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   Joseph Urban Papers, 1893-1998

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Preferred Citation

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

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information

At a Glance

Bib ID:4079423 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Urban, Joseph, 1872-1933.
Title:Joseph Urban Papers, 1893-1998
Physical description:135 linear ft. (ca. 11,530 items in 39 boxes; 86 flat boxes; 147 board-portfolios; 12 map case drawers; 45 boxes of glass plates and acetate negatives; 328 set models)
Language(s):In English
Access: This collection has no restrictions. This collection is located on-site.  More information »



This collection is arranged into 6 series:

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Scope and Content

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.

Subseries I.1: General Files

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

Pelléas et Mélisande, January 10, 1912 (New)

Opera in 5 acts by Claude Debussy, adapted from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, conducted by André Caplet with Vanni Marcoux as Golaud, Georgette LeBlanc as Mélisande and Jean Riddez as Pelléas.

Hänsel und Gretel, January 27,1912 (New)

Opera by Engelbert Humperdinck, libretto by Adelheid Wette, after a fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, conducted by Wallace Goodrich with Bernice Fisher as Gretel, Jeska Swartz as Hänsel, Maria Claessens as the Witch, Otto Goritz as Peter and Florence De Courcy as the Sandman.

Tristan und Isolde, February 12, 1912 (New)

Opera in 3 acts by Richard Wagner, conducted by Felix Weingartner, with Johanna Gadski as Isolde, Jacques Urlus as Tristan, Pasquale Amato as Kurvenal and Edward Lankow as King Marke

Werther, March 1, 1912

Opera by Jules Massenet, conducted by André Caplet

Germania, March 9, 1912

Opera by Alberto Franchetti, conducted by Arnaldo Conti with Bernice Fisher as Jane, Ramon Blanchart as Crisogono, Madeleine D'Olige as Jebbel, Pasquale Amato as Carlo Worms, Carmen Melis as Ricke and Giovanni Zenatello as Loewe.

Le Martyre de Sebastien, March 30, 1912

Music by Claude Debussy, conducted by André Caplet with Evelyn Scotney and Jeska Swartz.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, November 25, 1912 (New)

Opera by Jacques Offenbach, libretto & book by Jules Barbier, after a play by Barbier & Michel Carré based on the stories of the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann, conducted by André Caplet with Edmond Clément as Hoffmann, Vanni Marcoux as Lindorf, Coppélius, Dappertutto and Dr. Miracle, Elvira Leveroni as Niklausse, Bernice Fisher as Olympia and Louise Edvina as Antonia.

La Bohême, November 27,1912 (retouched)

Opera by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Signori Giocosa and Illica, adapted from a novel by Henri Murger, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Lucrezia Bori as Mimì, Léon Laffitte as Rodolfo, Giovanni Polese as Marcello and Fely Dereyne as Musetta.

Madama Butterfly, November 29, 1912 (New)

Opera by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica, after a play by David Belasco, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Riccardo Martin as Pinkerton, Emmy Destinn as Cio-Cio-San and Giovanni Polese as Sharpless.

Il Trovatore, November 30, 1912

Opera by Giuseppe Verdi, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Gertrude Rennyson as Leonora, Léon Laffitte as Manrico, Ramon Blanchart as Di Luna and Maria Claessens as Azucena.

Tosca, December 2, 1912 (retouched)

Opera by Giacomo Puccini, book by V. Sardou, L. Illica and G. Giacosa, after Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Mary Garden as Tosca, Vanni Marcoux as Scarpia, Charles Dalmorès as Cavaradossi, and Aristodemo Sillich as Angelotti.

Thaïs, December 7, 1912 (retouched)

Opera by Jules Massenet, libretto by Louis Gallet, after a novel by Anatole France, conducted by André Caplet with Mary Garden as Thaïs, Vanni Marcoux as Athanael and Charles Dalmorés as Nicias.

Lucia di Lammermoor, December 14, 1912

Opera by Gaetano Donizetti, conducted by Ralph Lyford with Evelyn Scotney as Lucia, Umberto Sacchetti as Edgardo, Rodolfo Fornari as Enrico and Ernesto Giaccone as Arturo.

Louise, December 18,1912 (New)

Opera by Gustave Charpentier, conducted by André Caplet with Louise Edvina as Louise, Edmond Clément as Julien, Maria Gay as La Mère and Vanni Marcoux as Le Père.

La Traviata, December 21, 1912

Opera by Giuseppe Verdi, based on the story by Alexandre Dumas La Dame Aux Camelias, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Evelyn Scotney as Violetta, Alfredo Ramella as Alfredo, Ramon Blanchart as Germont and Attilio Pulcini as Baron Douphol.

Aïda, December 27, 1912 (Retouched)

Opera by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, after a scenario by Auguste Mariette, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Giovanni Zenatello as Radames, Anafesto Rossi as Amonasro, Maria Gay as Amneris and Carmen Melis as Aïda.

Coppélia, December 28, 1912

Ballet by Léo Delibes, conducted by Charles Strony with Dolores Galli as Swanilda. Attilio Pulcini as Burgomaster and Cronan as Frantz.

Cavalleria Rusticana, December 30, 1912

Opera by Pietro Mascagni, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Maria Gay as Santuzza, Umberto Sacchetti as Turiddu, Anafesto Rossi as Alfio.

I Pagliacci, January 4, 1913

Opera by Leoncavallo, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Edith Barnes as Nedda, Ramon Blanchart as Tonio, Giuseppe Gaudenzi as Canio and George Everett as Silvio.

Carmen, January 15, 1913 (retouched)

Opera by Georges Bizet, libretto by Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy, after a novel by Prosper Mérimée, conducted by Charles Strony with Giovanni Zenatello as Don Jose, Maria Gay as Carmen and José Mardones as Escamillo.

I Gioielli della Madonna, January 17, 1913 (New)

Opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, libretto by Carlo Zangarini & Enrico Golisciani, with Giovanni Zenatello as Gennaro, Maria Gay as Carmela, Louise Edvina as Maliella and Vanni Marcoux as Raffaele.

Rigoletto, January 25, 1913

Opera by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after the play by Victor Hugo Le roi s'amuse, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Evelyn Scotney as Gilda, Michele Sampieri as Monterone, Rodolfo Fornari as Rigoletto and Alfredo Ramella as the Duke.

Don Giovanni, February 7, 1913 (New)

Opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, conducted by Felix Weingartner with Vanni Marcoux as Don Giovanni, Adamo Didur as Leporello, John McCormack as Don Ottavio, Emmy Destinn as Donna Anna and Elizabet Amsden as Donna Elvira.

La Fanciulla del West, February 21, 1913

Opera by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Guelfo Civinini & Carlo Zangorini, based on the play by David Belasco The Girl of the Golden West, with Carmen Melis as Minnie, Giovanni Polese as Jack Rance and Giovanni Zenatello as Dick Johnson.

Djamileh, February 24, 1913 (New)

American premiere of opera by Georges Bizet, libretto by Louis Gallet, after the story by Alfred de Musset Namouna, conducted by Felix Weingartner with Lucille Marcel as Djamileh, Léon Laffitte as Haroun and Ernesto Giaccone as Spendiano.

Faust, February 26,1913 (redesigned costumes, retouched)

Opera by Charles Gounod, libretto by Jules Barbier & Michel Carré, adapted from the dramatic poem by Goethe, conducted by Felix Weingartner with Giovanni Zenatello as Faust, Lucille Marcel as Marguerite and Vanni Marcoux as Méphistophélès.

La Forêt Bleue, March 8, 1913 (American premiere) (New)

Opera by Louis Aubert, conducted by André Caplet with Fernand De Potter as Prince Charming, Jean Riddez as the Orge, Carmen Melis as the Princess, Jeska Swartz as Tom Thumb and Bernice Fisher as Little Red Riding -Hood.

Samson et Dalila, March 12, 1913 (retouched)

Opera by Camille Saint-Saëns, libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire, conducted by André Caplet with Maria Gay as Dalila, Giovanni Zenatello as Samson and Jean Riddez as the High Priest.

Il Segreto di Susanna, March 17,1913 (New)

Opera by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, libretto by Max Kalbeck, adapted from a book by Enrico Golisciani, conducted by André Caplet with Antonio Scotti as Count Gil, Alice Nielsen as Countess Gil and Luigi Tavecchia as Sante.

Martha, March 24, 1913

Opera by Friedrich von Flotow, libretto W. Friedrich, after an idea by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Alice Nielsen as Lady Harriet, Maria Gay as Nancy, Max Lipmann as Lionel and Edward Lankow as Plunkett.

Monna Vanna, December 5, 1913 (New)

Opera by Henri Février, based on a play by Maurice Maeterlinck, conducted by André Caplet with Vanni Marcoux as Guido, Mary Garden as Monna Vanna and Lucien Muratore as Prinzivalle.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), December 13, 1913

Opera by Gioachino Rossini, libretto by Cesare Sterbini, adapted from the play by Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais, conducted by Arnaldo Schiavoni with Hazel Sanborn as Rosina, Rodolfo Fornari as Figaro, Luigi Tavecchia as Dr. Bartolo and Alfredo Ramella as Il Conte D'Almaviva.

Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg, January 23, 1914 (New)

Opera by Richard Wagner, conducted by André Caplet with Johanna Gadski as Eva, Robert Leonhardt as Beckmesser, Paolo Ludikar as Hans Sachs and Carl Jörn as Walther.

La Gioconda, February 6, 1914

Opera by Amilcare Ponchielli, libretto by Tobia Gorrio, after the play by Victor Hugo Angélo, tyran de Padoue, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Emmy Destinn as La Gioconda, Florencio Constantino as Enzo, Marguerite D'Alvarez as Laura and Mario Ancona as Barnaba.

L'Amore dei Tre Re, February 9, 1914 (New)

Opera in three acts by Italo Montemezzi, adapted from poem by Sem Benelli, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Edoardo Ferrari-Fontana as Avito, Lucrezia Bori as Fiora and Pasquale Amato as Manfredo.

Manon, March 18, 1914

Opera by Jules Massenet, libretto by Henri Meilhac & Philippe Gille, after the novel by Antoine-Francois Prevost, L'histoire du chevalier de Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, conducted by Edouard Tournon with Jenny Dufau as Manon, Lucien Muratore as Des Grieux and Alban Grand as De Brétigny.

Otello, Paris Tour, May 5, 1914 (New)

Opera by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Berio di Salsa, based on the play by William Shakespeare, conducted by Roberto Moranzoni with Edoardo Ferrari-Fontana as Otello, Vanni Marcoux as Iago and Nellie Melba as Desdemona.

Parsifal, Paris Tour, June 3, 1914 (New)

Opera by Richard Wagner, conducted by Felix Weingartner with Johannes Sembach as Parsifal, Margarete Matzenauer as Kundry and August Kiess as Klingsor.

La Muette de Portici, (Dumb Girl of Portici) November 23, 1915 (New)

Opera by Daniel Auber, libretto by Eugene Scribe, conducted by Agide Jacchia with Anna Pavlowa as Fenella, Giovanni Zenatello as Masaniello and Giori Michailoff as Alfonso.

Don Pasquale, Donizetti

Performed in the 1909-10, 1910-11 seasons

Habañera, Raoul La Parra

Performed in the 1909-1910, 1911-12 season

Lakmé, Léo Delibes

Performed in the 1909-10 season

Mignon, Abroise Thomas

Performed in the 1911-12 season.

Sacrifice, Frank S. Converse

Performed in the 1910-11 season

Series III: New York

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.

Subseries III.2: Undated

Subseries III.3: Theater, 1914-1933

This subseries records the productions that Urban designed for producers other than Florenz Ziegfeld. It contains reference material, scripts, watercolor drawings, technical drawings, photographs and programs, and is arranged chronologically. Each production is listed by title, followed by the opening date and production information. The production information is from Bordman, Gerald M. American Theatre, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Leiter, Samuel. The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1989 Mantle, Burns, ed. The Best Plays Series. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co.

Subseries III.4: Ziegfeld Productions, 1915-1932

This subseries documents Joseph Urban's designs for the producer Florenz Ziegfeld. Ziegfeld never staged a show since their collaboration began in 1915 without some input from Joseph Urban. He designed all the subsequent Ziegfeld Follies and the Ziegfeld Frolics as well as the hit book shows such as Sally (1921), Show Boat (1927) and Whoopee (1928). The subseries contains drawings, research material, technical drawings, photographs of sets and some programs. There are comparatively few watercolor renderings probably because they were given away as gifts by Urban. The productions are arranged in chronological order listed by title, opening date and production information. Production information was pulled from the sources cited in the Theater subseries and from The Ziegfeld Touch cited in the biography.

Subseries III.5: Metropolitan Opera, 1917-1933

Urban designed several operas a year for the Metropolitan Opera Company during the time when the financier philanthropist Otto Kahn was Chairman of the Board of Directors and Giulio Gatti-Cassazza was the manager. Urban's good friend and fellow Austrian Artur Bodanzky was a conductor, and major singers such as Enrico Caruso, Rosa Ponselle, Maria Jeritza, Giuseppe De Luca, Beniamino Giglio, Ezio Pinza and Fiodr Chaliapin performed on his sets. The productions are arranged in chronological order listed by title, opening date and production information. The last year the set was used is shown in parentheses. The files contain drawings, research material, technical drawings, photographs of sets and some programs. The production information is from the Metropolitan Opera Archives and Seltsam, William H. Metropolitan Opera Annals . New York: W. W. Wilson Co., 1947.

Subseries III.6: Film, 1915-1931

Joseph Urban was art director for William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Productions from 1919 to 1925. He also worked a year for the Fox Film Studios in 1930, drawn to the one source of income not devastatingly depleted by the Great Depression. Each film is listed by title, followed by the name of the producing studio and the releasing company, the production number and the release date. The files contain letters, contracts, reference and photo scrapbooks, drawings, photographs and articles. Some of the productions contain photographs which mark, for purposes of comparison, whether the set was lighted by the director or by Urban. Items of interest include a color key, a numbered code for how colors would photograph in black and white under studio lights, and a letter dated January 1920 which discusses whether the director or the studio should control the making of the film. The photo scrapbooks picture all the sets used for the Hearst films and show the attention to detail used for period sets as well as the imagination employed for the modern interiors. The reference scrapbooks provide an example of how Urban sourced his designs.

Subseries III.7: Architecture and Design, 1914-1933

This subseries chronicles Urban's numerous design and architectural projects. The files contain watercolor renderings, technical drawings, and photographs. Items of interest are the files on exhibits, the Wiener Werkstätte gallery, the extensive work for the unrealized Metropolitan Opera House, the designs for store fronts and restaurants, the drawings for the New School, the Palace of the Soviets proposal and the Suburban Movie Theater. There is very little on some projects such as the Palm Beach buildings and the Hearst International Magazine Building. The file on Mar A Lago, for example, lacks plans and is almost entirely made up of photographs and magazine articles.

Series IV. Biographical

Subseries IV.1: Joseph Urban

Series V. Other Donations

Subseries V.1 Gretl Urban

Subseries V.2: Cole, Robert & Randolph Carter [Urban biographers]

Subseries V.3: Urban, Mary, 1928-1966

Subseries V.4: Other Donations

Series VI: Set Models

Aegyptische Helena [Egyptian Helen]

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located on-site.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; 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.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Cataloged 09/--/1989 Christina Hilton Fenn

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

Papers Processed 05/01/1992 HR

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

Gold cigarette box Processed 10/15/1992 HR

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

Papers Processed 11/19/1998 GC

16 audio cassettes Processed 11/19/1998 GC

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion June 26, 2009 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-04-02 Legacy finding aid created from Pro Cite.

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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.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Architectural drawings.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Audio cassettes.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Book illustrations.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Catalogs (exhibition).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Costume design drawings.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Glass photonegatives.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Greeting cards.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Interior design drawings.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Set design drawings.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Site plans.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Watercolor drawings.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Boston Opera Company (1909-1914)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Interior decoration.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Interior decorators.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Künstlerbund Hagen.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lefler, Heinrich, 1863-1919.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Metropolitan Opera (New York, N.Y.)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Motion pictures--Setting and scenery.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Set designers.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Theaters--Stage-setting and scenery.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ziegfeld follies.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical 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.

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