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German-born and trained Edward Collins and Charles M. Autenrieth may have come to the United States together in 1849, possibly, as one researcher has speculated, to escape the aftermath of the Revolution of 1848. Although each architect would pursue his individual apprenticeship in Philadelphia, by 1854, when the Academy of Music competition was underway, the partnership had been established; and Collins & Autenrieth submitted an unsuccessful entry for the competition. Although they often catered to the German community in Philadelphia, the partners followed their Academy of Music entry with a number of other competitions, such as the 1873 competition for the Centennial Exhibition's Memorial Hall and the 1877 contests for the design of the "Pennsylvania Lunatic Asylum" and the Library Company of Philadelphia; and in 1873 they were one of very few American firms to enter their work for exhibition at the Vienna Universal Exhibition.

Their chief and abiding client appears to have been the well-established Lea family, who could trace their ancestors back to the arrival of William Penn. A search of the commissions granted to Collins & Autenrieth by the Leas reveals a broad range of buildings: business structures like those constructed for Henry C. Lea on Market Street, or the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. Building for M. C. Lea (1865-66); the Lea mausoleum; the Charles and Arthur Lea residence in Chestnut Hill (1886).

However, the firm was not limited to work for the Leas. They also produced parts of the Lit Bros. Store at 8th and Market streets (1900), as well as the Thorn Sheet Metal factory at 1223 Callowhill Street (1889/1890). Their residential projects included a small cottage for Thomas Martindale at Wildwood, NJ (1904), but they also designed grander projects such as the Central Presbyterian Church (1876-78; North Broad Street above Fairmount),the University of Pennsylvania's Laboratory of Hygiene at 34th and Locust streets (1892; demolished to make way for a building designed by Robert Venturi), and the Philadelphia Zoo's Carnivore House (1875; demolished to make way for Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson's design). Perhaps their most fanciful designs can be found in the various mausolea which they provided for some of Philadelphia's best-known families, including the Drexels (Woodland Cemetery, 1863) and the Lippincotts (Dundas-Lippincott mausoleum, Laurel Hill Cemeter, 1869).

Architectural styles presented by the firm also explored a full range of possibilities, from the Italianate and Gothic Revival to a more formal Renaissance Revival. Watercolor renderings preserved at both The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and the University of Delaware Special Collections reveal the sophistication of detail and style which the office was capable of producing.

After the death of Edward Collins in 1902, Charles M. Autenrieth continued the work of firm with his son Charles M. Autenrieth, Jr. until he himself died in 1906. (The younger Autenrieth died in 1908.)

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

 

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