Ittner, Nicholas (1849-1924)
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Charlotte, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Beaux-Arts; Neoclassical; Romanesque Revival
Nicholas Ittner (March 18, 1849-October 3, 1924) was a building contractor based in Atlanta who erected several buildings in North Carolina during a short but busy period around the turn of the twentieth century. He worked in Atlanta for some forty years and practiced throughout the Southeast, including construction of a theater in Columbia, South Carolina, and a Southern Railway depot in Knoxville. In most cases he built from designs by various architects; whether he also supplied designs for some buildings is not known. Many of Ittner’s North Carolina buildings—typically substantial brick structures in robust eclectic and classical designs representative of the turn of the century—have been lost, and as a result his name is not widely known. One of his best known surviving buildings in North Carolina is the Iredell County Courthouse in Statesville, designed by Charlotte architects Hayden, Wheeler, and Schwend, which became the prototype for a series of similar courthouses across the state by Oliver Wheeler and his various partners.
Born in Missouri to John and Mary Ittner, both of German backgrounds, he was working as a brickmason in Nebraska by 1880. He was married to Martha J. Miller. He evidently moved to Atlanta during the 1880s, when that New South railroad city was booming, and spent a long career there as a regional contractor whose work encompassed parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. He also had an office in Charlotte, N. C., for a time. He seems to have specialized in bidding on and gaining contracts for large public and educational building projects, where he often competed with other builders from near and far. He had projects in North Carolina dating from the late 1890s to the early years of the 1900s.
In 1897, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Times reported on February 11 that several prominent contractors were in town to bid on a building for Elizabeth College: R. M. Walker of Atlanta; H. P. Woodson of Lynchburg; George W. Waring of Columbia; W. B. Desbro of Atlanta; Nicholas Ittner of Atlanta; John D. Randle of Baltimore; and C. J. Wolfenden of New York. The Concord Times of February 18 carried a report from the Charlotte Observer stating that Ittner, the low bidder, had been awarded the “new Lutheran college of Charlotte, or the Elizabeth College,” with the building to be completed by September 20. On February 18, the Charlotte Democrat reported that Ittner had met with the college’s architect, “Mr. Dempwolf,” and members of the building committee and “settled the details of the building.” The Mecklenburg Times of February 25, 1897, noted that the architect was Mr. J. A. Dempwolf of York, Pennsylvania, who was expected to supervise the work of the engineer.
Ittner soon won another college project, the Alumni Building at the University of North Carolina, designed by architect Frank P. Milburn, whom Ittner probably knew from Charlotte. The Raleigh Times of January 15, 1897 reported that Ittner had contracted to build the foundation for $5,940. (Presumably additional portions would be contracted later.) The same article noted that Ittner had recently been given the contract for the new Capital Club Building in Raleigh, also designed by Milburn of Charlotte. While in Charlotte preparing to go with “his entire force to Chapel Hill” to work on the alumni building, Ittner was quoted as saying “if business keeps up he will have to move to this state.” (Charlotte News, in Raleigh Press-Visitor, Nov. 6, 1897).
To further his business in the state, Ittner placed several advertisements in the Raleigh News and Observer in 1898 to announce his availability as “Contractor and Builder, Charlotte, N. C., and Atlanta, Georgia, Correspondence Solicited.” On one occasion his advertisement of July 21, 1898, ran just below that of “Frank P. Milburn, Architect, Charlotte N. C.”
One of Ittner’s best known buildings was the Olivia Raney Library in Raleigh. The building was donated to the city of Raleigh as a free public library for white citizens by businessman R. B. Raney in memory of his wife Olivia, who had died young. It stood just across Hillsborough Street from Raney’s own Southern Colonial style residence designed by Charles Barrett. The Wilmington Messenger of April 12, 1899, reported that R. B. Raney had awarded the contract to Ittner of Atlanta. No architect has been identified as designer of the library; whether Ittner and Raney designed it or another hand was involved is not known. The Raleigh Morning Post of April 4 had commented favorably that most of the local buildings under construction at the time were “after designs by Raleigh architects,” excepting the Raney building and a few others, and pointedly encouraged local clients to patronize local talent. The $25,000, 3-story library facing Union Square was to be constructed of cream colored brick and brown stone and to contain a large library space plus reception rooms and an entertainment hall with a stage. It was probably for this project that Ittner advertised in the Raleigh Morning Post on July 13, 1899, for twenty-five good bricklayers and ten good carpenters. Much admired after its completion, the library hosted many prestigious cultural events over the years.
Meanwhile, the Asheville Citizen of June 9, 1899, carried a report that the Nicholas Ittner Company of Atlanta had been awarded the contract to erect the Iredell Courthouse, which was designed by Hayden, Wheeler, and Schwend of Charlotte; his was the lowest of five bids, including the Lazenby Brothers of Statesville. Reporting on the awarding of the contract, the Statesville Landmark commented, “The Nicholas Ittner Co. is one of the largest building firms in the South. Two of the finest buildings recently erected in the State, the Piedmont building in Charlotte and the Capitol City Club building in Raleigh, were put up by them.” On July 27, the Charlotte News reported that Ittner, “the well-known contractor,” was in the city and was engaged in building the courthouse in Statesville, which was progressing satisfactorily and would be “one of the handsomest court houses in the state.” Later accounts from Iredell County said that the building was erected for $25,000, but that the contractor had lost money on it. The Iredell County Courthouse was the first of a series of similar courthouse designed by Wheeler and his architectural associates over the years. The Statesville Landmark reported on October 17, 1899, that Ittner, who was building the courthouse, had recently taken a contract to build a new graded school building in Charlotte.
And indeed, the Charlotte News of Oct. 15, 1899, noted that Ittner would “have charge of the construction of the new ward school building. He had come from Atlanta to confer with the chair of the building committee and was staying at the Buford Hotel.” The Graded School at the corner of Brevard and Ninth Street in Charlotte was of great local interest, as shown by the long and admiring account of the cornerstone laying in the Charlotte Observer of March 14, 1900. The cornerstone, which according to the newspaper contained numerous documents and a variety of seeds, was inscribed on the west side, “Frank P. Milburn, Architect; Nicholas Ittner, Builder.”
In 1900, according to the Charlotte News of August 22, the building committee of another college in Charlotte, the Presbyterian College, awarded a contract for a new building to Ittner, then “of Charlotte,” for $46,600; the committee would furnish the brick. Other bidders were Mr. Green who had superintended the courthouse; Lazenby Brothers of Stateville; and one Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island. Ittner was to begin within a few weeks. No architect was mentioned.
Ittner’s Charlotte projects continued. Especially important, the Charlotte News of December 23, 1901, reported that the Piedmont Realty Company had awarded a contract for a new office building and opera house, to be known as the Trust Building and Academy of Music, to low bidder Nicholas Ittner of Atlanta. It was designed by Hook and Sawyer of Charlotte. In January 6, 1902, the paper stated that Ittner’s firm had broken ground on a major downtown project, “the new office building of the Piedmont Realty Company and the new Academy of Music building. . . on the lot on South Tryon street, between the 4C’s building and the Piedmont building.” The future buildings were to cost about $100,000. No architect was mentioned, the officers of the Piedmont Realty Company had not finally settled on the height of the office building. It must have been four stories initially; when the owners of the Piedmont Insurance Building decided to add a fifth story, they awarded the contract to Ittner, “the Atlanta contractor” (Charlotte News, Nov. 29, 1901).
As was common practice, for many public buildings there was competition for the contracts, which were usually but not always awarded to the lowest bidder. Although Ittner won some of these, other contractors won others. Often a familiar group of contractors turned up to bid on numerous projects, hoping to win some at bids for which they could actually execute the work. These accounts illuminate the constant effort and frequent frustrations that were part of a regional contractor’s business. In 1898, for example, the Raleigh Press-Visitor reported on March 15 that Ittner “of Charlotte” was one of eight contractors who bid on construction of a new auditorium and dormitory for the “Institution for the Blind” in Raleigh, which was awarded to low bidder J. D. Elliott of Hickory. In 1899 the Raleigh News and Observer reported that the firms who bid on the Wiley School at the corner of Morgan and West Streets in Raleigh included J. L. Winningham, Bonniwell and Coffey, Pool and Ruth, and Zachary and Zachary of Raleigh; Charles H. Norton of Durham; and Nicholas Ittner of Atlanta. When all the bids came in higher than what the school committee had expected from “the architects” (Pearson and Ashe) the committee omitted the requirement for pressed brick, and decided to give the contract to Zachary and Zachary, the low bidder, for a reduced sum. In 1899 Ittner put in a bid for another building at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Carr Building (designed by Pearson and Ashe), along with William Carter Bain of Greensboro and Zachary and Zachary of Raleigh; the Raleigh team bid lowest and won the commission ( Durham Sun, Jun 6, 1899). In 1902, as the Durham Sun reported on June 13, N. Underwood of Durham won the contract for a local city market and auditorium, with the other bidders being Ittner of Atlanta, W. C. Bain of Greensboro, Lazenby Brothers of Charlotte, and O. F. and R. E. Wilkerson of Durham. In 1905, reported the Charlotte News on July 27, Ittner was one of several contractors who bid on the construction of the 7-story, 140-room Highlands Hotel in Charlotte, including J. A. Jones of Charlotte and John T. Wilson of Richmond. J. A. Jones, the low bidder, won the contract after a lengthy conference by the building committee; he would go on to become a major regional contractor. Architect Franklin Gordon moved to town to supervise the project.
After 1905, it appears, North Carolina newspapers carried no additional notices of work in the state by Ittner. Whether he had changed his approach, narrowed his range, or met with misfortune is not known. Possibly with the rise of more contractors in the region, such as the growing firm of J. A. Jones of Charlotte, he simply chose not to bid on Tar Heel projects. He apparently continued to practice in Atlanta and in other states, including South Carolina and Florida, where he would later retire. The Manning, South Carolina, Manning Times of October 7, 1908 described a local school Ittner was building and noted that he was “not only one of the most responsible contractors of the South from a financial point of view, but has a vaster experience than any other man in his profession in the South. He has built many schools, colleges, and public buildings throughout this section of the country, and he is a man of the highest character.” In 1913, the Charlotte Evening Chronicle of January 17 reported the sale of the Trust Building and Academy of Music, which was at the time of its construction the “largest office building in Charlotte” built of steel reinforced with concrete and seven stories high. “It was erected by Architect Nicholas Ittner of Atlanta. He was at that time one of the best known men in his line in the South.”
At his death in 1924, an obituary copied on the Findagrave site from an Atlanta newspaper reported that Ittner, aged 75, a prominent contractor who had lived in Atlanta for more than forty years, had moved to Florida ten years previously “on account of declining health.” He had visited Atlanta frequently, however, to keep in touch with his wide circle of friends. It noted that he had built the Aragon Hotel and many other large buildings. He was to be interred in the West View Cemetery. His grave marker is next to that of his wife, Martha.
- Mary Norton Kratt and Mary Manning Boyer, Remembering Charlotte: Postcards from a New South City, 1905-1950 (2000).
- John R. Rogers and Amy T. Rogers, Charlotte: Its Historic Neighborhoods (1996).
- Dates:1898-1901Location:Chapel Hill, Orange CountyStreet Address:University of North Carolina Campus, Chapel Hill, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:John V. Allcott, The Campus at Chapel Hill: Two Hundred Years of Architecture (1986).
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
M. Ruth Little, The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1795-1975 (2006).
- Variant Name(s):First Ward Graded School; North SchoolDates:1899-1900Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:9th St. and Brevard St., Charlotte, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalNote:The large brick school featured an unusual form with a central pavilion (for the principal and administration) and radiating wings.
- Dates:1899-1900Location:Statesville, Iredell CountyStreet Address:Center St. at Court St., Statesville, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).Note:This courthouse, designed by Louis Schwend, became the prototype for many other courthouses designed by Wheeler and his partners in North Carolina.
- Variant Name(s):Queens CollegeDates:1900Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:9th St. and College St., Charlotte, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalNote:The college began downtown but later moved to the Myers Park suburb to a site donated in 1912.
- Dates:1901-1902Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:210-212 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NCStatus:No longer standingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Mary Norton Kratt and Mary Manning Boyer, Remembering Charlotte: Postcards from a New South City, 1905-1950 (2000).
William T. Simmons and Lindsay L. Brooks, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County: A Pictorial History (1977).Note:The ornate 6-story office building, featuring classical and Chateauesque details, was one of the largest and tallest in downtown Charlotte at its completion. It contained an opera house known as the Academy of Music. It burned in 1922. The building is shown at the center of this block.