Charles Altfillisch was born on March 27, 1891 in Bellvue, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1914 with a degree in general engineering and worked for a few years before enlisting in the army during World War I. Altfillisch spent 1918-1919 in France as a member of the 29th Engineer Battalion. Upon returning home, Altfillisch moved to Decorah, Iowa. In 1921, Altfillisch married Leila Ervin Marsh; their only child, Gretchen, was born a year later.
Altfillisch’s interest in architecture developed slowly. In 1921, he joined his friend and former University of Iowa classmate A.N. Hanson, then the City Engineer of Decorah, in creating the architectural firm Hanson and Altfillisch. It was not until the summer of 1925 when Altfillisch traveled to Pittsburgh and enrolled in design courses at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Tech. A year later, Altfillisch and Hanson completed the plans for the Preus Gymnasium at Luther College, the firm’s first major project.
Hanson and Altfillisch continued their work together until Hanson’s sudden death in 1932; Altfillisch was subsequently appointed City Engineer of Decorah. He served in this position until 1955, notably overseeing Decorah's flood-control project.
Altfillisch continued his architectural work, expanding his firm over time to include architects Donald Gray, Roger M. Olson, Jack D. Thompson, and Allan R. Lynnes. Over the course of his career, Altfillisch and his firm designed several buildings on the Luther College campus including Brandt Hall (1950); Main (1952); Olson Hall (1955); Valders Hall of Science (1960); Centennial Union (1961); the Field House (now Regent’s Center, 1963); Ylvisaker Hall (1964); and Miller and Dieseth Towers (1965). He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1952, and upon his retirement in 1964, the Luther College Board of Regents officially named Altfillisch the College Architectural Consultant. After his retirement, his firm went on to design Preus Library (1969) and the Center for Faith and Life (1977).
In addition to Luther’s campus, Altfillisch and his firm contributed several homes and commercial buildings in Decorah and across eastern Iowa, including Decorah City Hall, the Allamakee County Courthouse, and Postville City Hall. He was known for designing schools, building and renovating schools in Decorah, Waukon, Ridgeway, and Calmar among others. Altfillisch was active in the architectural profession, serving as president of the American Institute of Architects Iowa chapter in 1936, and was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1951 in recognition of his contributions to the profession.
Altfillisch passed away on March 17, 1978. Author:
HRJ, Mark Muggli