Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Joseph Urban papers, 1893-1998

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1279
Bib ID 4079423 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Urban, Joseph, 1872-1933
Title Joseph Urban papers, 1893-1998
Physical Description 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)
Language(s) English .

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged into 6 series.



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.

  • Series 1: Vienna, 1897-1911

    This series contains the records of the architecture and design projects from Urban's career in Vienna. It is arranged chronologically divided into five sections: General files-dated, General files-undated, Illustrations, Exhibits and Unidentified. It contains watercolor drawings, rough drawings, technical drawings, photographs, post cards, clippings, playbooks and exhibit catalogs. Of note are the catalogs from the 1902-1908 Hagenbund exhibits and the photographs of the 1908 Kaiserfest.

  • Series II: Boston Opera, 1910-1914

    Joseph Urban was made artistic director of the Boston Opera Company beginning with the 1912-1913 season. The previous season, he had designed four operas for the Boston Opera while working in Vienna with Heinrich Lefler. This series contains files on all the productions from the repertory in chronological order. Each production is listed by title, opening date and production information. The production information is based on contemporary reviews taken from microfilm readings of the Boston Transcript and the Boston Herald. Those sets that Urban redesigned or retouched are so noted in parentheses after the title information. In addition to the drawings, plans, and photographs, the files contain production records--light plots, cast lists, set lists, line drops, etc

  • Series III: New York, 1912-1933, undated

    This series is arranged chronologically within five subseries: Theater, Ziegfeld, Met, Film, and Architecture and Design. The series are preceded by a listing of general files in which photograph scrapbooks, clippings scrapbooks and Square Yard Books are followed by undated and unidentified files. The clippings scrapbooks are the major source for Urban's New York career and document some projects and activities not found in the archive. The square yard books contain drawings and measurements of set pieces for opera, theater and film sets. There is very little documentation in the form of letters, contracts, and financial accounts. Numerous photographs of sets and set models are to be found but production photographs are rare.

  • Series IV. Biographical

  • Series V. Other Donations

  • Series VI: Set Models

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

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.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Joseph Urban papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Ownership and Custodial History

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.

Immediate Source of 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.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 09/--/1989.

Research notes and related materials for a book on Joseph Urban Added to collection 09/17/1990.

Papers Processed HR 05/01/1992.

7 audio cassettes re. Gretl Urban Processed HR 05/28/1992.

Gold cigarette box Processed HR 10/15/1992.

91 letters & mss. of Gretl Urban Processed HR 11/20/1992.

Papers Processed GC 11/19/1998.

16 audio cassettes Processed GC 11/19/1998.

More information about the processing and stabilization of the collection can be found here: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/archives/rbml/urban/.

Revision Description

2010-04-02 Legacy finding aid created from Pro Cite.

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:"
Albums (books) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architects Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Audiocassettes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Autographs (manuscripts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Book illustrations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cartoons (working drawings) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Costume design drawings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drawings (visual works) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Essays Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Exhibition Catalogs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Glass plate negatives Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Greeting cards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Interior design Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Interviews Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Memorabilia Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notes (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Paintings (visual works) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Programs (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scores (documents for music) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Set design Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Site plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sketchbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sketches Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Specifications Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Workbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
architectural drawings (visual works) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
watercolors (painting) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Architecture Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Artists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Boston Opera Company (1909-1914) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Interior decoration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Interior decorators Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Künstlerbund Hagen Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lefler, Heinrich, 1863-1919 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Metropolitan Opera (New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Motion pictures -- Setting and scenery Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Musicals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Opera Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Set designers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theater Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theaters -- Stage-setting and scenery Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

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.