John Virginius Bennes, Architect [1867-1943]
Born in Peru, Illinois on August 23, 1867, John Virginius Bennes was raised in Chicago, where he attended public school. He studied at the University of Chicago and also spent a year at the School of Fine Arts in Prague. He began his architectural career in Chicago in 1890, working in his father's office prior to opening his own office. It may be assumed that given his Chicago roots, he was influenced by the works of Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and the 1891-93 Columbian Exposition.
In 1899, while still in Chicago, Bennes married Anice Smalley of Hooperston, Illinois. The couple then moved to Baker City, Oregon the following year. Attracted by the stories of gold discovery around Baker, he invested his savings in a gold mine and started his architectural practice in Baker City. There Bennes prospered and received commissions for many houses and commercial buildings in the area, including the Elks building.
In 1906 Bennes again moved, this time to Portland where he was to practice for the next 36 years. Upon arriving, he formed a partnership with Erick W. Hendricks and Willard F. Tobey to create the firm of Bennes, Hendricks & Tobey. In 1910, on the departure of Tobey, the firm became for a short time Bennes, Hendricks & Thompson with the addition of Lewis Irvine Thompson. In 1911 the firm was Bennes and Hendricks, and in 1914 Bennes was practicing without a partner. This continued until 1925, when he took into partnership Harry A. Herzog who had first worked for Bennes in 1912 and returned to the firm in 1922. In 1931, with the depression, the firm broke up and Bennes practiced alone for the remainder of his career. In 1943 Bennes left Portland, moving to Los Angeles because of poor health. He died there on November 29, 1943 at the age of 76, survived by his wife and a son.
Bennes was a member of the Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, serving as vice president 1920-21 and as president in 1922. He was a member of the Oregon State Board of Architect Examiners from 1923 to 1937, serving as vice president in 1923 and 1935, and as president from 1924 to 1933. Bennes received license no. 17 under the grandfather clause when licensing of architects commenced in Oregon in 1919.
John Bennes, alone and with his various partners, designed a large volume of work in Portland and on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. Over 70 buildings have been identified as his work either alone or in association. Much of his early work, in and around 1910, was residential. Here he worked in a variety of styles but his most interesting was Prairie style, which ranged from a literal example to his own personal interpretations of the style. Notable examples include his own 1911 residence, the 1909 DeLahunt House, the 1917 Maegley House, and the Carrie Russell House.
In terms of commercial work, Bennes was again prolific producing a large number of hotels and apartment buildings. These included the 1908 Cornelius Hotel, 1909 Blumauer and Frank Drug Warehouse, the 1910 Lowengart Building, 1912 Butte Hotel, and 1912 Arthur Hotel. Later work includes the landmark Hollywood Theater of 1923 and several Art Deco apartments of the early 1930s.
† John. M. Tess, President, Heritage Investment, Corp,, H. Liebes & Co. Building, Multnomah County, OR, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.