Born in Germany, Paul Gerhardt, Sr., attended the Royal Academy in Leipzig and received a degree in engineering at the Technical University of Hanover in 1884. According to a report produced by the Chicago Commission on Landmarks, Gerhardt “came to the United States in 1890 at the behest of the German Textile Corporation to design and construct spinning mills” and “designed one of the largest mills in the United States at the time – the Botany Worsted Mill in Passaic, New Jersey.” He relocated to Chicago in 1893, and became a naturalized citizen two years later.
In 1898, he married Marie Sommer, the daughter of a prominent German immigrant who served on the Cook County Board. Gerhardt maintained a busy architectural practice in Chicago. The 1910 Who’s Who in Chicago described him as the designer of many commercial buildings including warehouses and hotels.
From 1910 until 1913, Gerhardt served as the Cook County Architect. His work spanned from designing the concrete drive and gutters for the Oak Forest Infirmary to preparing plans for the new Cook County Hospital. After his tenure with the county, Gerhardt’s practice continued to thrive. He designed many buildings in the 1920s, including the Lindemann & Hoverson Company Showroom and Warehouse at 2620 West Washington Boulevard, which is a designated Chicago Landmark.
Paul Gerhardt, Sr., served as the architect to the Board of Education from 1928 through 1931. His work included supervising reconstruction and repair work on the defective schools, such as O’Keefe, Nightingale, and others, that had been constructed just before Gerhardt took over as head of the architectural department. He also designed a number of new schools, many of which are now Chicago Landmarks, such as DuSable, Amundsen, Parker, Von Steuben, and Lane Technical high schools.