French architect, artist, and engineer - designed Allegheny City Hall
Charles Antoine Colomb Gengembre was born in Paris in 1790. He was an architect and an engineer who obtained major commissions at an early age. He designed and built the Mint of the City of Cassel at the age of 19 and won second place in the Architecture category of the Grand Prix de Rom when he was 24.
Gengembre obtained many more municipal commissions but was forced to leave the country for a year after the Revolution of 1830, in which he suffered a bayonet wound to his leg on the same day his son, Philip, was born. The family spent 1831 in London, during which time Gengembre worked as the architect for French Utopian Socialist, Charles Fourier. While in London, Gengembre also operated a steamboat ferry of his own design.
The family’s return to France would put Gengembre back in the thick of municipal commissions—his designs were used for the communal schools that each district in France was newly obligated to provide—and he wrote an architectural style book that became a standard text in Europe. His connections to the government, however, put him in harm’s way. The French Revolution would force the family to permanently leave France in 1848. They went first to Cincinnati but eventually settled in the Manchester neighborhood of Allegheny.
Little has been written about the fifteen years Gengembre spent in Allegheny except for reports concerning the commission that turned out to be his last. Gengembre provided the designs for the Allegheny City Hall pro bono, delivering the plans sometime between 1862 and 1863. Donating his talent to create the city hall of his adopted home was a grand gesture on his part that was met with an offer from Allegheny Government cronies to share in the graft from inflated costs that they planned to build into the project. Gengembre was said to be so appalled at the American lack of morals that he swore off speaking English for the rest of his life. He died in 1863.
Gengembre’s daughter, Sophie Anderson, was an artist who specialized in portraiture and her work is most often classified as Pre Raphaelite. She married British artist Walter Anderson and enjoyed a successful career. Her brother, Philip, changed his last name from the unpronounceable Gengembre to his mother’s maiden name of Hubert. As Philip Hubert, he moved to New York City where he designed buildings that supported cooperatively owned apartments, a concept credited to him. The Hubert Home Clubs were designed for middle class workers and owed much to his father’s brief stint working for Utopian thinker, Charles Fourier. Hubert’s cooperative designs included the Navarro “Spanish Flats” Apartments as well as the Chelsea Hotel.
The Allegheny City Hall was considered a fine building but it aged poorly and little was done by the city to maintain it. It was razed in 1937 to make way for the Buhl Planetarium.
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