West, Albert L. (1825-1892)
A. L. West; Albert Lawrence West
- Richmond, Virginia
Styles & Forms:
Gothic Revival; Italianate
A. L. (Albert Lawrence) West (1825-1892), a Richmond, Virginia, architect, had a long and productive career that spanned the second half of the 19th century. Although most of his work was in Virginia, he also designed a number of North Carolina buildings, of which only the Pasquotank County Courthouse in Elizabeth City still stands.
West followed a typical 19th century path from artisan to architect. In 1850 he was working as a carpenter and builder in Richmond, and by 1858 was advertising as an “architect and measurer.” After serving as an engineer and architect for the Confederacy during the Civil War, he developed a professional practice that included many Methodist churches (he was a devout Methodist). He gained widespread attention for his architectural treatise, The Architect and Builder’s Vade-Mecum and Book of Reference (1871), a practical volume that included a guide to measuring and pricing, a glossary, and other information useful to the architect. His definition of an “architect” encapsulated that of his and earlier eras: “One who designs and superintends the erection of buildings.” He was a member and a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) late in his life, the first native Virginian so honored.
The Pasquotank County Courthouse (1882-1883) in Elizabeth City was constructed by leading local contractor Daniel S. Kramer. The red brick edifice, which combines Italianate and neoclassical elements, follows a general format familiar since the Renaissance and shows similarities to a courthouse design published in Asher Benjamin’s American Builder’s Companion. The first story is treated as a basement, with the Corinthian portico dramatizing the main, second story which is treated as a piano nobile and contains the courtroom. As a port town in northeastern North Carolina, Elizabeth City had strong connections northward, as evidenced by the selection of a Virginia architect and the journey of the building committee chairman to Baltimore to acquire stone facings for the doors and windows. As noted by Thomas Butchko in On the Shores of the Pasquotank, the local Economist of August 9, 1881, complained about the high fee of $500 paid to “the architect who furnished the design for the new Court House.” The building was completed at a cost of $25,000.
West’s other North Carolina buildings were all churches, most of them Methodist, and all built of red brick in Gothic Revival style with prominent spires. Especially imposing was Trinity Methodist Church, which was built in Durham in 1883-1884, an elegant and symmetrically composed edifice featuring a central entrance tower topped by a soaring spire that was said to be the tallest structure in the city. Centenary Methodist Church (1886) in Winston-Salem featured a corner tower that emphasizes its location at the corner of Liberty and 6th streets in Winston. Edenton Street Methodist Church (1881) in Raleigh, which was probably his work, also featured a tall spire in a form similar to the Durham church. Since he was working in a period of extensive Methodist church building in North Carolina, it is possible that West designed other Methodist churches in the state that have not yet been identified as his work.
West’s professional reputation was such that in 1891, when the tower collapsed at the Benjamin Duke Building at the Methodist-affiliated Trinity College (present Duke University) in Durham, West was called in to assess the problem and establish liability for the failure. (See William J. Hicks, Samuel Linton Leary, and Charles N. Norton; and see discussion and photograph in Architects and Builders in North Carolina.) West is also credited with two undated residences in Henderson, North Carolina, for T. M. Pittman and Charles E. Stainback, but these have not been further identified.
Albert West’s son, William C. West (1870-1950), entered practice with his father in 1892 and after the elder West’s death continued in the profession in the successor firm, which he advertised in a 1900 flyer entitled “William C. West, successor to Albert L. West, F. A. I. A.”
- Norman D. Anderson and B. T. Fowler, Raleigh: North Carolina’s Capital City on Postcards (1996, 2000, 2002).
- Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (1990).
- Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
- Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).
- Stephanie Adaline Therese Jacobe, “Albert Lawrence West (1825-1892): From Master Builders to Architectural Professionals: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of Architecture in Virginia,” M.A. thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University (2001).
- Mary Norton Kratt and Mary Manning Boyer, Remembering Charlotte: Postcards from a New South City, 1905-1950 (2000).
- Molly Grogan Rawls, Winston-Salem in Vintage Postcards (2004).
- John E. Wells and Robert E. Dalton, The Virginia Architects, 1835-1955: A Biographical Dictionary (1997).
- Dates:1884-1886Location:Winston-Salem, Forsyth CountyStreet Address:Corner of Liberty St. and 6th St., Winston-Salem, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Molly Grogan Rawls, Winston-Salem in Vintage Postcards (2004).Note:The first Centenary Methodist Church was so named because its construction was begun in 1884, the centenary anniversary of the denomination in the United States. Its tall spire was the tallest in town in its day. The congregation joined with West End Methodist Church in the 1920s and built the present Centenary Methodist Church (1920-1931) on 5th St., a massive stone edifice, from designs by the New York firm, Mayer, Murray and Phillips. (When the 1886 church was built in downtown Winston, the towns of Winston and Salem had not yet become Winston-Salem.)
- Dates:1881Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:W. Edenton St., Raleigh, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Norman D. Anderson and B. T. Fowler, Raleigh: North Carolina's Capital City on Postcards (1996, 2000, 2002).Note:In 1881 the long-established Methodist congregation on Edenton Street completed a handsome church with a tower 184 feet high, the "loftiest in the city." This is probably the church identified by Stephanie Jacobe as designed by West, though the date she supplies is 1884. The cornerstone of the church is inscribed "Organized 1811. Rebuilt 1841, 1881, 1951, 1957."
- Dates:1884Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:318 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Mary Norton Kratt and Mary Manning Boyer, Remembering Charlotte: Postcards from a New South City, 1905-1950 (2000).Note:According to Kratt and Boyer in Remembering Charlotte, this was the third church built for Charlotte's Baptist congregation, following one built in 1833 and another in 1857. West was paid $115 for plans and specifications. The congregation replaced this building with a new church on the site in 1909.
- Dates:1882-1883Location:Elizabeth City, Pasquotank CountyStreet Address:206 E. Main St., Elizabeth City, NCStatus:StandingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
Thomas R. Butchko, On the Shores of the Pasquotank: The Architectural Heritage of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, North Carolina (1989).Note:The original 1882-1883 courthouse now stands as the central element in a larger complex that includes very large matching wings added in 1979-1980.
- Dates:1880sLocation:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:End of Church St., Durham, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Joel A. Kostyu and Frank A. Kostyu, Durham: A Pictorial History (1978).Note:The Orange Grove Methodist Church congregation, established in a rural church in the 1830s, moved to Durham in 1860 and soon changed its name to Durham Methodist Church and later to Trinity Methodist (1886). The Duke and Carr families were among the leading members. Church history accounts identify the architect as "A. West, an architect from Richmond, Virginia." West reportedly drew the plans in six months around 1883-1884. It burned on January 21, 1923, in a spectacular fire, and the church records were largely destroyed in the fire. The successor church building, Trinity United Methodist Church, was designed by Ralph Adams Cram.
- Dates:1884Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:318 N. Tryon St., Charlotte, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Mary Norton Kratt and Mary Manning Boyer, Remembering Charlotte: Postcards from a New South City, 1905-1950 (2000).Note:The Gothic Revival church was sometimes known as First Baptist. It was replaced by the First Baptist Church designed by architect James M. McMichael.