Martin Geertz | Bluegrass Architects to Know

Martin Geertz 1854-1946

Largely forgotten, the architect Martin Geertz’s handiwork has outlived his legacy in the Bluegrass. Some of his works have even been misattributed in recent years. Arriving in Lexington, Kentucky in the 1870s, Geertz quickly developed a reputation for his versatility, designing buildings including “apartment flats”, lovely estates, cottages, schools, and businesses. Active from the 1890s-1920s, he worked in a variety of styles from Queen Anne to Beaux Arts to modernist, adapting his skills to the needs of his clients.

Geertz worked independently and although not as prolific as his contemporaries Frankel & Curtis, he earned the business of many prominent citizens and served as architect-in-residence to the Lexington Lumber Company.

A native of Lubeck, Germany, Geertz had lived in Lexington for over 60 years when he died at age 91. A founding member of St. John’s Lutheran, Geertz was proud of his heritage and once owned The Vienna Bakery & Restaurant.

One of Gertz’s better-known projects, The “Colored Orphan Industrial Home” was constructed on the Georgetown Pike. The building is still in use today as the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center. His courthouse for Mercer County was incorporated in the courthouse building of today.

Another still-standing building is 193-199 North Limestone, today home to businesses like Le Deauville. Originally constructed for Alsace immigrant Pierre Muth to house his large bakery operation, it also has been called home by many contemporary architects. Famed French architect (later Dean of UK’s College of Architecture) José Oubrerie resided there, as well as architecture professor Michael Barry. One-time owners Maria Dallerba-Ricci and Leonardo Ricci were also architects. Artist Louis Bickett, the building’s manager, while not an architect, provided further aesthetic gravitas (and an impressive fire escape garden).

Residences by Martin Geertz still standing include neighboring homes on South Ashland for Mr. & Mrs. Overton H. Chenault (owners of the racehorse Spendthrift) and for Mrs. Chenault’s sister, Sarah McCann Elmore. A Beaux Arts masterpiece for J.W. Parrish still impresses in Midway. At least one of his store/apartments still exists at 1002 Aurora Avenue.

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