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