Abrom Dombar (1912 - 2009)
Abe Dombar early gravitated to art, taking drawing classes and doing illustrations for his school magazines both in the Avondale School and then, from 1926-30, at Hughes High School. Working part-time as a delivery boy in downtown Cincinnati, Abe became interested in design and buildings and entered the University of Cincinnati to study architecture, where he remained from 1930-32. In the UC Library he discovered books on Frank Lloyd Wright. One of his instructors, Professor Lane, encouraged his interest by presenting him a copy of Wright’s “Autobiography.” While at UC Abe worked as a cooperative education student in the display department at Shillito’s department store and in the office of Cincinnati architects Rapp and Mecham. Employed at the latter firm was architect Arthur J. Kelsey who also taught part-time at the University, was an early friend and Cincinnati enthusiast of Frank Lloyd Wright, and encouraged Abe's interest in Wright (see, for example, Kelsey's c. 1936-37, Wrightian-style pavilion for Burnet Woods Park, with its heavy stone piers and low, cantilevered and hipped roof--one of the earliest Wrightian-style organic buildings in Cincinnati).
Abe Dombar student drawing published in The Applied Arts Review 1932, University of Cincinnati
In July, 1932, Abe Dombar learned that Wright was speaking at the Netherland Plaza Hotel in downtown Cincinnati. According to Abe's own account, he attempted unsuccessfully to enter the lecture room to hear Wright. While waiting outside, he accidentally met Wright himself. Wright took the young architecture student into the lecture and spent time with him afterward, exploring downtown Cincinnati and buying him lunch at the Netherland Plaza (all the while criticizing every feature of the landmark Art Deco hotel). Before they parted, Wright invited Abe to join his new Taliesin Fellowship in Wisconsin.
Abe left UC and arrived at Taliesin in October, 1932, as one of its earliest charter members. Enthusiastic at first, Abe became a favorite of Wright and his wife Olgivanna; Wright had Abe oversee ongoing construction at Taliesin and the young man received excellent training in drafting and design. But his relationship with the Wrights eventually turned prickly. Abe described himself as an “introvert” and had a romantic temperament. He wanted to find a wife, while Wright discouraged his apprentices from marrying as he felt it would lessen their contributions to Taliesin. Wright forced everyone to attend Sunday chapel, which sat badly with his non-Christian apprentices. He also expressed occasional anti-Semitic prejudices, criticizing Abe’s enthusiasm for a Jewish state in Palestine by saying that there should never be a Jewish state as “The Jews were made to give their expertise to the whole world.” However, several of Wright’s clients of the 1930s were progressive Jewish families. Nearly a quarter of the early Taliesin apprentices were Jewish too. Abe became a close friend of fellow Jewish apprentice Edgar Kaufmann, Junior. Abe’s brother Ben also arrived to study at Taliesin in 1934. However, Abe left Taliesin in 1935. Between his two years at the University of Cincinnati and his three years at Taliesin, he accumulated the five years of study normal for architecture students. But Wright seldom reacted well when apprentices left him and he harbored resentment against young Dombar, stating that he had not completed his apprenticeship. In 1936, Abe went to Pittsburgh, PA, where Edgar J. Kaufmann, Senior, the father of Abe's fellow apprentice and Taliesin friend, employed him as an exhibit designer for the Kaufmann department stores. While in Pittsburgh, Abe designed some houses, including a summerhouse for Edgar Kaufmann Senior’s cousin and speculative houses for Edgar Kaufmann, Junior. He may have designed other houses in the Pittsburgh area as well.
In 1935-36, Wright designed the famous Kaufmann family house, “Fallingwater” at Bear Run, PA. Kaufmann Senior requested that Abe Dombar supervise its construction and Wright agreed. However, Wright refused to give Abe a salary for his work at Fallingwater, assuming that the Kaufmanns would pay him, and the instructions and working drawings for this structurally complex building were slow to arrive. Wright replaced Abe on the Fallingwater site with apprentice Bob Mosher, later to be replaced by Edgar Tafel.
Abe Dombar returned to Cincinnati. From 1938-41, he again worked as a display designer at Shillito’s Department Store and as a draftsman and construction supervisor for Cincinnati builder George Thurner. In 1940, Abe married his wife Sarah and, in 1941, began work at the Aircraft Division of the Baldwin Piano Factory, which had been converted for wartime use. In 1943, during WW II, he entered the Army. In 1944-46 he was in Europe. In 1945, he studied for 10 weeks at the London School of Architecture and spent time in both France and Germany where, in 1945-46, he worked briefly with the Engineering Section on the reconstruction of Berlin before being mustered out of the Army in 1946. Returning to Cincinnati, he worked for the Steelcraft company on the design of prefabricated, post-war housing and other steel buildings. Then, in 1946-47, he opened his own practice.
Nathan Abrams house, 4527 Perth Lane, Paddock Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio 45221 by Abrom Dombar, 1949. Photograph from From the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC [Credit: Susan Rissover]
Benjamin House, 7001 Knoll road, Amberley Village, Cincinnati, Ohio 45237 by Abrom Dombar, 1949-50. Photograph from the University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC [Credit: Susan Rissover]
Abe Dombar’s work awaits more careful study and assessment, but many of his residential designs echo those of Wright, with low, asymmetrical compositions; deeply overhanging hipped roofs, sometimes in combination with flat roofs; natural materials; and careful integration into the landscape. Many of his houses are small-to-medium in size, like Wright’s “Usonian” houses. Abe Dombar’s commercial buildings are characterized by dramatic compositions and daring structure, such as his initial designs for the “Sugar and Spice” drive-in restaurant (c. 1950-51). Its widely-spaced brick piers were intended to carry deep, projecting roofs that rise at their corners and are supported by tension cables anchored to a central, structural tower.
Sugar and Spice Drive-in Restaurant, 4381 Reading Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, drawing by Abrom Dombar, c.1950-51. Drawing reproduced from "Abrom Dombar Autobiography" (For as-built version, see below)
Leonard Dahlman house, 2656 Fair Oaks Lane, Cincinnati, Ohio 45237, by Abrom Dombar, 1952. Drawing reproduced from "Abrom Dombar Autobiography"
According to Abe Dombar himself, in the years from 1947-60, he designed over 50 residences (of which an unknown number were built) and around 20 other buildings, including warehouses, factories, restaurants, professional offices, apartment buildings, commercial buildings, a savings and loan building, and the remodeling of a synagogue. Between 1960 and 1970, he designed two dozen more residences and around 30 further non-residential buildings. Abe was 60 years old in 1972 and seemed to lose interest in his architectural practice. Although he continued to work professionally through the 1970s, his commissions began to slow and he stated: “Although I was always busy in the 70s with several dozen customers per year, the work was not as exciting as seeing our family grow.” His “Autobiography” lists no projects or clients after 1969.
Harold Frankel house, Huntington, West Virginia, by Abrom Dombar, 1956. Drawing reproduced from "Abrom Dombar Autobiography"
It would seem that Abe Dombar must have designed between 150-200 buildings over his 30+ year career; it is currently unknown how many were built and how many survive.
Rand house, 2326 Section Road, Amberley Village, Cincinnati, Ohio 45237 by Abrom Dombar, 1958-59. Photograph by Susan Rissover [or Chris Magee] University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC
Rand house, interior, 2326 Section Road, Amberley Village, Cincinnati, Ohio 45237 by Abrom Dombar, 1958-59. Photograph by Susan Rissover [or Chris Magee?] University of Cincinnati Digital Collections & Repositories @UC
Abrom Dombar: Partial List of Jobs, Clients, and Buildings
[This list is composed primarily from “Abrom Dombar: Autobiography,” a compilation of writings and reminiscences by Abrom Dombar, composed and privately printed by his family for his 83rd birthday on April 29, 1995. (Copy in UC/DAAP Cincinnati Modernism Collection) Entries on architectural commissions are cryptic, often listing only a client name, though sometimes listing the building type and location. As research proceeds we will attempt to give more complete information and to indicate whether or not the building was built and, if so, its location and whether it survives.]
Mid-1930s (post-Taliesin) through mid-1940s
1936, Assistant Display Architect for Kaufmann Department Store, 5th Avenue, Pittsburgh
1936, Supervised construction of “Fallingwater,” Kaufmann House, Bear Run, PA; stated that he also designed other houses in the Pittsburg area, including the Bachman Summer House in the "Mill Run mountain woods” [for a cousin of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr.]
1938-41, Display Designer, John Shillito Department Store, Cincinnati, OH
1939-41, Draftsman and Construction Foreman, George E. Thurner, Builder, Cincinnati, OH [this included the possible design, drafting, and construction of a six-unit apartment building, the “Ina Plaza" at Luray and Paul Aves., adjacent to Eden Park, for Cincinnati clients Peter J. and Ina Zimpelman, who resided in the largest apartment]
1941-42, traveling job with Leshner Corporation (a Hamilton, OH textile manufacturer that supplied cleaning cloths to the U.S. Navy during and after WW II; its President, Boris Petricoff, was later accused of producing substandard products for government contracts. AD states he was “not happy” with this job)
1942-43, “War job” (WW II; presumably as designer / draftsman) at Baldwin Piano Factory (repurposed as an Aircraft Factory), Cincinnati, OH
1943-46, In U. S. Army during WW II; including posting in Alexandria, VA; studying architecture for 10 weeks in London; and architect for U. S. Army, Berlin Headquarters, Engineering Section, assisting with reconstruction efforts
Late 1940s - early 1950s
[most of these projects have no exact dates; street addresses are given when known; all projects presumed to be in the Cincinnati area unless otherwise noted]
Design for Abrom and Sarah Dombar Residence, Clinton Springs [proposed]
Abrom and Sarah Dombar Residence, 1948, 4526 Bristol Lane, Cincinnati, OH
Herbert Appel Residence, Forest Park, Cincinnati
Phil Mehl Gas and Service Station, Lexington and Reading Road, Cincinnati, OH
Herman Petricoff Warehouse [presumably Cincinnati, OH]
Philip Schuman Residence
Furniture designs for Charles Lowenthal [President of Philcraft furniture and cabinetry manufactory, Cincinnati, OH]
Loading dock addition, Queen City Barrel Company
Unspecified work for Jack [Joseph?] Levine, Builder, Cincinnati, OH
Sugar and Spice Drive In Restaurant (designed 1950-51), 4381 Reading Road, Cincinnati, OH 45229 [designs published in July, 1951 American Restaurant Magazine] (As built by Abrom Dombar?)
Church of the Nazarene [unspecified work]
Zero Roofing [facility?]
Harvey Richmond Residence
Robert (“Bob”) Elkus Residence
Benjamin Harkavy Residence
Frank Adams Warehouse
Julian Adams Residence, 7191 Aracoma Dr.
Irving and Betty Benjamin Residence, 1949, 7001 Knoll Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45237 [see Cincinnati Magazine 1 Sept. 2008] (illustrated above)
Walter Paul Residence
Phil[ip?] Zemsky Residence
J. W. Brown apartment building
Herbert Piker Residence
Samuel Zax Residence
Fritz Frank Residence
Henry Lederer Residence
Morton Keller Residence
“Harry’s Corner Stores” [unknown whether one or more building/s; presumably the decades-old carpet and flooring business, “Harry’s Corner”]
Ted Gittelman Residence
Apollo Savings and Loan Company Building [possibly at 2298 Losantiville Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45237]
Dr. Ackerman Residence
Sidney Warm Residence
Alvin Dunbar Residence
Nathan Abrams Residence, 1949, 4527 Perth Lane, Cincinnati, OH 45221 [a small, Wrightian-style Usonian house, featured in: Polly Cramer, Cincinnati Post, Jan 9, 1951] (illustrated above)
Harold Wagner Residence
Apartments for Conrad Sexferth
Charles Messer Residence, alterations
Benjamin Harkavy Residence (two sets of preliminary drawings)
Samuel Ackerman Residence, alterations
Arthur Rabkin Residence, 1101 E. Aracoma Dr. (and other projects for this client, including loading docks)
Harry Goldstein [unspecified architectural work]
Doctors’ Offices for Drs. Daniel Osher, Sidney Peerless, Henry Lederer
Leonard Dahlman Residence, 2656 Fair Oaks Lane 45237, Cincinnati, OH (illustrated above)
Al Harris Residence
Harold Wagner Residence, 3980 Winding Way
Al Butchkus Residence
Val Freedman Residence
Harold Benjamin Residence, 6782 East Farm Acres Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45237
Charles Messer Residence, alterations
Dr. Melvin Fishman Residence, 1230 Stratford Pl.
Max Bernstein Residence
Harold Benjamin Residence [begun 1952, completed 1953; see above], 6782 E. Farm Acres Dr.
Leonard Dahlman Residence [2656 Fair Oaks Lane 45237—second reference, see above, 1952]
Calvin Kaplan and Arthur Katz proposed residence [unexecuted?]
Herb Colker Residence [planning; not built?]
Harold Straus Residence, Huntington, WV (1954-55)
Alvin Durbar Residence, 3500 Davis Ln. [second reference; further work?]
Church of the Nazarene, 3804 Watterson [second reference; further work?]
Helen A. Levin Residence, plans [unknown whether built]
Abe and Ella Kaplan Residence
Louis Feinberg Synagogue; remodeling of Center Building
Manny Mayerson Residence
Sam Mayerson Residence
Sam[uel] Zax Residence, 1228 Westminster [second reference; further work?]
Designs for a house for Gerald B. and Rosalie Tonkens, Amberely Village; unexecuted; the Tonkenses rejected these designs and went to Frank Lloyd Wright who designed their house in 1955 [See Tonkens House, 6980 Knoll Road, Cincinnati, OH]
Abrom and Sarah Dombar Residence, Wyoming [begun 1956, completed 1957, sold 1958]
Arthur Rabkin Residence [second reference; further work?]
Howard Kaplan Residence
Ernest Schaengold Residence, 6800 Meadow Ridge Ln.
Judge [Henry?] Bettman Residence
Harry Noiman Residence
Hatchet Lake Hotel, Covington, KY [for Shirley Bernstein]
David Rand Residence, 2326 Section Road, Amberley Village 45237 [completed 1959] (illustrated above)
Lou Zimov Residence alterations
Apartments for Al Novick
Friedman Furniture (Tri County)
Jake Sweeny No. 2 Showroom
McIntosh Restaurant [a restoration? proposed design?]
Frisch's Big Boy Restaurant, Spring Grove Avenue (for Maypole, Inc.)
Jim O'Neal Ford
H. R. White [a builder? 50 clients from 1959-1965; residences?]
Murray Guttman, for Vogue Construction and Prime Construction [speculative houses?]
Art[hur?] Brand [residence?]
"Screw" Andrews Residence, Coldspring [OH? KY?]
Kanter Corporation Medical Building
Lou[is?] Lucas [residence?]
Murray Guttman Residence, 7380 Laurel Oak Ln.
Du Covna Construction Company [25 apartment buildings? or a 25-unit apartment building?]
Hollywood Motel addition for Sidney Meyers
Kneseth Israel Synagogue (for Rabbi Silver), 1513 Section Rd.
Sportsman Club (for "Screw" Andrews)
George Thurner, Jr. [residence?]
Sidney Meyers Residence, 7560 Elbrook Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45237 (begun 1961, completed 1962)
Mr. Du Covna [Du Covna Construction Company], Chestunt Hill Project and Terry Homes
Synagogue, Hebrew School, Summit Road
Sam[uel?] Hyman, 50 bed NH [Nursing Home?] for Kinderlehru
Harold Byer Residence
Losantiville Country Club Rev[isions?]
Sidney Meyers Residence, 7560 Elbrook Ave.
Jake Sweeney [residence? business?]
Golden Avenue Apartments, 3203 Golden Ave. [44 units; Mr D. (Du Covna?) Realty Co., drawing in Abrom Dombar “Autobiography"]
Marvin Guttman Residence
Warsaviak Nursing Home
Hy[man?] Goldfarb Prop[erties?], 56 [unit?] Apartment for Greenland Place
East and Co[mpany?] Apartments
Seidner NH [Nursing Home?]
Kay Furniture, alterations and addition
Al Novick Apartments [second reference, or second commission?; see above, 1958]
Irv[ing?] Benjamin Restaurant
Tom Green #276[?] Residence
Adath Israel Synagogue, Cornerstone [laid] Oct. 24, 1965 [Goodman, Lipson & Wallace, project architects, with Benjamin Dombar, associate architect]
Signer Bottle [business building for Wayne or Harry Signer?; see above and below]
Mose Marcus [residence?]
Wayne Signer Residence, 2548 Twigwood
Ohave Shalom--Charles Messer [?]
Dr. Larry Essig Residence, 3185 Long Meadow Ln.
Cincinnati Sheepskin Company [store?], for Ben[jamin?] Ritter
Joe [Joseph?] Robbins Residence, 7330 Laurel Oak Ln.
Ike Janicke [residence?]
Sid Mellman Residence, 2445 Twigwood
Perkins Warehouse Addition
Duro Bag [office? factory?]
Harry Signer Residence [re. work for the Signers, see above]
[Although Abe Dombar stated that he practiced architecture into the 1970s, his "Autobiography" lists no individual projects or clients after 1969.]