Avery Drawings & Archives Collections

Edgar Tafel architectural records and papers, 1919-2005

Summary Information

At a Glance

Bib ID 10226981 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Tafel, Edgar
Title Edgar Tafel architectural records and papers, 1919-2005
Physical Description 30 linear feet; ; ;
Language(s) English .

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.



The collection consists of nine series: Personal Papers, Correspondence, Writings, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, Photographs and Slides, Audio-Visual Material, and Printed Material.


Scope and Content

This collection documents the life and career of Edgar Allen Tafel: New York architect, Frank Lloyd Wright historian, and one of the original apprentices of the Taliesin Fellowship from 1932. The collection primarily documents Tafel's professional activities and his later independent architectural career which was most prominent from 1965-1985. The collection is made up of nine series: Personal Papers, Correspondence, Writings, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, Photographs and Slides, Audio-Visual Material, and Printed Material.

  • Series I: Personal Papers

    Series is comprised of three subseries. Subseries 1: Biographical Information contains biographies, certificates, interviews, and resumes. Subseries 2: General Files contains general personal files, medical records, and property records concerning Tafel's home. Subseries 3: Family Papers contains papers concerning Tafel's brother, Marten, and his parents, Rose and Samuel Tafel.

  • Series II: Correspondence

    Series contains personal and professional correspondence (letters, drafts, postcards) predominantly from 1970 to 1999. All correspondence is to or from Edgar Tafel unless otherwise noted. Notable correspondents include: Curtis Besinger, Victor Cusack, Robert Goodall, Donald Hoffman, Tom Wolfe, and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. Also contains some original letters from Frank Lloyd Wright to others besides Tafel. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent except in some cases which are arranged by subject matter.

  • Series III: Writings

    Comprised of three subseries which cover Tafel's research on architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright. Subseries 1: General contains book reviews, essays, and drafts. Subseries 2: Apprentice to Genius contains correspondence and administrative files relating to Tafel's first published book. Subseries 3: About Wright contains correspondence, drafts from contributors, and photographic reproductions related to Tafel's second published book. The series is arranged alphabetically by subject or contributor.

  • Series IV: Professional Papers

    Comprised of three subseries: Subseries 1: Lecture Files contains correspondence, notes, transcripts of lectures and talks, press clippings, and travel information (addresses, tickets, itineraries) related to Tafel's speeches, seminars, and events. Subseries 2: Associations and Committees contains correspondence, reports, and minutes of architectural and professional committees, including the New York State Interfaith Commission on Landmarking of Religious Property, of which Tafel was an architect member. Subseries 3: Other Projects contains correspondence and proposals for Tafel's other Wright-related projects including films, exhibits, and panel shows.

  • Series V: Office Records

    Consists of administrative files, architectural registration files, legal files, project publicity files (press releases and clippings), general office correspondence, and documentation of Tafel's partnership with Marshall Erdman and Associates as consulting architect, and his partnership with Richard Snibbe and Einar Lindholm.

  • Series VI: Project Records

    The Project Records document Tafel's career as an architect, from his early residential projects in the late 1940's to larger-scale projects up to the late 1990's while being predominant between 1965 and 1985. Most documentation for Tafel's early projects in the 40's and 50's can be found in the project photographs and slides. The series consists of three subseries: Drawings, Files, and Photographs.

    Projects are arranged geographically by state and then city. Domestic projects are listed first, followed by international projects. Projects with no specified location are listed last.

  • Series VII: Photographs and Slides

    Documents Tafel's personal life, travels, and collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-related material. Subseries 1: Frank Lloyd Wright contains photographic material related to Wright, Wright's architectural projects, and Taliesin East and West. Consists of original photos and reproductions, some of which are reproduced in Tafel's books. Subseries 2: Tafel Personal contains portraits of Tafel, friends and family photos, and documentation of Tafel's world travels. Subseries 3: Other contains photographs of architecture not related to Tafel or Wright.

  • Series VIII: Audio-Visual Material

    Audio-Visual Material is arranged in series by subject matter and contains video cassettes, audio cassettes, film reels, and audio reels. Titles are recorded as they are labeled. Subseries 1: Frank Lloyd Wright contains copies of Alden Dow's 1933 Taliesin home movie, a copy of the recorded footage of testing the Johnson Wax columns, edits and versions of Kenneth Love's film Fallingwater: A Conversation with Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. , recordings of programs on Wright, and films on Wright. Subseries 2: Interviews and Lectures consists of recordings of Tafel's interviews, lectures, and speeches at events. Subseries 3: Other consists of films on miscellaneous subjects other than Wright or Tafel.

  • Series IX: Printed Material

    Contains Tafel's collected material documenting information about Frank Lloyd Wright, Tafel's architectural projects, and general architecture. Comprised of three subseries: Subseries 1: Reference Files consists of essays, excerpts, research files, blank postcards, and lists; Subseries 2: Press Clippings consists of news articles related to Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Tafel, and general architecture; Subseries 3: Publications consists of architectural magazines, journals, booklets, and pamphlets.

  • Series X: Additional Donations

    Consists of miscellaneous additional accessions.

Publication Date


Using the Collection

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.

Preferred Citation

Edgar Tafel architectural records and papers, 1919-2005, Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Tania Franco, Edgar Tafel Project Archivist, 2012-2013.

Revision Description

2013-04-10 File created.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Sound recordings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Video recordings (physical artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Allentown Art Museum Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architects -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Florida -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- New Jersey -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- United States -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture, Domestic -- Connecticut Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture, Domestic -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Church architecture -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Church buildings -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
College buildings -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia-Greene Community College (Hudson, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Public buildings -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Shady Side Academy (Pittsburgh, Pa.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
St. John's in the Village Episcopal Church (New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
State University of New York College, Geneseo Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Taliesin (Spring Green, Wis.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Taliesin Fellowship Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Taliesin West (Scottsdale, Ariz.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Touro College Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Wolfe, Tom Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Wright, Frank Lloyd, 1867-1959 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Wright, Olgivanna Lloyd Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
York College (New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note


Edgar Allen Tafel was born on March 4, 1912, in New York, NY, the second child of Samuel and Rose Tafel. Tafel's parents were both born in Russia and immigrated to New York in the early 1900s.

When Tafel was around 8 years old, the Tafel family moved briefly from New York to Stelton, New Jersey where they joined the Ferrer Association Modern School colony. The Ferrer Association was first established in New York City in 1911 and was named after the Spanish educator, Francisco Ferrer, who was killed in 1909 for his beliefs in anarchy and liberal education. The Modern School moved to Stelton, New Jersey in 1915 and remained a community until 1958, centering its beliefs on the school which promoted the development and creativity of the children. Tafel was a part of this progressive education that taught individualism and here his daily lessons revolved around carpentry, gardening, printing and setting type, weaving, and pottery. He also willfully enlisted the help of his peers to build an architectural model-sized village outdoors.

The Tafel family moved back to Manhattan where their high fashion clothing business, Tafel Gowns, was located at 15 East 56th Street. Tafel's mother designed gowns for many actresses, instilling in Tafel an appreciation for theater. In high school, Tafel joined a puppet group in the Village and worked in theaters. It was in his last year of high school also when Tafel was influenced to become an architect from discovering Lewis Mumford's Sticks and Stones and Louis Sullivan's Autobiography of an Idea.

Tafel enrolled in New York University's five-year architecture program and was accepted. During his first year at college, Tafel saw Frank Lloyd Wright's House on the Mesa exhibited in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art's Modern Architecture: International Exhibition from February to March 1932, the same year that Wright's Autobiography was published. Tafel was profoundly inspired by Wright's book, "The first chapters of the Autobiography echoed my entire childhood," he wrote in his book Apprentice to Genius.

In the summer of 1932 Tafel was taking summer courses at Rutgers and living with his aunt in New Jersey. She saved for Tafel a clipping from the Herald Tribune, Frank Lloyd Wright's announcement that he would start his own school of architecture and was seeking apprentices and teachers. Tafel sent his interest and received the application for the Taliesin Fellowship. Entrance into the Taliesin Fellowship required a tuition fee of $675, but Tafel could only afford $450, the same amount as his NYU tuition. He wrote to Wright and was accepted. Tafel left for Spring Green, Wisconsin, and arrived at Taliesin in September 1932. He would remain there for nine years as Wright's protégé.

Tafel's first years at Taliesin were spent drawing in the drafting room, assisting with maintaining and repairing Taliesin, and harvesting the land. Life at Taliesin also revolved around social gatherings, visitors, mass, and film and music evenings. Tafel was often asked by Wright to play the piano. Although there were many apprentices living at Taliesin, Tafel became one of Wright's most trusted apprentices. Tafel saw the construction of the Malcolm Willey house which was completed in 1934. He worked on the drawings of Fallingwater and supervised construction of the home in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1936. He also prepared sketches and supervised construction of the Johnson Wax Building. Tafel also worked on the Lloyd Lewis House, the Bernard Schwartz House, and Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.

While Tafel was still an apprentice at Taliesin, he was approached by many clients looking for an architect to design their houses. He designed his first house on Lake Michigan while at Taliesin. Shortly after, Tafel was married to Jean. They would divorce in 1946.

Tafel's new independence as an architect caused him to leave Taliesin in the summer of 1941. He worked briefly in architectural firms in Chicago before enlisting in the army in August 1943, where he spent two years in the Army Photo Intelligence in India. Upon returning to New York, Tafel worked briefly for Walter Blum. He continued designing houses for several other clients in New York and Wisconsin, including a house for his parents in Westchester County, NY. He began his own practice from his home at 14 East 11th Street in New York City, later moving his office briefly to 74 Fifth Avenue. Tafel married Lucille Allman (1914-1972) in 1947.

During the course of Tafel's career from 1941 to the 1990s, he designed over 80 residences, including religious buildings, colleges, offices, and community buildings mostly in New York, but also in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and other surrounding states. Tafel's design for the First Presbyterian Church House addition on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street in Greenwich Village won an award from the Fifth Avenue Association in 1960 for its modern adaptation of the Gothic style of the Church. Tafel planned and designed for colleges such as the State University of New York at Geneseo, Touro College, York College of the City University of New York, and the New School.

In addition to practicing architecture, Tafel was also the architect member of the New York City Interfaith Commission for the Study of Landmarking of Religious Buildings. Tafel was at the forefront in preserving the memory of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as his architecture: he was a part of the Fallingwater Advisory Committee and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy; he played a fundamental role in preserving the Francis W. Little House library at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania and the living room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York ; and he proposed exhibits, programs, and produced films about Wright. Tafel authored two books: Apprentice to Genius: Years With Frank Lloyd Wright (published 1979) and About Wright: An Album of Recollections by Those Who Knew Frank Lloyd Wright (published 1993). Tafel toured internationally from the 1970s to the 2000s giving talks and slide lectures on Frank Lloyd Wright.

Edgar Tafel, FAIA, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the University of New York at Geneseo in 2001, and established the Edgar Tafel Endowment in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois in 2006.

Edgar Tafel died at the age of 98 on January 18, 2011.