservation, Natchez, Vicksburg

14 replies

  1. Interesting post. I wonder if the stack of “paperwork” in the first picture might be building specifications that he is in the process of signing. They appear to be a stack of identical size documents.

    Like

    • I am glad you found the post interesting. Good thought on what the stack of paper might be. 8 1/2 x 11 sheets could be anything. I think the photo is staged so they papers could be anything near by that the photographer wanted in the image.

      Like

  2. consent decrees?

    Like

  3. The myth still prevails that Huey P. Long was involved in The Second Louisiana Purchase, as the scandals were also called. He was NOT involved, and his longtime associate and law partner, Harvey Fields, was appointed by FDR(“braintruster” Ben Victor Cohen, more likely) to prosecute the case against Governor Leche, Leon Weiss and over a hundred other defendants. Fields’ successful prosecutions led to prison terms for those involved. Consequently, Fields was not re-appointed by the FDR “braintrust.” In the link below, Russell Long, Huey’s father, defends his father against the malicious smear, libel and slander by the FBI, IRS,[Hollywood] and the “Kill Huey” cabal in New Orleans, nailing them to the proverbial cross in a state-wide radio address in 1948.

    http://www.hueylong.com/legacy/louisiana-after-long.php

    Like

  4. wasn’t another weiss accused of assassinating huey long; although his body guards probably shot him while defending him? anyway–i was really glad to see the designer of the hancock county courthouse. the b.b. literary club seems almost venetian-influenced.

    Like

    • Carl Weiss was the accused assassin. I’m not sure if there was any relation to Leon Weiss. As assassin Weiss’s father was a political enemy of the party in power, I don’t think Architect Weiss would have been chosen to play along with the scheme if a close family member had gunned down a Senator. Another familial difference is that Leon Weiss was Jewish and Carl Weiss was Catholic.

      The Hancock County Courthouse is a great building. It is unfortunate that it has lost its cupola and was painted green. The postcard comes close but does not convey the wonderful color of the brick, which is a warm rich salmon.

      Before doing the research for the article I had always assumed that the design for the B.B. Literary club came about after Weiss’s “Grand Tour” during his service in the army. But the fact that he spent the war stateside and the 1917 construction date of the building was prior to his Sept. 1918 entry into service, squashed my illusion of this direct European influence.

      Like

  5. Carl Weiss was Jewish. For over a hundred years “world” historians denied that Nikolai Lenin was Jewish, until two years ago after Russian historians revealed the truth of his ethnicity. Carl Weiss’ body was ex-humed back in the 90s and sent to the Smithsonian Institution. I have seen no reports that his body has been re-interred back in Baton Rouge. Of course we could just ask Hodding Carter, III or Ben Toledano for a “scoop” on Weiss’ ethnicity. Maybe Hodding, III will even reveal why his mother, in an interview on PBS’ The American Experience episode on the Longs of Louisiana, thought that her husband was involved in Huey’s assassination?

    Like

  6. This is a very interesting read!

    Like

  7. Thomas:

    I enjoyed learning about my grandfather Leon Weiss’s architectural practice in Mississippi. I’m familiar with much of his work in Louisiana, but less so in Mississippi, so I appreciated the opportunity to add to my knowledge.

    A few facts about his personal life seemed to have gotten jumbled, however: Leon’s first wife was Berta (not Carrie) Hirsh. Their son was named Theodore, not Leon, Jr. His second wife Caroline (my grandmother) was the sister, not the daughter, of Leon’s partner, F. Julius Dreyfous. (Caroline’s father was Felix J. Dreyfous.) Caroline and Leon had three children: Leta (my mother), Elizabeth (Betty) and Leon, Jr. I think you are right that Edward Silverstein was related through Leon’s mother, but I’m not sure and there’s no one to ask anymore, sadly!

    Incidentally, my mom wrote a book about Leon and her New Orleans family, published by LSU Press, called “Time’s Tapestry.” I’m always grateful to find information on him, because I never had the chance to meet him, as he died a year before I was born.

    I hope you don’t mind my pointing out these errors in what was a fascinating and obviously well-researched article. As an amateur genealogist, I’m curious what references you used that may also need correcting!

    Jonathan Marks

    Like

    • I am glad I was able to shed light on some of your grandfathers work in Mississippi. Do not apologize for your clarifications as you are able to fill in some of the blanks in my research and point out some mistakes, as my background is in preservation an definitely not genealogy! All of my references for this post are from period Time-Picayune articles, (I will be happy to email you what I have if you like) and I think Malvaney was the one who told me that your grandmother was Dreyfous’s daughter, so I’m not sure where that information came from.

      The errors are my own from conclusions that come from my filling in the gaps. It has been a year since I started researching and writing the post so my memories are a little fuzzy. One conclusion I drew that you clarified was that your grandfather had two sons, not one. In his obituary son Theodore was not mentioned. I would imagine your uncle Theodore was named after your great grandfather? I believe the name Carrie came from an article about a party that your grandfather attended in Vicksburg that he attended with a Carrie Hirsh. When I saw that his first marriage was to a “Ms. Hirsh”, I made the assumption that this was the Carrie he escorted to the earlier party. I am sorry I wasn’t more clear in the article when I was drawing a conclusion.

      Thank you for this information and for telling us about your mothers book, I will be interested in checking it out.

      Like

      • It was fun for me to google my grandfather (trying to confirm his date of death, actually, which I had gotten wrong on a family tree) and run across a recent article about him. I’d be interested in seeing the newspaper clippings, if it isn’t too much trouble. Do you have my email address or can you give me yours? I’d especially love to see the article about the party — maybe Carrie was Berta’s sister?

        I am sure you’re right that Theodore was named after Leon’s father. It’s not at all surprising that he wasn’t in the obituary, however, as he died (of typhoid?) at the age of 5 in 1915, and I don’t think it was common knowledge in New Orleans that Leon had been married previously, let alone fathered a child. Berta died on the same day and we believe she committed suicide, although I have never obtained a death certificate (one of these days…).

        You might also be interested in a fantastic preservation effort recently completed of New Orleans Lakefront Airport. See, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au4tu-9tsAw and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hc2GzCQTmjQ.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: