Born in Paarl, Cape, the son of Joseph Solomon, and was educated at the Diocesan College in Cape Town where he achieved recognition for his sketching ability with his portraits of school dignitaries for the Diocesan School magazines and sketches of the school buildings. Upon matriculating he was articled to BAKER & MASEY in 1903, according to the Baker papers in the University of Cape Town library, he became an assistant in Baker & Masey's office in 1904. By 1903 Baker & Masey's Cape Town office was in the hands of FE MASEY, Baker having left in 1902 for Johannesburg. In 1906 Solomon was attending evening classes in architecture which were being run by Masey at the South African College. In 1907 he won the first premium for an essay, 'A style for South African architecture', the topic being set by Masey and the competition adjudicated by Baker - the essay was published in the South African Architects, Engineers and Surveyor's Journal (Jun 1907:149-150) under the title 'South African style in architecture.' In 1907 Solomon was assistant secretary to the National Society and in 1908 competed unsuccessfully for the RIBA Tite Prize. Baker invited Solomon to join his Johannesburg office in 1910. Here Solomon played a significant role in
the decoration of the interior of Villa Arcadia for Sir Lionel Phillips. The meeting with Sir Lionel and Lady Phillips was to be important to Solomon.
During this period Solomon made a number of portrait sketches for The State, a journal which was an instrument of Milner's 'kindergarden' for the closer union movement and for which a number of architects wrote, mostly connected with and including Baker. In 1911 he competed, again unsuccessfully, for the Baker Scholarship but was awarded a two-year travelling bursary by Sir Lionel and Lady Phillips which took him to Europe. Solomon not only fulfilled an ambition by studying in Italy but acted as a go-between for Lady Phillips, Robert Ross and Sir Hugh Lane over the purchase of art books and works of art for the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
Solomon was in Europe from 1911 until 1913. By about 1912 he had met E
LUTYENS in London and he was much impressed by Lutyens's practice and seems to have transferred his architectural loyalties from Baker to Lutyens around this time. While in Italy he fell while sketching at the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli 'seized with an attack of vertigo, overbalanced, and fell to the bottom of the precipice, a distance of some two hundred and fifty feet' (Afr Archt Apr 1913:185). Perhaps the distance was exaggerated. He broke no bones but from then onwards Solomon suffered from severe recurring headaches. Robert Ross wrote to him in July 1913, 'I do hope that you are not feeling the effects of your appalling accident which proved, however, that you are the beloved of Heaven.' To which Solomon replied 'my accident has left me far from well and I seem to be taking an interminable time to recover my vigour. Patience has always been to me the most drastic of remedies.' (Ross Papers). While in London, he delivered a paper at the Imperial Health Conference (n.d.) on 'Workmen's houses and model dwellings in South Africa'
(Gutsche 1972:683). He returned to Johannesburg late in 1913.
According to Gutsche (1972:683) Solomon was struggling for work in 1914 and asked Sir Lionel Phillips to use his influence to obtain for him the proposed new University of Cape Town buildings, a project coveted by many. He married in 1914, to an actress Jean Harkness, (nee Hamilton). For a time he worked in
BAKER & FLEMING's office in Johannesburg but left in about 1915 to enter into partnership with AJ MARSHALL, who had also worked in Baker's office (cf SOLOMON & MARSHALL).
Together they designed the YWCA in Johannesburg and several other buildings, mainly houses.
Working in the Cape in about 1916, Solomon, in association with the
PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT and Arthur Elliott, supervised a photographic record of the interior of Groote Schuur in about 1916, a copy of which is in the Public Works Department library in Pretoria. He was
obviously not glutted with commissions at this point and perhaps wanted to have an ear to the ground concerning the propositions for new university buildings at the Cape.
Solomon, ambitious and with forceful views, became the first editor of the Journal of the Association of Transvaal Architects in February 1916 but resigned as both editor and as a councillor of the Association of Transvaal Architects in December 1916 in protest over the proposed registration of architects; EH WAUGH (who succeeded Solomon as editor) considered
him a destructive critic who had nothing to put forward to replace what he threw down. He was, for example, 'against' gothic revival architecture - and against architectural competitions (AB&E Feb 1919:3, 5, 6.)
After a great deal of lobbying, Solomon was rewarded in December 1917 by his appointment as architect for the new university buildings at Cape Town. No competition had been held for such a large and prestigious job although this had been considered: FLH FLEMING was among those who suggested that a competition for such a work seldom led to a building of quality. Nevertheless, Solomon's appointment to the job was surprising: he was thirty years old and relatively inexperienced and had executed very few works on which his performance could be judged. In discussions held prior to the appointment of an architect, Sir David Graaff had suggested two architects be appointed for the work, to which the Committee had agreed but eventually decided that 'if a consulting architect were appointed it could be made part of the agreement with the architect selected for making the designs' (Jnl ATA Jun 1917:64-65 - reprinted from The Cape Times 19 May 1916).
Solomon proceeded to visit Europe and America (1917-1918) in order to study the latest university designs; he was much impressed with the private funding of large buildings in America: 'I told him (Dr Nicholas Murray Butter, President of Columbia University) that I wanted to take back ... his secret of getting his millionars (sic) to disgorge. He said 'tell (him) to tell them that as far as the world is concerned they don't count. Prove it to them by asking them to name a single rich man in Greek or Roman history and make that your final argument. Next morning they will ring you up and ask you if there is anything
they can do for the University!' I smiled as I thought of this argument being used on Sir David Graaff!' (letter to Dr Beattie from Solomon (BC 215:20a).
According to Brian Bamford (1981) Solomon's vision for the University of Cape Town was for a university of classic simplicity: 'the centre of the composition would be a hall, pillared and domed, the buildings would be large, bold and symmetrical - detail, intricacy, fine effects of light and shade would stand no chance on the foothills of the towering Devil's Peak - the atmosphere would be Mediterranean.' The design and building took a relatively long time to come to the boil, the Architect, Builder & Engineer making a dig at Solomon: 'When is Solomon going to repeat his great namesake's feat and erect a temple of
learning?' (AB&E Nov 1918:29). In fact the work grew to such proportions that Solomon became acutely anxious, particularly about the mounting costs. In Spring 1919 Lutyens was requested 'expressly at the invitation of the Council of the University of Cape Town to report on the plans prepared for the new buildings at Groote Schuur' (AB&E Apr 1919:3).
Marshall assisted Solomon and according to Gutsche (1966:361), collapsed from exhaustion at the work. Early in 1920 Solomon wrote to Baker asking him for help. Baker sent one of his men CP WALGATE, then working in London on New Delhi, who arrived in May 1920. The first sod of the foundations was turned in August 1920 in pouring rain; Solomon, troubled by sleeplesness and depression, contracted influenza. He shot himself in his home at The Woolsack, leaving his wife and two young children. At the time Solomon was engaged on work for Lady Phillips at the house Vergelegen and Gutsche suggests that the demands made on him by Lady Phillips added to his overload of work. After his death, Lady Phillips bought Solomon's architectural library and donated it to the University of the Witwatersrand.
(AB&E Nov 1918:29; AB&E Dec 1918:23-26; AB&E Apr 1919:3,19; AB&E Feb 1919:3, 5-6, 7, 8; AB&E Mar 1919:9 ill; AB&E May 1919:15, 29; AB&E Sep 1920:21 obit; AB&E Feb 1921 suppl, The new university of Cape Town; Afr Archt Sep 1911:89; Afr Archt Apr 1913:185; Afr Arch Apr 1914:327; Building Sep 1920:381 obit by EH Waugh; Bamford 1981; Cape Times 25 Aug 1981:12; Bamford 1985; DE 2711 CAD; Diocesan College Magazine Sep 1920:21 obit; DSAB II:682-83 (article by T Gutsche); Hussey 1950:206, 231, 390; Hodgson 1986; Index to Baker, Kendall & Earle Gift, UCT MS Libr BC 206; Ritchie 1918:503-504; SESA 1:532; Twentyman Jones 1986; UCT Quarterly 3 1920:157-59: In Memoriam JM Solomon; Beattie Papers BC 215:20, UCT MS Libr; The Rankin Purchase BC 4, UCT MS Libr)
Publ: (cf. Jhb Royal Presentation, publ Berne & Nissan. 1911)
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.