Getaz, David (1849-1912)
David Getaz and Company; David Getaz, Son and Company; D. Getaz
- Knoxville, Tennessee
Styles & Forms:
Colonial Revival; Italianate; Queen Anne
David Getaz (November 22, 1849-September 19, 1912), a native of France with a Swiss background, became a prolific architect and builder headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee. His contracting firm took on projects in various states, including buildings in North Carolina: the Masonic Temple in Wilmington and Eureka Hall at the Blue Ridge Assembly campus near Asheville are the principal surviving examples. Although the architects for the buildings he erected are often cited, the successful completion of large and complex structures also depended on competent contractors such as Getaz, of which there were relatively few in North Carolina in this period.
David Getaz was born in Tullins, France, to David and Henrietta Getaz, both natives of Switzerland; his death certificate noted his birthplace as Tullins, France, but he was frequently identified as Swiss and appeared in census records as a native of Switzerland. According to family tradition David moved to Paris in 1871 where he studied architecture. Unable to find work, he emigrated to the United States in 1873.
In 1874 Getaz arrived in Knox County, Tennessee, where he joined a sizable group of French-Swiss and German-Swiss residents in Knoxville and the surrounding area—a “Swiss colony” that had been an important presence in East Tennessee since the 1840s. Getaz married Margaret Murphy (1854-1939) in 1881, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1886, and built a large family home in Knoxville in 1889. In 1900, the United States Census listed David Getaz, aged 50, as a contractor and head of household; he was identified as a native of Switzerland. Margaret, aged 45, and their children—James (aged 17), Margarette (12), Louise (9), and David, Jr. (4)—were all listed as natives of Tennessee. (In 1906, James joined his father’s firm, which became known as David Getaz, Son and Company.)
Meanwhile, in 1881, Getaz formed a partnership with Knoxville architect Christopher T. Stephenson (1841-1908), a native of Yorkshire, England, who had emigrated in 1870.Stephenson and Getaz, architects and builders, were best known for designing and building the Knox County Courthouse (1884-1886), which still stands in Knoxville, from a design provided by Palliser and Palliser of New York City. Their work in the 1880s and early 1890s included local schools, churches, and public buildings. The successor firm, Getaz and Company, was a contracting firm that built the Knoxville Market House (1897) as well as houses designed by other architects such as George F. Barber of Knoxville. The firm also took on work elsewhere in the Southeast including public buildings in West Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina.
Beginning in the 1890s the Getaz firm gained contracts for several large and prominent buildings in North Carolina. Despite the distance from his headquarters in Knoxville, Getaz was able to manage major projects with sufficient speed, economy, and quality to suit his clients. In several cases, he employed a local representative to manage the work. The Raleigh News and Observer of June 26, 1898, carried one of several advertisements for “David Getaz & Co., Architects & Builders,” which listed offices in Knoxville, Tennessee and Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina. The firm was “Represented at Raleigh by F. K. Thomson, Architect, at 102 Fayetteville Street.” Such an arrangement enabled the Getaz firm to manage multiple distant projects.
The first known North Carolina projects for Getaz were in Wilmington. How the commission came about is not clear, but certainly Wilmingtonians had many connections across the South. One major job was for a new weave mill for the “Wilmington Cotton Mill” in Wilmington, which according to the Wilmington Messenger of September 26, 1895, was to be a 2-story wing to an existing factory in the southern part of Wilmington. The firm must have suited Wilmingtonians. The Wilmington Messenger of May 7, 1897, also noted that Getaz and D. (David) Hanna had built “many handsome residences and blocks,” including the homes of prominent citizens C. W. Worth and Robert R. Bellamy—both large, elaborate Queen Anne style residences—plus a summer hotel at Wrightsville Beach. The C. W. Worth House, built ca. 1893-1895, survives as one of the city’s premier examples of the style; the Robert R. Bellamy House burned in the 20th century. (An intriguing question is whether either or both houses might have been built from designs by George Barber, the Knoxville mail-order architect some of whose house designs were executed by Getaz.) The Wilmington Morning Star of May 16, 1897 also reported that the S. Behrends Store on Front Street was undergoing repairs and renovation, apparently following a fire. Henry E. Bonitz was the architect and superintendent and “Messrs. D. Getaz & Co.” were the contractors. The Wilmington Star of August 28, 1897, reported that Getaz’s firm had also built an annex to the local Marine Hospital.
These projects were soon followed by Getaz’s best-known building in North Carolina: the Masonic Temple in Wilmington. The prominent and ornate brick edifice was designed by architect Charles McMillen of Minnesota, a specialist in Masonic architecture. Getaz had as his “representative” David Hanna, who supervised the work and met as needed with architect McMillen and the Masonic board of directors (Wilmington Morning Star, October 28, 1899). David Hanna later became an independent contractor.
Meanwhile, architect Frank K. Thomson came to Raleigh in about 1896 and was the Raleigh office representative for the Getaz company through 1899. On January 2, 1900, the News and Observer announced that Thomson had formed a new architectural firm with Charles W. Barrett. The account noted that Thomson had been for the past two years in charge of the Raleigh office of D. Getaz and Company, during which time he had “planned and superintended some of our best buildings.” (See Thomson’s building list for his 1890s projects that were likely contracted by the Getaz company.)
David Getaz traveled frequently, both to gain contracts and to visit projects. The Greensboro Patriot of July 6, 1898, reported that Getaz was in town “on his return from Washington, D. C., where he had just been awarded the contract here for the Southern Railway.” It noted that “Mr. Getaz was aboard the Raleigh train when he was located by the reporters and had time to give only an idea of the character of the new building but from what he inferred and said it will be the finest structure of its kind in the south.” Getaz stated that a 2-story building would be built with stone, pressed brick, and white terra cotta enameled brick. He was staying at the Benbow Hotel and planned to begin work the following week, with an expected completion date of January 1899. This Southern Railway Passenger Depot I still stands, substantially altered, in downtown Greensboro.
The next year, the Durham Sun of August 10, 1899, announced that Messrs. David Getaz and Company had been awarded the contract for Durham’s “magnificent” Southern Conservatory of Music, funded by the Duke family. The newspaper described the proposed building in detail and published a drawing of it. The architects were Hook and Sawyer of Charlotte; Charles Christian Hook of that firm also designed other Durham buildings including some for Trinity College, also supported by the Duke family.
The Getaz firm’s last known projects in North Carolina were both located in the western part of the state not far from Knoxville. One was a large addition in 1908 to the existing United States Post Office and Courthouse of 1890-1891 (see Peter Demens) reported in the Greensboro Daily News of April 29, 1908. Especially important was the original main building at the Blue Ridge Assembly campus in the mountains near Asheville. Built in 1911-1912 and now known as Eureka Hall, the large, 3-story frame central building with its broad, full-height portico was designed by Beaux-Arts trained New York architect Louis Jallade, who specialized in YMCA facilities. David Getaz’s son James served as supervising architect for the project, which was completed in the year of David Getaz’s death.
- David Babelay, “Swiss Settlers, Knoxville,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry.phprec=1288.
- Jim Tumblin, “The Extraordinary Architect” (2011), Halls/Fountain City Shopper-News, https://issuu.com/shoppernews/docs/halls-fountain-city-shopper-news-080811/7.
- Dates:Ca. 1895Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:413 S. 3rd St., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:The full-blown example of the Queen Anne style was built for a prominent merchant in about 1895. Like the Robert R. Bellamy House it was cited in the Wilmington newspaper in 1897 as one of the local works by Getaz and Hanna. They were among several impressive Queen Anne houses built in late 19th century Wilmington, of which a few survive. The Wilmington Messenger reported on June 18, 1895, that C. W. Worth had sold the old frame house on his lot on 3rd Street to John McIntee (who intended to move to his lot nearby), presumably in preparation for building his new residence. C. W. Worth was one of several men involved in January, 1895, in contemplating a new cotton mill in Wilmington. The architect has not been identified.
- Variant Name(s):Robert E. Lee HallDates:1910-1912Location:Black Mountain, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Blue Ridge Assembly Campus, SR 2720, Black Mountain vicinity, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:Designed gratis by architect Louis Jallade, the large Colonial Revival building was completed in the year of contractorDavid Getaz's death, and his son James is reported to have superintended construction. The campus was established as a training center for student Christian leaders and a home for student conferences of the YMCA. Annual conferences began at the University of Tennessee in 1892 and were held at various sites in western North Carolina. Willis D. Weatherford, the International Student Secretary of the YMCA for colleges in the south and southwest, sought to establish a permanent campus, and when he visited this beautiful site in the Swannanoa Valley in 1906 reportedly exclaimed "Eureka!" An architectural drawing for the main building, long known as Robert E. Lee Hall, appeared in a 1910 pamphlet, and by the summer of 1912 the building was ready for the opening conference. It also served as a summer hotel. Additional buildings were constructed over the years. Weatherford, active in organizing the Commission of Interracial Cooperation, saved the campus from a foreclosure sale in 1932. The famous Black Mountain College began operation in Lee Hall in September, 1933, renting it for the winter school year; in 1941 the college established its own campus several miles away. In 2015 the name of the main building was changed from Robert E. Lee Hall to Eureka Hall.
- Dates:1898-1899; 1914 [remodeled]Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:25 N. Front St., Wilmington, NCStatus:StandingType:FraternalImages Puslished In:Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).Note:Wilmington architect-builder James F. Post submitted an earlier design for the Masonic Temple, but the Masons chose the design by the Minnesota architect McMillen, who specialized in Masonic temples. This commission brought McMillen to Wilmington, where he settled down to practice his profession. The cornerstone was laid on May 18, 1899, and the building opened on November 20. The 4-story edifice of pressed brick and brownstone had stores on the first floor, offices on the second floor, the Masonic lodge halls on the third floor, and a ballroom on the fourth floor. Frederick B. Miles executed the carved ornament of the entrance. In January, 1914, the Scottish Rite Masons leased the ballroom from the central body and expended $4000 to create a theater, complete with stage, designed by Joseph F. Leitner. For more details, see Janet K. Seapker, "St. John's Masonic Lodge, Part II: Other Masonic Lodges," Lower Cape Fear Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. L, No. 2, April 2006; and Tony P. Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait (1984).
- Dates:Ca. 1895Location:Wilmington, New Hanover CountyStreet Address:509 Market St., Wilmington, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Susan Taylor Block, Cape Fear Lost (1999).Note:Susan Taylor Block notes in Cape Fear Lost that Robert Rankin Taylor, who operated a pharmacy downtown, built this large Queen Anne-style house house in 1905 next door to his parents' antebellum home, the Bellamy Mansion built by James F. Post. It burned in the early 1980s. The architect has not been identified.
- Dates:1899-1900Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:SW corner of Main St. and Duke St., Durham, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalImages Puslished In:Jean Bradley Anderson, Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina (1990).Note:The Southern Conservatory of Music was established in 1898 and in 1900 the Duke family sponsored construction of a substantial building in memory of Mary Duke Lyon (the only daughter of Washington Duke), who died in 1893. The grand building in "Italianate" style was built to accommodate a school for music and a concert hall. The principal, Prof. Gilmore Ward Bryant, according to the Durham Sun of August 10, 1899, came to Durham in hopes of establishing such a conservatory in the South, and the project was funded by Washington Duke and his son Benjamin Duke, who were both instrumental in establishing Trinity College (later Duke University) in Durham. The conservatory opened in March 1900 (Durham Sun, March 9, 1900).
- Contributors:David Getaz, contractor; David Getaz Company, contractorsDates:1898-1899Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:400 S. Elm St., Greensboro, NCStatus:AlteredType:TransportationImages Puslished In:Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro: An Architectural Record (1995).Note:The building of pressed brick, evidently designed by the architect for Southern Railway, still stands, but has lost many of the features that gave it an imposing chateauesque character, including a surrounding canopy, a hipped roof with dormers, and a steep turret atop its curved corner bay. See Brown, Greensboro, for photographs of its original and current appearance. It is not known whether Getaz had a role in the design.