Shape, Robert L. (ca. 1872-1941)


Milwaukee, Wisconsin


  • New York City


  • Architect

Building Types:

Styles & Forms:

Spanish Colonial Revival

Robert L. Shape (ca. 1872-1941), a New York architect best known for planning apartment houses, was the designer of only one known building in North Carolina: the Carolina Apartments in Wilmington. This commission followed Wilmingtonians’ longstanding tradition of commissioning designs from distant urban architects and a frequent desire to emulate urban buildings in New York City. At the time the Carolina Apartments was built, tall, luxury quality apartment houses were a novelty in Wilmington and in North Carolina.

The Wilmington Messenger of March 18, 1906, carried a story headlined “New Company to Have Authorized Capital of $150,000,” with the subhead identifying the applicants for the charter as Thomas H. Wright, William R. Kenan, and Walker Taylor–all prominent figures in Wilmington’s economic and social life whose involvement indicated the status of the planned project. The subhead further noted, “Famous Architect Arrived Last Night to Confer with Members of Company in Regard to Apartment House at Fifth and Market Streets.” The article explained that the architect, Robert L. Shape, was “an architect of reputation in New York” and claimed that he had drawn the plans for the New York stock exchange. The 6-story apartment building in Wilmington was planned to feature a central court to give “plenty of ventilation.”

On March 23, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the plans had been accepted and Henry E. Bonitz of Wilmington was to be associated with Shape as supervising architect. The edifice was to be of “Spanish style” in pressed brick with brownstone trim, with apartments of various sizes and all modern conveniences as well as a restaurant. The promoters intended to “make this flat the equal of any in the larger cities,” and “the first of its kind ever built in the South in a city the size of Wilmington.”

Located at a premier corner, at Market and Fifth Streets (later Fifth Avenue) and completed in 1907, the Carolina Apartment succeeded in becoming a prestigious address. The apartments ranged from two to seven rooms, some with “housekeeping” (kitchens), others without kitchens for “bachelors.” It also hosted elegant parties and receptions for members. Longtime residents recalled the days when they and their fellow residents dressed for dinner and descended to the dining room for the occasion.

Architect Shape, a native of Milwaukee, was a son of Gustav H. Shape (a native of Prussia) and Gertrude Laubenheimer (a native of Hessen). He was thus one of many American architects of the era whose family background was German. He received the B. A. in architecture from Cornell University in the class of 1895 and served in the U. S. Infantry in 1898-1899 during the Spanish-American war. Relatively little is known of Shape’s career, during which he worked independently and with partners. Although he was cited in the Wilmington as a New York architect of high reputation, he gained less attention in New York papers.

Shape opened his own office in New York in 1906, and by 1907 he had joined in the firm of Shape & Bready, which became Willauer, Shape & Bready (1911-1913). In 1912 he entered an architectural partnership with Charles Mansfield Hart. On his own again in 1915-1917, in 1918 he was a partner at Shape, Bready & Peterkin; apparently this firm lasted until 1930, although between 1928 and 1940 there is also reference to a firm named Hart and Shape; Charles M. Hart and Robert L. Shape published a book entitled “Hart and Shape” in 1930. (Principal information on Shape’s firms in New York comes from James Ward, Architects in Practice in New York City 1900-1940 (Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, 1989), courtesy of Andrew Dolkart.)

James Ward, Architects in Practice in New York City 1900-1940 (Committee for the Preservation of Architectural Records, 1989).

Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).

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  • Carolina Apartments

    William Carter Bain, contractor; Henry E. Bonitz, supervising architect; Central Carolina Construction Company, contractors; L. K. Motz, architect; Robert L. Shape, architect


    Wilmington, New Hanover County
    Street Address:

    420 Market St., Wilmington, NC





    Images Published In:

    Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
    Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
    Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).

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