Adolf Cluss in the 1860s
Admiral John Dahlgren, Commander of the U.S. Navy Yard, one of the most important supporter of Adolf Cluss in the 1850s and 1860s
Architect Adolf Cluss on the construction site of the National Museum, 1880
Career and Profession
For additional information about Cluss’s biography and career in Washington, see also Adolf Cluss.
For the first six months after his arrival in the United States, Cluss lived in New York and improved his English-language skills. Looking for work, he traveled to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. In the capital he found a position as technical draftsman for the US Coast Survey and worked during the summer of 1849 on board a naval vessel surveying the coastlines of Maryland and Virginia. At the Coast Survey, a colleague of his was the German immigrant William Wuerdemann, who, some four decades later, asked Cluss to design a private residence for his family.
In 1850, Cluss moved from being a technical draftsman to the Ordnance Department of the Washington Navy Yard. In this position, he designed cannons and smelting ovens, among other things. It is likely that he was also responsible for the design of the New Ordnance Foundry.
In this period, Cluss was hardly satisfied with either his professional position or with life in Washington. He himself wrote that he hated his position at the Navy Yard. He sought other ways of earnings a living and played with the idea of returning to Europe. In 1852, he asked his father for money to start up a business as a bookseller. His father responded by suggesting that he set up a cement factory and brickyard, but Adolf Cluss claimed that would be "zu schmuzig" (too dirty).
In early 1855, Cluss was able to find another position and moved, still as a technical draftsman, to the US Treasury Department. His impressions of this period, gathered over a total of three years of employment there, were published in a critical pamphlet in 1869 by the American Institute of Architects.
After his journey to Europe in 1859, when Cluss received his share of the inheritance left by his father, Cluss settled for a time in Philadelphia and co-founded a brewery with a friend named Fischer. The business soon failed and Cluss returned to the Ordnance Department at the Washington Navy Yard, working closely with its commander, Admiral John A. Dahlgren, known in military history for his work in modernizing naval weapons.
In his private architectural practice from 1862 to 1889, Adolf Cluss designed nearly 90 buildings including schools, churches, large-scale government and commercial buildings, and many residences.
While still employed at the Navy Yard, and in the midst of the American Civil War, Cluss founded in 1862 his own architectural office together with his fellow German immigrant, Joseph Wildrich von Kammerhueber. During the firm's first year, Kammerhueber worked full time out of an office in Cluss's home on Second Street, NW. Cluss continued working at the Navy Yard for another year while working part time in the new firm. The professional breakthrough came in 1864 with the construction of Washington's first public school building, the Wallach School.
During his time as an independent architect, Cluss worked with many different partners. After his stormy relationship with Kammerhueber came to an end in 1868, Cluss worked by himself or with only a few employees until 1877, when he set up a new partnership with architect Frederick Daniel. This arrangement came to an early end just one year later. From 1879 to 1889, Cluss worked in partnership with the architect Paul Schulze. In 1867 Cluss was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, which elected him to its executive board in 1890.
Further Information about Cluss as Architect.
Adolf Cluss served in government positions with the District of Columbia and federal governments and frequently competed for commissions for new government buildings. He designed many public schools for the District of Columbia, federal buildings for the Departments of Agriculture and Interior and for the Army and Navy, a city hall in Alexandria, Virginia, and competed unsuccessfully for other commissions for federal and local government buildings (see Design Submissions). In the early 1870s, Cluss found himself named to a public position again. In 1870, he was named head of the Bureau of Buildings of the City of Washington. One year later, he was named City Engineer and member of the Board of Public Works, a position which he had to leave after a scandal in 1874.
Further Information about Cluss as Engineer
From 1889 to 1894, Cluss, already retired from his private practice, took on another public position, that of an Inspector of Public Buildings for the United States Government.
Further Information about Cluss as Inspector of Public Buildings
After retiring from his architectural practice and his federal government service in the early 1890s, Cluss received appointments as a builder or general contractor for major projects. He superintended projects for the Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1890s (see No. 92 and 93) and for the Hearst School for Girls in 1900. General John A. Wilson of the Army Corps of Engineers and New York architect Robert Gibson, who designed the Hearst School, both knew Cluss well and valued his reputation for insisting on the highest standards of workmanship and materials. Undoubtedly, they felt more comfortable knowing that a man of Cluss's vast knowledge of the construction business would be supervising the day-to-day work. For his part, Cluss seemed in his 70s to be unable to accept an easy and quiet retired life. Cluss had also worked as a builder in the early 1870s at a much busier time in his life when he superintended the construction of the District of Columbia jail for the federal government's Supervising Architect, A.B. Mullett.
In his later years Cluss also helped to finance further residential building in Washington. At the time of his death in 1905, he had invested more than half of all his assets in home mortgages with one company that built and financed the sale of modest middle class houses in the city.