Lehman and Schmitt: Designers of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, temples, police stations

In 1884 Israel Lehman and Theodore Schmitt founded what would prove to be one of the longest lasting architectural firms—Lehman and Schmitt—in Cleveland history. Active for 50 years, the partnership designed important public buildings in two different centuries.

As young men, the architects met working in the office of George H. Smith in the early 1880s before forming their own partnership. Lehman was the senior partner. Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, he moved to Cleveland with his family in 1862 and was educated in the public schools, where he apprenticed at the early age of 14.

Euclid Avenue Temple date: ca. 1915-20Schmitt was born in Cleveland and educated in both Cleveland and Germany. The men formed their partnership in the summer of 1884, where they collaborated for 30 years. Upon Lehman’s death in 1914 Schmitt continued the firm’s operations under its original name until his own death in 1935.

Their work was noted for its great range—from medieval to classical—culminating in their monumental Beaux Arts 1912 Cuyahoga County Courthouse, which continues to serve the public today more than 100 years after its construction. They designed important religious buildings as well. The 1890s were a very prolific time for them.

Lehman and Schmitt designed several important synagogues for large Jewish congregations on Cleveland’s East Side. Lehman and Schmitt’s Tifereth Israel Synagogue was dedicated on Willson Avenue (today’s East 55th Street) in 1894. It served in later years as the Friendship Baptist Church boasting a congregation of over 1,000 members well into the 1950s.

Two decades later, they designed Anshe Chesed, the Euclid Avenue Temple on Euclid Avenue and East 82nd Street. The building contains beautiful stained-glass windows designed by Tiffany Studios.

The Anshe Chesed congregation moved to Beachwood in 1957, and Liberty Hill Baptist Church moved into the Euclid site later that year. There was some talk about moving the Tiffany windows to the new synagogue, but technical difficulties and the expense involved caused them to remain in place where they have been carefully maintained ever since.

Sheriff Street Market Early projects for Lehman and Schmitt include the 1891 Sheriff Street Market and the 1893 Cleveland Police Department Champlain Street Station.

The Sheriff Street Market served a vital function in the days before modern refrigeration. Without cold storage, people shopped for produce and other perishables on a daily basis and needed a convenient place to go. Sheriff Street is today’s East 4th Street, and the building was located between Bolivar Road and Prospect Avenue East. The market preceded the West Side Market by 20 years and remained in use until severely damaged by a fire in the late 1920s.

The 1893 Central Armory located on Lakeside Avenue and East 6th Street was designed in a gothic style based on medieval Italian buildings. It provided a venue for a number of important civic events and saw Clevelanders off to both World Wars. It was demolished in 1965 and replaced by an office building.

Lehman and Schmitt may have won the contract to design the Champlain Street Police Station at the intersection of West 6th Street and Champlain Street because Schmitt’s father was Jacob Schmitt—a Cleveland City Marshall who was instrumental in bringing the concept of metropolitan policing to Cleveland. The elder Schmitt was a founding father of the CPD, serving as superintendent from 1871 to his retirement in 1892—holding the record for the longest tenure as police chief.

While lavishly praised for its modern features and the quality of its design, the Champlain Street station was destined to have a short life. It was one of the many structures sacrificed in 1925 to make way for the Terminal Tower. The station was replaced by the Central Police Station at East 21st Street and Payne Ave.

South Facade of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, with statues of (L-R}: Archbishop Stephen Langton and Simon de Montfort, by Herbert Adams; King Edward I and John Hampden by Daniel Chester French; John Lord Somers and William Murray, Earl of MansfiThe partners’ most lasting work is the Cuyahoga County Courthouse on Lakeside Avenue, which took six years to build—from 1906 to 1912. The courthouse is one of the key elements of Daniel Burnham’s 1903 Group Plan and has been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1975.

Visitors enter through front doors flanked by statues of Jefferson and Hamilton sculpted by Karl Bitter, who was well known for his work in Cleveland. A native of Austria, he deserted from the Austrian Army and came to America to seek his fortune. His fame became such that Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph offered him a full pardon if he would return to live and work in Austria. Bitter declined and remained in America.

Bitter’s life was cut short in April 1915. After attending a performance of the Metropolitan Opera, he and his wife stood on a sidewalk when an out-of-control car jumped a curb and raced toward them. Bitter shoved his wife out of the path of the car, which then struck him and injured him fatally.

Lehman and Schmitt also designed a substantial number of high-quality residences for Cleveland business leaders. Sadly, nearly all are now gone.

One other noteworthy example of their work is the surviving Pierce—Arrow Car Dealership at 4600 Carnegie Ave.—a relic of the golden age of American luxury automobiles.

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.

Signup for Email Alerts