Saying good-bye to Henri Jova — Atlanta architect who saved Midtown

By Maria Saporta

One of Atlanta’s greatest architects — Henri Jova — has passed away.

Jova, 94, died on Jan. 13 in West Palm Beach, Fla. after a short illness, according to his partner of 42 years — David Rinehart. A celebration of his life is planned at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Thursday, April 3 beginning at 5 pm.

Although Jova’s contributions to Atlanta’s architectural fabric was significant, his overall impact on the city went far deeper than his striking designs.

He was the pioneering presence who led the renaissance of both the Midtown neighborhood as well as its once-decrepit business district.

Jova designed Colony Square — a mixed-use development that was revolutionary when it was designed in the early 1970s.

It was the first modern project in Atlanta to combine office, retail, hotel and residential as part of one high-rise complex — a development that struggled initially leading some to believe that it had been built ahead of its time.

Henri Jova

Henri Jova

But Jova also lived his belief in Midtown. At a time when significant disinvestment was occurring throughout the central city, Jova bought and renovated several properties at the nexus of Seventh Street and Mentelle Drive in the heart of Midtown. It became Jova’s compound — a modern, yet sensitive, interpretation of the residential style that Midtown was to embrace in decades to come.

Largely because of Jova’s stand and investment in Midtown, my parents bought a house two blocks away on Eighth Street in 1970. At the time, virtually every house on the street was for sale as homeowners became part of the white flight panic with the advent of school integration.

My father, also an architect with a modernistic bent, bought our family’s first home for a song, but then spent more than twice what he paid for it to renovate it with his own European flair.

Others followed Jova’s lead, and literally, Midtown is the community it is today because of the leadership that Jova showed when he helped save the neighborhood.

“Henri was a founding member of the Midtown Neighborhood Association, and he was involved with the formation of the Midtown Business Association,” Rinehart said in a phone call Monday. “He was the honorary mayor of Midtown.”

Rinehart shared an obituary that he had prepared on Jova — calling him “the last of a generation of young architectural imports to Atlanta in the early 1950s.”

Jova had a unique ability to fuse modernism with classical design, and he held great respect for the past, which led him to work on several preservation projects, including the restoration of the original Underground Atlanta.

Jova was born at his grandparents’ home Danskammer–on-Hudson, an 1830’s Greek Revival home near Newburgh New York, to a prominent Spanish/French family on May 11, 1919.

Jova’s father, Joseph Luis Jova, was a ceramic engineer and director in the family’s brick factory whose “JJJ” insignia can be found throughout the early 20th- century buildings of Manhattan and New England.

His mother Maria Gonzalez Fernandez Cavada was the daughter of a Spanish diplomat and her great-great uncle, Federico Fernandez Cavada, was the leader of the insurgents during Cuba’s Ten Year War (1868-78) against Spain. He was captured, tried and executed by a Spanish Tribunal. His portrait hangs in the Capitol at Havana today noting a great patriot in Cuba’s long struggle to gain autonomy.

A graduate of Cornell University (1949), Jova’s education was disrupted by World War II when he served in the U.S. Army Combat Engineers in the South Pacific, seeing some of the bloodiest battles of the war in New Guinea and the Philippines.

Jova was the winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome at the American Academy for 1949/1950. A Fulbright Fellowship added an additional year of architectural study in Rome in 1951.

On his return to New York City he worked for architectural firm Harrison & Abramovitz before moving to Atlanta in 1954 to join his first cousin’s firm, Abreu & Robeson Architects as chief of design.

In 1966, he joined Stanley Daniels and John Busby to form Jova/Daniels/Busby.

Jova was the lead designer on such landmarks as the Carter Presidential Center (1986 and 1993), Atlanta City Hall Complex (1991), Colony Square (1973), Peachtree Road United Methodist Church Sanctuary (2002), Atlanta Newspapers Building (1971), Bank of America in Buckhead (1987), North Avenue MARTA Station (1981), Carnegie Pavilion in Hardy Ivy Park (1996), and Robert Shaw Room for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (1983).

One of his more delightful designs— a futuristic series of round structures — was the Trust Company Bank building (later Pie Bar) on Monroe Drive.

His regional projects included four buildings for Southern Progress Corp. in Birmingham, Alabama (beginning in 1974), Day Butterfly Center at Callaway Gardens (1989); and Dalton (Georgia) First Presbyterian Church (1989).

Among many commercial interior design projects, Jova led his interior design team in the renovation of the Academy of Medicine, in the design for the new corporate headquarters for BellSouth, and in the design of Robinson Humphrey’s building at Atlanta Financial Center.

During his career he was a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a Fellow of the American Society of Interior Designers. In 1985, Jova received from the Atlanta Chapter of American Institute of Architect the Silver Medal for “consistent pursuit of achievement of the highest quality in design.”

Jova retired from the Jova/Daniels/Busby firm as chairman of the board in 2002.

Throughout his adult life he was active in the theater in New York and in Atlanta. He was involved with the original Wits End Players and was a life trustee of the Theater of the Stars that for many years brought Broadway productions to Atlanta. Jova also continued to have a parallel interest in painting . His work is in numerous corporate and private collections.

He was a life trustee of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, served on the boards of the Visiting Nurse Association of Metropolitan Atlanta, the Fulton County Council of the Arts, Atlanta College of Art.

He was a Knight of Corpus Christi de Toledo (Spain) and a member of the Century Association, (New York City), and the Piedmont Driving Club (Atlanta) and a past member of the Society of the Four Arts (Palm Beach).

Just this past August, Jova married his life partner — David Rinehart — in Newburgh where he grew up.  Rinehart developed and wrote the book: “Henri Jova – A Classical Intermezzo: An Architect’s Life” that was published by the Atlanta History Center in 2009.

Jova leaves behind his nieces and nephews: Lisa Cline, Newburgh, NY; John Robert Cline, NYC; Peter Cline, Venice, CA and Margaret Jova de Gundberg, Madrid Spain; Henry Jova, San Juan, Costa, Rica; Tom Jova, Palm Springs, CA.

He was preceded in death by his brother, the Hon. John Joseph Jova of Washington, D.C. and his sister Ines Jova Cline of Newburgh, NY.

In lieu of flowers it is requested that a contribution be made to the Atlanta Botanical Garden (1345 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30309) or to the American Academy in Rome (7 East 60 Street, New York City 10022-1001).

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17 comments
Rees Cramer
Rees Cramer

When I moved to Midtown Atlanta twenty years ago I began to notice that among the range of architecture from late 19th century to the glass boxes of the 90's was a collection of buildings with a distinct modern style.   From Colony Square to the Carter Center, from the residence complex on 8th to City Hall.  The style was simple yet always held a complex artistic intention to make a place functional and livable, yet special.   When I met him he was nearly eighty and a just as full of creativity and life as I am sure he always had been.  To have had a great love of 42 years must have made success all the more wonderful to share.  Take care of yourself Richard, you made him smile so much.

Thank you Henri for making our world more interesting, and thank you Maria for teaching us more about that world.

Rees Cramer

Rees Cramer
Rees Cramer

When I moved to Midtown Atlanta twenty years ago I began to notice that among the range of architecture from late 19th century to the glass boxes of the 90's was a collection of buildings with a distinct modern style.   From Colony Square to the Carter Center, from the residence complex on 8th to City Hall.  The style was simple yet always held a complex artistic intention to make a place functional and livable, yet special.   When I met him he was nearly eighty and a just as full of creativity and life as I am sure he always had been.  To have had a great love of 42 years must have made success all the more wonderful to share.  Take care of yourself Richard, you made him smile so much. Thank you Henri for making our world more interesting, and thank you Maria for teaching us more about that world. Rees Cramer

PaulMuldawer
PaulMuldawer

Not only was Henri was one of the most creative, multi-talented, civic minded architect that Atlanta has known.  He was one of the nicest, most friendly, good humored, and positive person -  an all round good guy.  We will miss him. 

Paul & Carol Muldawer

PaulMuldawer
PaulMuldawer

Not only was Henri was one of the most creative, multi-talented, civic minded architect that Atlanta has known.  He was one of the nicest, most friendly, good humored, and positive person -  an all round good guy.  We will miss him.  Paul & Carol Muldawer

Jim OKon
Jim OKon

Dear Maria: I almost forgot this great photo of Henri and I in happier times.Regards: Jim

Jim OKon
Jim OKon

Dear Maria: I almost forgot this great photo of Henri and I in happier times.Regards: Jim

Jim OKon
Jim OKon

Dear Maria:

Henri was a life time friend, I met him60 years ago when he was a regular performer at Wits End. We were close when we designed the Carter Presidential Center ( I was the Structural Engineer). He would greet me our personal call: "Caw Caw". I kept our relationship when he moved to Florida. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to personally say goodbye.

For the record:

Goodbye Henri, I will always love you.

Jim O'Kon

Jim OKon
Jim OKon

Dear Maria: Henri was a life time friend, I met him60 years ago when he was a regular performer at Wits End. We were close when we designed the Carter Presidential Center ( I was the Structural Engineer). He would greet me our personal call: "Caw Caw". I kept our relationship when he moved to Florida. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to personally say goodbye. For the record: Goodbye Henri, I will always love you. Jim O'Kon

Martha W
Martha W

Thanks, Maria. He was such a lovely man and loved this city. I too am fond of the bank/Pie Bar and hope it will never be torn down -- oh, wait, this is Atlanta.

Martha W
Martha W

Thanks, Maria. He was such a lovely man and loved this city. I too am fond of the bank/Pie Bar and hope it will never be torn down -- oh, wait, this is Atlanta.

Dowager
Dowager

When I was an ingenue returning to the workplace after a long absence, I worked for Mr. Jova.  He made every day a treat.  Your piece about his life was really wonderful.  I have an original print by Mr. Jova--he was also an artist--that he had printed on cards to give to employees as Christmas gifts.  I think it's time to frame it.

Dowager
Dowager

When I was an ingenue returning to the workplace after a long absence, I worked for Mr. Jova.  He made every day a treat.  Your piece about his life was really wonderful.  I have an original print by Mr. Jova--he was also an artist--that he had printed on cards to give to employees as Christmas gifts.  I think it's time to frame it.

Noel M
Noel M

Thank you for this powerful portrait of an important Atlantan, Maria. Amazing that another great American of the exact same age, Pete Seeger, just passed also.

Colony Square has been the site of thousands of happy lunchtimes for me (I worked next to it for 11 years), and the revival of Midtown it helped anchor has meant a lot to our city. Rest in peace, Mr. Jova.

Noel Mayeske
Noel Mayeske

Thank you for this powerful portrait of an important Atlantan, Maria. Amazing that another great American of the exact same age, Pete Seeger, just passed also. Colony Square has been the site of thousands of happy lunchtimes for me (I worked next to it for 11 years), and the revival of Midtown it helped anchor has meant a lot to our city. Rest in peace, Mr. Jova.

Drew Plant
Drew Plant

Great man and a great remembrance. Thank you.