Wahrenberger, James (1855–1929)

By: Christopher Long

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: February 12, 2019

James Wahrenberger, architect, was born in Austin on August 9, 1855, the only son of John and Caroline (Klein) Wahrenberger. His father, a native of Switzerland, had immigrated to Texas in 1836 and settled in Austin. After the elder Wahrenberger's death in 1864, James was sent to the West Pennsylvania Academy, a Philadelphia preparatory school, where he completed the three-year course in two years. In 1872 he journeyed to Zürich, Switzerland, where he studied mathematics, and then to Karlsruhe, Germany, where he studied architecture at the Polytechnic for three years. After he graduated in 1876, he spent several months in Stuttgart and took an extended study trip to Italy and other countries. In 1877 he married Johanna Sequin, a native of Switzerland, with whom he had two children. In 1878 Wahrenberger returned to Austin and opened an architectural practice. He was the first Texas architect with a professional architecture degree. He worked briefly with John W. Glenn, with whom he designed the Methodist Episcopal Church in Austin (1878). In the early 1880s he formed a partnership with John Andrewartha. They completed several projects together, including the Fayette County Jail in La Grange (1881) and a competition project for the Capitol, which won second place. In 1883 Wahrenberger moved to San Antonio, where he lived and practiced for the remainder of his life. He formed a partnership with Albert Felix Beckmann, another German-trained architect. During their years of association Wahrenberger and Beckmann (as their firm was called) designed residences for some leading San Antonio families, among them the Edward Steves, Jr., house (1884) and the Carl F. A. Hummel house (1884). They also produced a number of commercial and public buildings in San Antonio, including the White Elephant Saloon on Alamo Square, Dr. Kalteyer's Drug Store on Military Plaza, the City-County Hospital on San Fernando Hill (1886), the Joske's Building (1887), the Turnverein (1891), the Reuter Building (1892), Turner's Hall at St. Louis College, and Our Lady of the Lake Academy. They supervised the construction of the old Lone Star Brewery (1895–1904) in San Antonio. They also designed the Customs and Warehouse (1891) and Federal Building (1891) in Piedras Negras, Coahuila. The partnership ended around 1890, when Wahrenberger and Beckmann established separate offices. In 1905 Wahrenberger's son Frank joined his father's practice, but the partnership proved short-lived because of Frank's premature death in 1910. Wahrenberger's other well-known works include the George W. Littlefield house in Austin (1893) and the spire of St. Joseph's Church (1898) in San Antonio. Wahrenberger's first wife died in 1906, and the following year he returned to Switzerland to marry his wife's widowed sister, whom he had known during his student days. After her death in 1919 he again went to Europe and married a third time. In addition to his architectural practice Wahrenberger was also active in city government. He drew up the first building ordinance for the city of San Antonio and served for four years as the first San Antonio city building inspector. He was a Catholic and a charter member of Council No. 786 of the Knights of Columbus. He also belonged to the American Institute of Architects and was an honorary member of the Texas State Association of Architects. He died in San Antonio on October 22, 1929, and was buried there.

Chris Carson and William B. McDonald, eds., A Guide to San Antonio Architecture (San Antonio Chapter, American Institute of Architects, 1986). Files, Architectural Drawings Collection, Architecture and Planning Library, University of Texas at Austin. Memorial and Genealogical Record of Southwest Texas (Chicago: Goodspeed, 1894; rpt., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). San Antonio Express, May 10, 1918, October 23, 1929. Henry F. and Elsie R. Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased) (Los Angeles: New Age, 1956).

  • Architecture
  • Architects

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

Christopher Long, “Wahrenberger, James,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wahrenberger-james.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
February 12, 2019