Carl T. Meyer, architect

Carl T. Meyer’s drawing of the Lakeside Villa, reputed first home on Lake Springfield, 1933 (Courtesy State Journal-Register)

In 1927, the Illinois State Register called Springfield architect Carl Theodore Meyer “one of the younger-and progressive-generation of architects, a man who has carved a credible niche for himself in local construction.”

Meyer, just 32, had already completed several commissions. He would go on to design and supervise construction of numerous public buildings and private homes before his life was cut short at age 49.

Carl T. Meyer, 1940s (SJ-R)

Meyer, born March 4, 1895, in Havana, Ill., graduated from Springfield High School and the University of Illinois (in 1916), where he majored in architecture and belonged to Chi Phi architectural fraternity. Meyer married Antoinette Peters in 1917, and the couple raised their family in Springfield.

Initially, he worked for the fabled architectural firm of Helmle & Helmle, but ventured out on his own in about 1925. Meyer partnered with George J. Warner, and the pair opened Carl T. Meyer Architects in Springfield. Its first offices were on the eighth floor of the newly built Myers Brothers building at Fifth and Washington Streets. (In 1937, Meyer would plan and oversee an addition to the Jacksonville Myers Brothers store.)

Later in the mid-1920s, Meyer relocated to the Kerasotes Building, 104 N. Sixth St., a project he had designed in 1926. The three-story terra cotta-clad building was owned by local cinema pioneers Gus and Louis Kerasotes .

Meyer created a niche for his firm by redesigning aging cinemas in Central Illinois. Among these projects was the Strand, which he renovated for the Kerasotes chain in 1929, the Roxy (built as the Majestic and remodeled by Meyer in 1935), the Pantheon (built in 1926, remodeled 1936), the South Town (formerly the Empress, remodeled 1937), and the Senate (built as the Gaiety and remodeled in eighteen days in 1939).

In 1937, Meyer developed a proposal for the New Capitol Theater to be built in the 600 block of East Washington Street. The plan was to replace the original Capitol Theater that sat on the same site. Ultimately, the Capitol development was scrapped in favor of the State Theater – a design Meyer also completed.

In addition to his movie theater modernizations, Meyer was supervising architect when the interior of the Sangamon County Courthouse (today’s Old State Capitol) was rehabilitated in 1935. The project was funded by the county and the federal Works Progress Administration.

Piggly Wiggly opening, 1938 (SJ-R)

When Piggly Wiggly built its largest grocery in the city at 902 South Grand Ave. W., Meyer’s firm won the bid for its design. The grocery opened on January 28, 1938. As part of the opening promotion, “Aunt Jemima” visited the first Piggly Wiggly store in Springfield, at 417 E. Monroe St., to serve her “famous pancakes” to guests. (Aunt Jemima was a racially stereotyped Black woman – probably portrayed in Springfield by Rosa Washington Riles – whose image was used as the logo for the pancake mix.) The South Grand Piggly Wiggly later became the Avenue Food Shop.

When Lake Springfield was being developed in the 1930s, Meyer played a major role in designing lakeside improvements, including both the Lake Springfield Beach House and City Water, Light and Power’s original lakeside power plant and pumping station. A 2012 report by Fever River Research gives Meyer credit for adding Art Deco features to the CWLP facility. His design “was well received by both the public and the city administration,” Fever River says.

Meyer also drew up plans for the Lakeside Villa, reportedly the first private home built at the lake. Meyer wrote an article for the Illinois State Journal in May 1933 that said the Villa would be “one of the beauty spots on the lake.”

The seven-room, New England-style “cottage” was constructed for the Knights of Columbus on the lake’s western shore. The Knights gave the house away at their annual barbecue (a huge event at the time) in August. The winner, Joe Schingel, a 21-year-old clerk in a Danville candy store, sold the house that December to Springfield Mayor John “Buddy” Kapp.

Kerasotes Building, Sixth and Jefferson streets (on left), under construction in 1927 (Sangamon Valley Collection)

Another Meyer-led design was a plan for an amphitheater in Reservoir Park. At the time, the park was being re-purposed under the Civil Works Administration, a short-lived New Deal program during the early years of the Great Depression. The “bowl-like structure” (as reported) would have seated four thousand spectators.

Ultimately, however, local officials decided to build Lanphier High School on what previously had been the park, and Meyer won the contract to design the school. (The amphitheater funds were later used to help build Memorial Swimming Pool).

Perhaps the widest-reaching project Carl Meyer took on during his career was the development of the John Hay Homes in 1939 and 1940. The 600-apartment low-rise complex was designed to replace much of the so-called “badlands” slum neighborhood. Meyer was supervising architect for the master development.

World War II halted many design-build projects, including a proposed 4,500-seat sports stadium for the Springfield schools that Meyer worked on. Meyer did complete a new Sunday school in 1942 for Third Presbyterian Church, 1030 N. Seventh St. At the time, the congregation had 3,000 members, and the old school could not accommodate the increasing student body.

During the war years, Meyer was supervising architect for construction of the Sangamon Ordnance Plant near Illiopolis, which produced millions of artillery shells and bombs during World War II.

In 1944, Meyer also designed a new interior for Robert’s Fish Market (later Robert’s Seafood) at 629 E. Washington St. That appears to have been Meyer’s final completed work as a private architect. After closing his firm, Meyer was brought on as an engineer with Baker Manufacturing Company.

Meyer’s daughter, Dorothy Meyer Ewing, told the State Journal-Register in 2017 that her father caught pneumonia in January 1945 and was admitted to St. John’s Hospital. “(T)hey put him in the hospital, and he took his drawing board there and was doing work, with a fever and everything,” she said.

Meyer died a month later from complications of bronchial pneumonia. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery.

Contributor: William Cellini Jr. (Note: In his youth, Mr. Cellini lived in a 1920s Carl T. Meyer-designed home.)

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One Response to Carl T. Meyer, architect

  1. Lisa Riley says:

    What a wonderful article about my grandfather, Carl T. Meyer! I will be sure to share this with my mother (his daughter, Dorothy Meyer Ewing) and the rest of our family!

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