Joseph Urban papers, 1893-1998

Urban, Joseph, 1872-1933 [Browse]
135 linear feet (ca. 11,530 items in 40 boxes; 86 flat boxes; 147 board-portfolios; 12 map case drawers; 45 boxes of glass plates and acetate negatives; 328 set models)


Getty AAT genre
This collection is arranged into 6 series.
Restrictions note
  • This collection is located on-site.
  • This collection has no restrictions.
  • Some materials in this collection have been digitized and available: Joseph Urban Stage Design Models & Documents Stabilization & Access Project and Digital Library Collection .
Biographical/​Historical note
  • Joseph Urban (1872-1933) studied architecture at the Akademie der bildenden Künst in his native Vienna. He established himself as an architect as well as a book illustrator, exhibit designer, interior decorator and set designer often in collaboration with the painter Heinrich Lefler. Urban and Lefler were co-founders of the Hagenbund, an exhibiting society similar to the Secessionists. In 1912, at the age of 40, Urban emigrated to the United States and became the designer for the Boston Opera Company where he introduced the innovations of the "New Stagecraft" from the european theater. After the Boston Opera Company went bankrupt in 1914, Urban began designing sets in New York. He designed the Ziegfeld Follies as well as all other Ziegfeld productions from 1915 to 1932. In 1917 he began designing for the Metropolitan Opera and continued to do so until his death in 1933. From 1921 to 1925 Urban was also the art director for William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Studios He had branched out to other artistic endeavors since moving to New York including designing shop windows, roof gardens and interior decoration. From 1921 to 1922, he introduced the works of Viennese artists to the United States through his Wiener Werkstätte shop.
  • He received his license to practice architecture in the United States in 1926 after which he designed homes, buildings, ballrooms, and theaters in New York and elsewhere. Notable examples of his extant architecture are the Paramount Theater Building and Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida and the New School and the Hearst Magazine Building in New york.
Summary note
Collection contains watercolor renderings, sketches, technical drawings (ground plans, elevations and details), photographs, glass plate and acetate negatives, scrapbooks, set models and some related papers covering Urban's career in Vienna and New York as an architect, set designer, decorator and illustrator. There is a thorough representation of his New York career including his set designs for Florenz Ziegfeld (1915-1932) and the Metropolitan Opera (1917-1933). The collection also contains information on Urban's work for William Randolph Hearst as art director for Cosmopolitan Studios, his exhibitions including his 1921 Wiener Werkstätte store, and his many architectural projects. Biographical information and research gathered by Richard Cole and Randolph Carter including contributions from his daughter,Gretl Urban, and biographical notes and some letters from his widow, Mary Urban, are also present.
Accumulation and frequency of use
Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact for more information.
Rights and reproductions note
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
  • Gift of Mrs Joseph Urban, 1955.
  • Gift of Gretl Urban, 1987-1992.
  • Gift of Randolph Carter, 1988 (audio cassettes).
  • Gift of Robert Reed Cole, 1990 (research notes) & 1992.
  • Gift of Manuel Moreno, 1996.
  • Gift of Randolph Carter, 1998.
Source acquisition
  • Source of acquisition--Urban, Mrs. Joseph. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1955. Accession number--M-55.
  • Research notes and related materials for a book on Joseph Urban: Source of acquisition--Cole, Robert Reed. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--09/12/1990. Accession number--M-90-09-12.
  • Papers: Source of acquisition--Urban, Gretl. Method of acquisition--Gift; Accession number--M-92-04-17.
  • 7 audio cassettes re. Gretl Urban: Source of acquisition--Cole, Robert Reed. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--05/28/1992. Accession number--M-92-05-28.
  • Gold cigarette box: Source of acquisition--Urban, Gretl. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--10/09/1992. Accession number--M-92-10-09.
  • 91 letters & mss. of Gretl Urban: Source of acquisition--Cole, Robert Reed. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--11/09/1992. Accession number--92-11-09.
  • Papers: Source of acquisition--Moreno, Manuel. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1996. Accession number--M-1996.
  • 16 audio cassettes: Source of acquisition--Carter, Randolph. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1998. Accession number--M-1998.
Cite as
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Joseph Urban papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Finding aid
Contents list, 102p
C - O
Statement on language in description
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Supplementary Information