Rafael Guastavino was a Spanish émigré architect who brought to the United
States a centuries-old vernacular method of building fireproof vaults and domes
and adapted it to the steel-frame construction prevalent in this country.
Although Guastavino practiced as an architect in Barcelona and in New York on
his arrival, his career took an unexpected turn through his connection with
Charles McKim and his work at the Boston Public Library in the late 1880s. It
was at this building that Guastavino began to function primarily as a contractor
building vaults and domes. His company, the Guastavino Fireproof Construction
Company, under his leadership and that of his son, Rafael, Jr., was extremely
prolific. By the time the firm closed its door in 1962, they had built vaults,
domes, and other architectural elements in approximately 1,000 buildings in the
United States. Their best known works include the Oyster Bar in Grand Central
Terminal and the dome at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
The Guastavinos worked frequently with Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, the
architect of notable Gothic churches and the Nebraska State Capitol. Goodhue had
an interest in Mexican architecture, which he put to use in his designs for the
Panama-Pacific exposition in San Diego in 1915. These tiles were designed for
the Dater house in Montecito, California, but were also used in San Diego and at
the Goodhue hotel in Colon, Panama. Goodhue, more than any other architect the
Guastavinos worked with, took advantage of the decorative possibilities of the
surfaces of the Guastavino vaults and domes.
The Guastavino papers were saved through the efforts of the late George R.
Collins, Professor of Art History and donated to the University in 1963.
Professor Collins served as custodian and guide to the papers until his
retirement in 1988, when the archives were transferred to the Avery Library.