ALMOST everywhere you look in inner-city Newcastle is his legacy.
Still casting a giant shadow more than a century after his death, German-born Frederick Menkens (1855-1910) was no ordinary architect.
More than any other man, he shaped Newcastle through his landmarks.
While responsible for creating more than 100 buildings in the Hunter Valley, some 28 impressive city buildings were erected between Union Street and the city's East End during his era.
Think of any grand 19th-century city building in the city today and the chances are it was designed by Menkens.
He was a talented, sometimes combative individual who liked a drink (he died of cirrhosis aged 55 years) and a wager. His formal photographic portrait has him posing with his best friend, his dog Mick.
Highly professional with a sound first-hand knowledge of the building trades, Menkens first set up his architectural practice in Maitland in 1881 and came to Newcastle the following year.
His most famous works include gothic St Andrew's Church with its elegant spire in Laman Street and the striking, Corinthian-styled Baptist Tabernacle close by.
Then there's the impressive former David Cohen & Co warehouse, now refurbished as part of the Bolton Street city parking station.
And let's not forget the decorative yellow-brick Earp Gillam warehouse (now offices) in Newcastle East, Lance Villa in Church Street, Shalimah, extensions to Jesmond House and the pretty, gingerbread-style timber terraces called The Boltons, hidden away above the Tower Cinemas.
Menkens also designed a new town hall for Newcastle which was never built. It was to be a massive colonnaded structure over a whole city block near what is now Market Square, on Hunter Street.
But probably his surviving masterpiece is a marvellous baroque creation, built in 1892 as business premises known as Wood's Chambers. Diagonally opposite Newcastle railway station and later called the Longworth Institute, it was home to the Air Force Club.
The ornate Anglo-Dutch façade of red pressed brick, carved sandstone features (including grimacing heads of Hercules) and oriel windows is a rare building in NSW, let alone locally.
Further afield, Menkens designed St Joseph's Convent at Lochinvar, many suburban churches and the tower at historic Baroona, near Singleton.
Born in Varel, a small Prussian town in North Germany, Menkens learned his profession from the age of 13, working with stonemasons, bricklayers and carpenters.
Hunter architectural historian Les Reedman wrote that if Menkens was unhappy with a building's new brickwork, he would fling off his top hat and coat, grab a trowel from the bewildered bricklayer and do the job himself.
Menkens once went to jail on a point of principle, but continued designing buildings while inside, his prison term coinciding with an economic depression when few buildings were erected. There was a big party to celebrate when he was released.
Married briefly in 1885, Menkens lived largely a bachelor life, lodging at the Great Northern Hotel.
He must have also been a romantic with a sense of humour. His final home in Sydney, Chateau D'If , was apparently named after the Mediterranean fortress, later a prison, off Marseille, famous as the setting for the French novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
His historic Longworth Institute building, in Scott Street, is now a wedding and function centre as well as a tapas bar. The heritage building was restored by Suters Architects in 2000.
In recognition of the high standard of renovation on the Newcastle icon it received a prestigious Royal Australian Institute of Architects Heritage Award.
In 2009, the ornate site was further internally renovated for its present use as a function centre and wine bar.
The building is now flooded with natural light through glass roofing which highlights the original polished floors, marble fireplaces, kauri pine ceilings and cedar doors, windows and cornices.
Designed by Menkens for wine auctions and with "superior office accommodation", the building also housed the architect's own offices for many years.
After that it had many uses, including as an art gallery, library and musical recital hall and more famously from the 1970s to 1990s as the Air Force Club.
In recognition of Newcastle's once most prolific architect, the Lower Hunter Civic Design Awards include two residential development categories known as the Menkens Awards to honour his work.
His memory is also enshrined in other ways. Large photographs of him hold pride of place in one of his creations, the bond store offices in the East End occupied by Suters Architects.
Another large photographic portrait was installed in the foyer of a warehouse conversion in Scott Street, in inner Newcastle, to honour Menkens.
The warehouse, built in 1899 for R. Hall & Son, was later occupied by well-known clothing firm Rundles. Reopened in 1998 after being extensively converted for residential living, the former warehouse now bears the name Menkens Apartments.
Still sporting exposed brick walls and high timber beams, one of the original occupants was chairman of the Hunter National Trust committee Keith Parsons.
As a man who values history, Parsons had long had an interest in Menkens and how he shaped the character of the city so long ago.
That interest drew him to Sydney to track down the architect's last design brief, his own home in Randwick, built in 1909.
But far from being the crowning glory of a stellar career, Parsons said he was surprised by the sheer ordinariness of the place.
It was in stark contrast to the genius Menkens had so obviously shown throughout Newcastle and the Hunter Valley earlier in his career.