Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Joseph Urban papers, 1893-1998 

Urban, Joseph, 1872-1933
Phys. Desc: 
135 linear feet (39 boxes; 86 flat boxes; 147 board portfolios; 12 map case drawers;)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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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.

Scope and Contents

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.