Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe

May 1, 1764 - September 3, 1820

Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe was a British subject and neoclassical architect. In his thirties, he emigrated to the new United States and designed the United States Capitol, on "Capitol Hill" in Washington, D.C., after which he performed later work on the Old Baltimore Cathedral/The Baltimore Basilica, (later renamed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). The first Roman Catholic Cathedral constructed in the United States, was built on "Cathedral Hill" along Cathedral Street, between West Franklin and West Mulberry Streets in the future Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood, then known as "Howard's Woods", a part of the country estate of "Belvidere" of American Revolutionary War hero and commander of the famed "Maryland Line" regiments of the Continental Army, Col. John Eager Howard, (1752–1827), who owned and donated much of the land north of Baltimore Town. The new Catholic Cathedral site was north of and overlooking the city's downtown business district and the "harbor basin" of the Patapsco River. In addition, Latrobe also designed the largest structure in America at the time, the "Merchants' Exchange", an H-shaped, three-story structure between East Lombard, South Gay, German (now Redwood), Second, and Water Streets which contained offices and wings for the Federal government—(U.S. Custom House, District Court, and Post Office), numerous maritime businesses, shippers and law firms, along with some city government offices (before the 1830 purchase of a City Hall building in the old Peale Museum on Holliday Street), and miscellaneous meeting and classrooms. With extensive balconied atriums through the wings and a large central rotunda under a low dome which dominated the city and was completed in 1820 after five years of work following the War of 1812 and endured into the early 20th Century, when it was replaced by the current U.S. Custom House, completed 1904–05. Latrobe was one of the first formally trained, professional architects in the new United States, drawing influences from his travels in Italy, as well as British and French Neoclassical architects such as Claude Nicolas Ledoux.

Latrobe emigrated to the newly-independent United States in 1796, initially settling in Virginia where he worked on the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. Latrobe then moved to Philadelphia where he established his practice. In 1803, he was hired as Surveyor of the Public Buildings of the United States, and spent much of the next 14 years working on projects in the new national capital of Washington, D.C., (in the newly-laid out Federal capital of the District of Columbia) where he served as the second Architect of the Capitol. Latrobe spent the later years of his life in New Orleans, Louisiana working on a waterworks project, and died there in 1820 from yellow fever, the mosquito-spread viral disease, which then still afflicted America and its eastern cities with epidemics as far north as Philadelphia until the mid-19th Century.

Latrobe has been called the "Father of American Architecture". He was also the uncle of Charles La Trobe, who was the first Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria in Australia.