JAROSLAV JAN "JJ" KABATNIK
Known as J.J. to those close to him, Jaroslav Jan Kabatnik was born May 28, 1907 in Dol. Bukovsko, Bohemia, the largest historical region of the Czech lands in what is today knows as Czech Republic.
With his early life in an unstable eastern Europe and the lack of descendants (he and his wife had no children), mystery envelopes the man whose known details reveal as fascinating.
A lover of ballroom dancing and a clearly talented architect, Kabatnik and his wife Mila arrived in Greensboro in 1953 and quickly grew to a "society couple" of prominence. Known as "the refugee Czech Olympian," Kabatnik worked for the famous Ed Lowenstein and appears to have partnered exclusively with top builder Eugene Gulledge for the latter parts of his career.
As the research effort into Kabatnik continues, what is known of him is below.
Born in Bohemia (later knows as Czech Republic.
Represented his country (Bohemia/Czechoslovia) in Olympic Games (Hitler's Olympics)
"Refugee" in the Rastaat/Baden refugee camp in Germany.
Listed as passenger onboard a ship of refugees being re-established in Casablanca, Morocco
Arrived to New York harbor aboard the "Liberte" ship to re-settle in Chicago.
Citizenship/Declaration documents show him a new resident of Greensboro
Worked as an architect for various architects in Greensboro including Herman McLawhorn, Adrian P. Stout and J. Burton WIlder
Worked as an architect for the famous Ed Lowenstein where he joined Eugene Gulledge team to build the famous Commencement House and design 117 Keeling.
Left Lowenstein firm to join Eugene Gulledge's Suprerior Construction Company as an architect during the construction of 117 Keeling.
Continued his partnership with Eugene Gulledge as they won American Home in North Carolina's "Best Home of the Money" two years in a row.
The Kabatnik/Gulledge partnership appears to continue with mentions in a newspaper articles as creating several important projects in Greensboro, High Point, Oak Ridge and Burlington.
Kabatnik's wife Mila died.
Kabatnik dies in Greensboro.
L-R: Edward Loewenstein (Architect), Eugene Gulledge (Builder), and believed to be Jaroslav Kabatnik (Architect). The man on the right appears in a few photographs with these men at a time we know they all partnered. This photo's caption reads: "The supervisors of Greensboro's Commencement House study the blueprints in 1958. This photo appeared in a Commencement House feature published in McCall's Magazine." Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, UNC-G University Libraries
THE EARLY YEARS
Very little is known about Kabatnik's life and experience prior to his arrival in the United States. We know he was born in Bohemia and studied Engineering and Architecture at the University of Prague. He married Jarmila "Mila" Cihak, who we see by his side the remainder of her life.
In 1936, we find him representing Bohemia/Czecholslavakia in the Summer Olympic Games. These were the famous games in Berlin that celebrated rising dictator Adolph Hitler. These particular Olympics would become dubbed "Hitler's Games." Future articles about this architect refers to him as the "Czech Olympian Refugee."
Eastern Europe following World War I was unsettled at best. In March of 1939, Germans had moved into Czechoslovakia capturing the Bohemian territory Kabatnik called home. Hitler himself stood at the palace in Prague proclaiming the Bohemia and Moravia territories under his control. By 1940 much of the former Czechoslovakia was falling under the control of the Third Reich.
In February 1948, Communists took power in a famous coup d’etat. Where Jaroslav and his wife were and what they dealt with is unknown by this researcher, packed away in archives overseas. As a highly-educated intellectual, a member of the Olympic team and Army veteran, like other well-known opponents of communism, they faced persecution.
Following the coup, thousands of Czechs (as well as other nationalities) started escaping from the country. Hundreds left every day. A majority of those people found themselves displaced and living in refugee camps in Germany. For the Kabatnik’s, that camp was at Rastaat/Baden. A list of “displaced persons” from Rastaat is where we find the Kabatniks on Dec. 3, 1948 among Hungarian and Polish refugees being resettled in Casablanca, Morocco. They would live for the next few years.
THE JOURNEY TO NORTH CAROLINA
No record has surface thus far that will help tell the story of the Kabatnik's time in Morocco. But a study of Czech refugees during that time shows only a small group of around 100 escaped to Morocco. According to notes from the Mutual Security Act Extension: Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Relations (US Congress), these 100 “represented a younger age group and more highly-skilled and trained group than their predecessors.
The next appearance by the Kabatniks in historic documentation is another passenger manifest, this time from France to the United States. Both were aboard the famous S/S Liberte’ when it departed the port of Le Havre on December 2, 1952. They arrived at Ellis Island on December 8, 1952. Jaroslav was 45 and his wife Jarmila, 39. Their manifest list shows they paid taxes when they arrived and listed the address of 1438 Komensky Avenue, Chicago, IL as their destination. Who they knew there isn't known at the moment. The townhome they moved to still stands today in the North Lawndale neighborhood.
Research reveals that North Lawndale neighborhood at the time was a Czech enclave that later morphed into a mostly Jewish community mid-century. Being a trained, talented architect who would one day go on to design some amazing modern structures, Chicago must have been an exciting place to start a new life as it had been the center of modern architecture fueled by the spirit and talent of the great Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright made the Prairie Style architecture important, a dramatic shift in design from traditional houses of the day. This style would inform the work of many young architects for decades to come, Jaroslav Kabatnik clearly being one.
Jaroslav and Jarmila didn’t spend much time in Chicago. Census records show them living there for a short period of time, about a year. Why they left the city for Greensboro is unknown, but his nationalization declaration shows he arrived July 22, 1953. Both he and his wife completed naturalization applications in Guilford County, ultimately bringing a savage architectural talent to an area already booming. It wasn’t long before Kabatnik found his niche in Greensboro, forming important relationships that would bring him opportunity and accolade.
In 1953, Jaroslav’s naturalization declaration shows he moved downtown to Fisher Park, living at 126 E. Smith street, later moving to 122 E. Smith, a parking lot today. He listed his previous residence as Casablanca, Morocco. It wasn’t long before he found himself not only mired in the Greensboro architecture crowd, but attached to local greatness.
In 1954 he is still at the same address, yet working for: Herman R. McLawhorn, Jr. (this looks like his first job in GSO). His wife is a seamstress working for Ellis-Stone.
City directories help piece together Kabatnik’s resume. In 1955 he worked as an architectural “draftsman” for Adrian P. Stout, a growing architect who designed some important pieces of Greensboro’s architectural history, including the Mark Rand Apartments, Cornwallis Manor Apartments and the second location of Richardson Hospital, Greensboro’s first African-American medical center.
In 1956, Jaroslav joined the team of J. Barton Wilder, a prominent architect responsible for the original Richardson Hospital, Thomasville Hospital and the Fire Training Center for Greensboro, the Calvin Wiley School, North STate Chevrolet Building and Finch Chapel. Wilder also served as president of the NC Board of Architecture from 1953-54. Kabatnik’s talent was in good hands under Wilder, but it was another local talent that would capture Jaroslav’s fancy.
TALENT TAKES OFF
In 1957, Kabatnik joined forces with an architect who was breaking ground and developing quite a following, the very important Ed Lowenstein. Lowenstein was known for his modernist home designs, and more importantly, his avant garde effort to advance his profession and art. While working with Kabatnik in a segregated world, Lowenstein helped launch the careers of several black architects, offering them jobs when others wouldn’t including William Gupple, Willie Edward Jenkins and Clinton Gravely.
Known more for his ushering of the next generation of architects, than his own designs, he also supported the entrance of women into his field. While teaching at Woman’s College (now UNC-G) he put forth perhaps his more notable and unique project, the Commencement House at 2207 North Elm. He taught 23 women, who were studying interior design, the importance of hands-on experience. This is where we find Kabatnik working when he designed 117 Keeling W. And it was this relationship that connected him to the most important builder the city of Greensboro has ever known.
From 1957 to the early 60’s, Kabatnik joined forces with a man he met while working for Lowenstein, Eugene Gulledge. Gulledge’s company, Superior Construction, worked with Lowenstein on several designs and made such an impression on Kabatnik, he left Lowenstein’s firm to join Gulledge’s team at Superior. Together they created some very notable structures, one of which is 117 Keeling W.
The Kabatnik/Gulledge partnership is noted in Engineering News-record, Volume 182, Page 58, an exciting find for a couple of reasons. A snippet on Page 58 reveals Gulledge “and architect Jaroslav Kabatnik, a refugee from Prague who had been in the 1936 Olympics, together did the designs that won the Best Home for the Money awards of American Home Magazine in North Carolina in 1959 and 1960.” That 1959 victory was for a home they designed together in 1958. The timing, though not yet proven, makes it highly possible that winning home is 117 Keeling W.
Source: 1969, Engineering News-Record, Volum 182, part one, page 58.
THE LATER YEARS
Before Covid sidetracked our research project, we learned a few details about Kabatnik as he grew and continued to build many interesting and notable structures.
There are a couple of references between 1969 and 1976 of Jarasolv and his wife Jarmila attending various high-society functions across the triad. They seemed to be particularly fond of the annual Debon Aires Dance and Dine event at the Emerywood Country Club in High Point. There are several mentions in the High Point Enterprise of the couple dancing and dining with important people of the era.
Some of the many projects involving Kabatnik that are referenced in newspaper clippings include:
Guilford County Emergency Transportation Service Headquarters in Greensboro, now EMS -Base 1.
Greensboro Community Center
North Park Recreation Center in Burlington
Springfield Townhomes Development in High Point
His resume listed on his American Institute of Architects register shows he loved to travel and worked for Thomas P. Heritage for a while before finishing his career working for himself.
His wife Mila died in 1977. He lived alone in their Blair St. home until he passed away April 9, 1995. His death established two scholarships--one for art in his name at Appalachian State, and one in her name in nutrition and interior design at Salem College.