VA History Tidbit – Joseph H. Freedlander, Architect – Beaux Arts architecture – Mountain Home – National Preservation Month

In celebration of National Preservation Month

VA’s earliest hospitals were built as branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteers Soldiers. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Congress established the National Homes to provide medical care, rehabilitation, and a “real home” for thousands of Union veterans who survived the war, but whose disabilities or lack of family prevented them from finding suitable jobs and housing. The National Homes were purposely designed to be beautiful and welcoming and many notable architects were involved in creating that first generation of national veterans hospitals and homes. They were built in spacious, park-like settings which provided lots of opportunities for veterans to take relaxing strolls, get fresh air, and commune with nature. The National Home’s Mountain Branch, which opened in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, was designed by renowned Beaux Arts architect, Joseph H. Freedlander, and is unique among VA’s early hospitals.
image001Joseph Henry Freedlander was born on August 18, 1870 in New York City to Jewish immigrants who migrated from Germany. His father was a hat wholesaler and his mother was a homemaker. He attended public schools and was later accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1891 with a degree in architecture at the age of 20. He then became one of the first Americans to attend the prestigious Écoles des Beaux Arts in Paris and graduated in 1895. Beaux Arts was a distinctive design style that embellished classical revival architecture with lavish and ornate details. The Écoles des Beaux Arts was regarded as one of the superior fine arts school in the world, at the time, and its artistic influences spanned from the early 19th century until the mid-1930s.

After graduation, Freedlander returned to New York where he set up his private practice as a Beaux Arts atelier. In 1897 he was selected to design the St. Louis Club in St. Louis, Missouri—it was his first major work. In 1901 a national competition was announced by the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers’ Board of Managers for someone to design their new branch which was to be built in Tennessee. Out of six designs submitted, Freedlander’s design was selected in July 1901. He was 30 years old and newly married at the time and one of the youngest architects in the country.

In 1914 Freedlander was selected as Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor by the French Government—a distinctive order established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. During his career he was president of the Société des Architectes Diplomés’ American group, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, chairman of the annual Paris prize committee for the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, trustee of the Museum of French Art, and associate of the National Academy of Design. He was an active and distinguished member of architecture circles, including the American Institute of Architects and National Sculpture Society, where helped to promote and expand the presence of Beaux Arts architecture in America. He went on to design other significant public buildings including the Harlem Hospital in New York (1907), the Perry Memorial in Put-in-Bay, Ohio (1912), the French Institute (1929), the Fifth Avenue traffic towers (1929), Museum of the City of New York (1930), and the Bronx County Courthouse (1934). He also designed numerous private residences. He died of a heart attack near Madison Square Garden on November 23, 1943 at the age of 73.

Joseph H. Freedlander’s magnificent work from 112 years ago still stands at the former National Home’s Mountain Branch, which today is known as the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center. Its unique architecture and significant role in our country’s history earned its designation by the Secretary of the Interior in 2011 as one of America’s National Historic Landmarks. Please enjoy these images of Freedlander’s beautiful work at Mountain Home:

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Image of Joseph Freedlander from 1915 Brick Builder magazine; drawing of Carnegie Library from Art Institue of Chicago. In historical records his last name is predominantly spelled as Freedlander, but occasionally as Friedlander.

Historian, Veterans Health Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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