Arnold W. Brunner: Collaborator on the 1903 Group Plan, designer of the Metzenbaum Courthouse

Arnold W. Brunner: Collaborator on the 1903 Group Plan, designer of the Metzenbaum Courthouse

Arnold W. Brunner was a renowned turn of the 20th Century architect. A native of New York City, he was particularly well known in later life for his designs of synagogues in the New York area, as well as Barnard Hall at Barnard College.

Arnold William Brunner (September 25, 1857 – February 14, 1925)Although he spent his working life in New York, his influence on Cleveland was profound and lasting.

Like many of his rivals, he studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He followed up his education with an apprenticeship in New York at the offices of George B. Post, one of the leading architects of the day. Post is knowns as the designer of the 1900 Williamson Building—the tallest building in Cleveland at the time with 17 stories—which occupied a prominent place on Public Square for eight decades—the 1908 Cleveland Trust Building (today home to Heinen’s)  at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, and the 1912 Statler Hotel (now The Statler apartments) at Euclid Avenue and East 12th Street.

Brunner collaborated with Daniel Burnham and John Carrere in the design of Cleveland’s renowned Group Plan of 1903. His 1910 Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse (today known as the Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse) is a key element of this plan.

As the first building to be completed in the Group Plan, the courthouse served as a template for later structures, including Cleveland City Hall and the Cleveland Public Library.

The cornerstone for the courthouse was laid on May 20, 1905. The new building would replace the 1858 courthouse on Public Square, which was demolished in 1902.

Cleveland Trust, ca. late 1920s: The exterior of the bank during its early years, most likely the late 1920s. Brunner was inspired by Ange-Jacques Gabriel’s 1755 Place de la Concorde in Paris in designing the new Cleveland courthouse. With its Beaux Arts facade, the interior features arched doorways, 30-foot vaulted ceilings, and Italian marble floors and surfaces. Walls are embellished by several important murals depicting scenes from Cleveland history. The ground floor was originally the post office and the lobby murals depicted scenes of the mail being delivered in locations across the country, such as by dog sled. Cast bronze eagles perched on globes appear over each pair of elevator doors. 

The courthouse is a large building, occupying an entire city block and rising five stories. In 1998 the building was renamed to honor former U.S. Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum.

The outside is embellished with two statues sculpted by Daniel Chester French, best known for his Abraham Lincoln statue that serves as the focal point for 1922 Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The courthouse statues—Jurisprudence and Commerce—have an interesting back story. They were posed for by Audrey Munson, described as America’s first supermodel. During her brief heyday she served as the model for dozens of statues across the country and is said to have modeled for the Mercury Dime and the Walking Liberty Half Dollar.

The Metzenbaum courthouse statues—Jurisprudence and Commerce, were posed for by Audrey Munson, described as America’s first supermodel.Munson’s 10-year modeling career ended disastrously in 1919. She and her mother were living in a boarding house in New York City. The house’s owner, Walter Wilkins, a retired physician, became obsessed with Munson and staged a clumsy home invasion and murdered his wife to be free to marry Munson. Convicted of murder, Wilkins hanged himself in jail before his sentence could be carried out.

Although it appears that she had absolutely nothing to do with the murder, public opinion quickly turned against Munson. After 10 difficult years in obscurity her mother committed her to a mental institution where Munson remained until her death 65 years later in 1995 at the age of 105.

By 1939 industrial pollution required cleaning of the structure’s exterior granite walls. This process was repeated in 1966. That same year air conditioning was installed, and eight years later, in 1974, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Brunner’s other Ohio works include Denison University in Granville and a bascule bridge, over the Maumee River in Toledo that remains in use today as the Martin Luther King Bridge. Brunner's design introduced system for keeping streetcar power lines taut while raised with the bridge deck—an invention copied in other lift bridges.

Brunner also won the competition for the design of the U.S. State Department Building in Washington, D.C.

After his work on the courthouse was completed, Arnold Brunner maintained ties with Cleveland by holding a membership in the city’s Union Club (the 1905 clubhouse was designed by Charles Schweinfurth). He died at his New York home in February 1925 at the age of 67.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.