Franzheim, Kenneth (1890–1959)

By: Stephen Fox

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: February 10, 2017

Kenneth Franzheim, architect, was born on October 28, 1890, in Wheeling, West Virginia, the son of Charles W. and Lida Riddle (Merts) Franzheim. He graduated from Lawrenceville School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B. A. 1913), then worked from 1913 until 1917 for the Boston architect Welles Bosworth. He subsequently served for two years at Ellington Field outside Houston, Texas, as a first flight lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps. On May 12, 1919, he married Elizabeth Frances Simms; they had three children, one of whom, Kenneth Franzheim II, served as ambassador to New Zealand, Western Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga during President Richard M. Nixon's administration.

Franzheim became a partner of the Detroit architect C. Howard Crane in 1920. He worked for Crane in Chicago, then in Boston. In 1925 he began independent practice in New York, where he specialized in the design of large commercial buildings and airports. He was retained in 1928 by Jesse H. Jones to collaborate with Alfred C. Finn on the design of the thirty-seven-story Gulf Building, Houston (1929), and to design a temporary coliseum for the Democratic national convention in Houston. Also for Jones, Franzheim designed a forty-two-story office building (1930) and a twenty-story apartment building (1931) in midtown Manhattan. A second round of major projects in Houston, undertaken with John F. Staub, led Franzheim to move his practice from New York to Houston in 1937, although he maintained a New York office until 1940. From 1941 until 1944 Franzheim worked in Washington, D.C. Upon returning to Houston he established himself as the foremost commercial architect in the city, a position he held until his death. Most of the buildings that he produced in Houston were examples of modernistic architecture. Ben A. Dore, another former partner of C. Howard Crane, was his chief designer.

Franzheim's major buildings in Houston were the seventeen-story Humble Tower (1936, with Staub); the second Hermann Hospital and the Hermann Professional Building (1949, with Hedrick and Lindsley); the eighteen-story Prudential Building (1952); the twenty-one-story Texas National Bank building (1955); and the twenty-four-story Bank of the Southwest building (1956). Franzheim was also responsible for the twenty-one-story National Bank of Commerce building in San Antonio (1957, with Atlee B. and Robert M. Ayres. Franzheim's best known Houston building was Foley's Department Store (1947, 1957), for which he won an Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects in 1950.

Franzheim was particularly interested in incorporating works of art in his architecture, and this led to collaboration with the artists Wheeler Williams, Peter Hurd, Leo Friedlander, and Rufino Tamayo. Franzheim was the first chairman of the board of the Allied Arts Association of Houston and was an honorary member of the National Sculpture Society. In 1949 he was elected to fellowship in the American Institute of Architects, the same year that he served as chairman of the institute's annual convention, which was held in Houston, and as president of the Houston Chapter of the AIA. Franzheim also was an honorary member of the Mexican Society of Architects; after 1945 he maintained a second home in Mexico City. He was a member and deacon of the First Presbyterian Church of Houston. He belonged to the Bayou Club, the Houston Country Club, the Coronado Club, and the Ramada Club. Franzheim died in Mexico on March 13, 1959, and is buried in Glenwood Cemetery, Houston.

American Architects Directory, 1955. Joseph L. Clark, Texas Gulf Coast: Its History and Development (4 vols., New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1955). Who Was Who in America, Vol. 3.

  • Architecture
  • Architects
Time Periods:
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Stephen Fox, “Franzheim, Kenneth,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022,

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January 1, 1995
February 10, 2017

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