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Gilbert Harvey Switzer

PVT in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : Co B, HQ Platoon


Born 1912 in TN, Died 1976


County of residence at enlistment: New York County, NY
Other residence(s): Knoxville, TN; Philadelpha, PA; New York, NY; New Haven, CT
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: artists, sculptors, and teachers of art
College education before the war: Univ. of Tennessee, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
College education after the war: Harvard Graduate School of Design
Notes: Formerly Co D
Source: 603rd Camouflage Engineer Roster provided by W. Anderson; 603rd Engineer Battalion Christmas Roster; Company B Names and Addresses roster; photo from The Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 27, 1938

Gilbert Switzer was born on May 18, 1912 in Knoxville, TN, the third of 10 children (plus two older half-siblings). His father was a mechanical engineer, and later a professor of hydraulic engineering at the University of Tennessee.

He graduated from Central High School in Knoxville, where he was an officer of the Boys Hi-Y Club. He then enrolled at the University of Tennessee—he wanted to study architecture but there was no architectural school in Knoxville, so he planned to get started with some coursework in civil engineering.

In the meantime, he was studying painting with Robert Lindsay Mason in Knoxville, and Mason was sufficiently impressed by what he could see of Gilbert's skill in modeling that he encouraged him to order some clay and start experimenting. His work was so good, according to a 1938 newspaper article, that Mason "urged him to drop everything and go to the Pennsylvania Academy."

In the 1930s, he sculpted three bronze busts for the University of Tennessee—a former president of the University, the dean, and a faculty member.

He spent five years studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, during which time he won every award that the Academy had to offer its sculpture students. In 1937 while on a four-month sojourn in Europe on a travel scholarship, he was in Munich the day Mussolini visited Hitler and the two rode by Gilbert's hotel window. In 1938, he won his second Cresson Foreign Traveling Scholarship and the Stimson Sculpture Prize, bringing the total value of his prizes to $2,915 (or about $58,000 in today's dollars).

He met Leslie Judd, a New Yorker and a talented painter, at the Academy, and they married on May 25, 1936. They had each won a Cresson Scholarship and took a study tour of Europe together in the summer and fall of 1938. A newspaper article goes on to describe the unexpected excitement of that trip: "They were in Prague less than a month before the Sudeten lid blew off and in Athens during the Munich crisis."

Gilbert registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, at which point he was a self-employed artist in Philadelphia. By the time he enlisted, on October 26, 1942, he was working as a sculptor in New York City. Like many other New York artists, he found his way into the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion, and served in Europe with the unit.

After the war he returned to New York. He and Leslie divorced in 1946 and on January 1, 1947 he married Ellen Eichenwald, a Jewish Berliner whose father had managed to get their family to safety in America in the early 1930s. Their son, Michael, was born in 1948.

Ellen had graduated from Smith College in 1945 and worked for Time magazine. During the subsequent years she published articles in Glamour, Vogue, McCall's, Woman's Day, Redbook, and Reader's Digest, and was a contributing editor at Family Circle. She would go on to become a prolific author, writing or co-writing at least 13 books between 1967-1995 on legal and political issues, music and dance for children and adults, and other topics.

In 1947, Gilbert (as a sculptor) and Herbert Gute, a painter, were given the responsibility for reorganizing Yale University's basic introductory art practice course in the School of Architecture. They developed an innovative program that was introduced in 1948, involving 16 collaborative teams to address a single design project—each team including two architects, two painters, and a sculptor.

In the 1950s he served as a design consultant for the Atomic Energy Commission and designed a children's construction toy, marketed through Creative Playthings in 1957, which used rods and Masonite panels.

Gilbert also returned to school to study the architecture he had wanted to pursue in high school. He received a doctoral degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1960.

He continued to serve on the faculty at Yale, and eventually became a practicing architect in New Haven, CT. As an architect, he designed many civic buildings (libraries, arts centers, school buildings, and senior centers among them) as well as housing (such as townhouses, senior housing, low-income housing, urban renewal renovations, and adaptive use of historic buildings). In 1974 his firm renovated Firehouse 19 in New Haven, which had been built 100 years earlier, and moved their architectural offices there.

He died on May 2, 1976 in New Haven. His practice was continued by his partner, John A. Matthews.

NOTE: Gilbert's son Michael became a film and TV director, directing episodes of M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Fame, JAG, and NYPD Blue.


in 1938 article (see below)


1920 census

1929 high school yearbook (Hi-Y Club)

1930 census

1936 engagement announcement in Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN); to Leslie Judd

1937 shipboard manifest, NYC to Liverpool

1937 shipboard manifest, Cherbourg to NYC

1937 article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) about his studies and European travel

1938 shipboard manifests, Patras, Greece to NYC

1938 (March) article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) about his work, education, travel

1938 (December) article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) about his life, education, and career

1940 census

1940 draft card

1942 enlistment record

1942 US city directories, Manhattan NY

1946 divorce record

1946 article in Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN) re his engagement to Ellen Eichenwald

1947 article in the Burlington Daily News (VT) re his marriage to Ellen Eichenwald

1949 US city directories, New Haven CT

1957 US city directories, Hamden CT

1961 airline manifest Copenhagen to NYC

1966 US city directories, Hamden CT

1969 article in the Hartford Courant (CT) re an architecture project in New Britain, CT

1970 article in the Hartford Courant (CT) re an architecture project in New Haven, CT

1971 article in the Hartford Courant (CT) re an architecture project in Madison, CT

1973 article in the Hartford Courant (CT) re an architecture project in Middletown, CT

1976 article in the Hartford Courant (CT) re an architecture project in New Haven, CT

1976 Social Security applications and claims index

1976 VA death record

2010 New Haven historic resources inventory


2016 Stern, Robert A.M. & Stamp, Jimmy, Pedagogy and Place: A Hundred Years of Architecture Education at Yale, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Geni record; shows his child's name

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