7 places in Fort Wayne designed by architects who made history

If you’re an outsider to northeast Indiana, you might assume Fort Wayne is a place characterized by farmland or suburban neighborhoods.

But Indiana’s second-largest city is also home to bold architecture dreamed up by some of the greatest minds of the twentieth-century—from Eero Saarinen to Louis Kahn.

Here are seven places in the Summit City designed by renowned architects.

1. Concordia Theological Seminary

Architect: Eero Saarinen

Year: 1958

Location: 6600 N. Clinton St.

Concordia Theological Seminary about 15 minutes Northeast of downtown Fort Wayne is an entire campus of stunning structures, many of which were designed by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen.

Known for blending structural, emotional, and aesthetic elements in his mid-century modern style, Saarinen created the buildings on campus to resemble a small village in northern Germany. The chapel is at the center with a series of pitch-roofed buildings around it all oriented in the same direction.  

Despite his minimalist aesthetic, he painstakingly planned out every element of the structures down to the degree that each roof is pitched to–exactly 23.5 degrees to match the tilt of the earth’s axis.

Saarinen wrote: “Designing within this villagelike concept, we could achieve a tranquil, unified environment into which the students could withdraw to find a life complete and balanced and still related to the outside world.”

The chapel is the highest point of Concordia Theological Seminary.
The seminary is strategically placed around water so the architecture reflects in the lake.


2. The John D. Haynes House

Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright

Year: 1952

Location: 3901 N Washington Rd.

From 1936 to 1959, the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed roughly 60 middle-income family homes to suit the country’s landscape.

He called them “Usonian” (or US-onian), referring to the writer James Duff Law, who wrote in 1903: “We of the United States, in justice to Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title 'Americans' when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves.”

With this concept in mind, Wright made Usonian houses for “inexpensive and remote sites, away from major urban centers” in the thick of Americana. So it makes sense that one of his famous structures is right here, nestled in the Wildwood Park neighborhood just Southwest of downtown Fort Wayne.

In line with Wright’s signature style, the John D. Haynes House is a single-story home with a flat roof and a generous overhang. It features a large cantilevered carport or open garage, which Wright deemed more efficient than traditional garages.

The John D. Haynes House was built by Frank Lloyd Wright.


3. The Hanselmann House

Architect: Michael Graves

Year: 1967

Location: 10220 Circlewood Dr.

The architect Michael Graves has a prolific career that includes more than 350 buildings around the world, Disney resorts, a Target product line, as well as several paintings and sculptures. But what you might not know is that he also designed a home in Fort Wayne—and it was his first commission.

In the late 60s, Graves built the Hanselmann House about 20 minutes Southwest of downtown Fort Wayne for his high school friends, Jay and Lois Hanselmann. The geometric house demonstrates his signature style of bold colors and abstracted forms.

On the outside, it looks like a deconstructed white cube with expansive windows and bridge-like walkways. Inside, it has four bedrooms and two-and-a-half-baths, and it resembles an art museum with light wood floors and white walls. It even features an original mural by Graves himself.

The house was on the market as recently as 2017 when it sold to 27-year-old Evan Mulvihill, who now rents it guests on Airbnb, dubbing it the Cube House.


The Hanselmann House was Michael Graves's first commission.



4. The Embassy Theatre and Indiana Hotel

Architect: John Eberson and AM Strauss

Year: 1928

Location: 125 W Jefferson Blvd.

Celebrating its 90th season this year, the Embassy Theatre has enchanted downtown visitors and residents alike since it opened in 1928 as the magnificent Emboyd Theatre, a movie palace and vaudeville house. The adjoining Indiana Hotel opened the same year—seven stories and 250 rooms high on its north and west sides. 

True to the nature of vaudeville shows, both venues are dramatic and ornamental.

The Emboyd Theatre was originally designed by the notable theatre architect John Eberson on the inside and Fort Wayne native AM Strauss on the outside. Eberson was “one of the country's most influential theater architects who earned the nickname ‘Opera House John’ at the beginning of the century by designing numerous small-town auditoriums,” the New York Times reports

Strauss was one of Indiana’s leading architects in the early 20th century who established his own firm in Fort Wayne in 1918. His work spans a number of popular styles and uses, many of which can still be found around the city today.

A postcard of the original Emboyd Theatre and adjoining Indiana Hotel.
The stage of the Embassy Theatre.The Indiana Hotel resembles the Embassy Theatre's aesthetic.

 

5. Lincoln Bank Tower Lincoln Bank Tower was built by AM Strauss.

Architect: AM Strauss

Year: 1930

Location: 116 East Berry St.

Speaking of Strauss, he also designed the Lincoln Bank Tower in downtown Fort Wayne in 1930 to rival Chicago’s Tribune Tower.

The Lincoln Tower rises 22 stories high with seven tiers as it goes up, giving it the Art Deco style that defined skyscrapers of the Depression-era, much like the Empire State Building.

Despite the fact that the Tower broke ground only two months after the stock market crashed in 1929, it was still finished within one year, and it became a city icon as the tallest building in Fort Wayne until the 1970s.

Nationally, it was also one of the first examples of gilded terra cotta, or enhancing earthenware with a golden finish.



6. A.C. Wermuth House

Architects: Eliel and Eero Saarinen

Year: 1942


Location: 6600 N Clinton St. (on the Concordia Theological Seminary campus)

Like Strauss, Saarinen also has another design in Fort Wayne—one that he created with his father about 15 years before Concordia Theological Seminary.

His father, Eliel Saarinen, was a renowned Finnish architect known in the west for his many Art Deco designs in the first half of the 20th century. The A.C. Wermuth House is one of only seven private residences designed by the world famous Saarinens together.

Their connection to Fort Wayne was A.C. Wermuth. According to ARCH, "Wermuth served as the contractor for a number of buildings at the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan and First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, arguably some of the most famous designs completed by Eliel Saarinen."

After decades of private ownership, the Wermuth House was open to the public to tour for the first time in 2017.

The front of the A.C. Wermuth House.The back of the A.C. Wermuth House designed by Eero Saarinen.
  

7. The Arts United Center

Architect: Louis Kahn

Year: 1973

Location: 303 E. Main St.

You either love it, or you hate it. That’s the consensus with much of Louis Kahn’s controversial designs, and the Arts United Center in downtown Fort Wayne is no different.

With its modern, face-like entrance, this bold structure is characterized by its massive forms and an inspired use of natural light that made Khan one of the most talked about architects of his time. That’s what brought him to Fort Wayne in the first place.

The city’s Fine Arts Foundation wanted to build an arts center that could rival the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan with a variety of meeting rooms, offices, rehearsal spaces, and performance venues. But when Kahn drew out a nine-structure arts campus with three outdoor spaces for Fort Wayne, his price tag was well over the Foundation’s budget.

After 10 years of painstaking negotiations, the only building that came to fruition was what is now known as the Arts United Center. It remains the only performing arts theater Kahn ever created. He died of a heart attack in 1974, less than a year after the project was complete.

The Arts United Center in downtown Fort Wayne was designed by Louis Kahn.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara is a Fort Wayne native, passionate about her hometown and its ongoing revival. As Managing Editor of Input Fort Wayne, she enjoys writing about interesting people and ideas in northeast Indiana. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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