Joseph Urban

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Joseph Urban
Joseph Urban circa 1915.jpg
Joseph Urban, c.1915
Born(1872-05-26)May 26, 1872
Vienna, Austria
DiedJuly 10, 1933(1933-07-10) (aged 61)
OccupationArchitect, illustrator, scenic designer
Spouse Mary Porter Beegle (m. 1919)

Joseph Urban (May 26, 1872 – July 10, 1933) was an Austrian-American architect, illustrator, and scenic designer. [1] [2]


Life and career

Caricature by Rudolf Swoboda (c. 1900) Joseph Urban-gezeichnet von R Swoboda, um 1900.jpg
Caricature by Rudolf Swoboda (c. 1900)
Joseph Urban set design drawing for Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 Urban-Ziegfeld-Follies-1919-Old-Chinatown.jpg
Joseph Urban set design drawing for Ziegfeld Follies of 1919

Joseph Urban was born on May 26, 1872, in Vienna. He received his first architectural commission at age 19 when he was selected to design the new wing of the Abdin Palace in Cairo by Tewfik Pasha. He became known around the world for his innovative use of color, his pointillist technique, and his decorative use of line. He designed buildings throughout the world from Esterhazy Castle in Hungary to the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York.

Urban studied architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna under Karl von Hasenauer. In 1890, he and his brother-in-law, Heinrich Lefler, were among the founders of the Hagenbund. Urban's early work with illustrated books was inspired by Lefler and, together, they created what are considered seminal examples of children's book illustration.

Urban immigrated to the United States in 1911 to become the art director of the Boston Opera Company. He was already an accomplished international architect, illustrator and theatre set designer with over 50 productions from his home Vienna Royal Opera, the Champs Elysée Opera, and Covent Garden. By applying points of primary colors side by side on the canvas backdrops he was able to create and light theatre sets of vivid color reminiscent of the works by Monet or Seurat.[ citation needed ] In 1914 he moved to New York City, where he designed productions for the Metropolitan Opera and the Ziegfeld Follies; [3] he continued to design for Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. until 1931. [4] William Randolph Hearst was an important client and supporter. He also co-produced with Richard Ordynski Percy MacKaye's "Community Masque" Caliban by the Yellow Sands . [5]

Beginning in 1917, he was frequently engaged as stage designer by the Metropolitan Opera of New York City. In all he created set designs for 47 new productions at the house through 1933. His many designs provided the opera company with a cohesive production style throughout the tenure of General Manager Giulio Gatti-Casazza. Many of Urban's settings remained in the company's repertoire into the 1950s.

Soon his sets and innovative lighting caught the eye of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., who hired him to design the Follies in the 1920s. Urban went to work creating a stunning night-club with glass balconies, a moving stage, and rainbow lighting effects. This Danse de Follies soon became a blend of ideas and talent before serving in the Follies theatre. Urban had success after success in his creating of the Follies' sets, and William Randolph Hearst, a media tycoon, took notice and wanted to hire Urban to work on his films starring Marion Davies, his mistress, and previous Follies starlet. Hearst came to an understanding with his friend Ziegfeld that Urban's work for him would not interfere with any of the Follies productions. Urban worked on 25 films over the years.

Urban died July 10, 1933, of a heart attack at his apartment at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, where he had been convalescing following surgery in May. [1]


Urban was one of the originators of the American Art Deco style. Most of his architectural work in the United States has been demolished. Extant buildings include the Mar-a-Lago, The Bath and Tennis Club and The Paramount Theater all in Palm Beach, Florida; The New School building in New York City; [3] and the base of the Hearst Tower in New York City. The stage lighting gel Roscolux Urban Blue #81, still used today, is named for him. [3]


Architecture and interior design

April 1967 ENTRANCE HALL LOOKING TOWARD MAIN ENTRANCE DOOR - Mar-a-Lago, 1100 South Ocean Boulevard, Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, FL HABS FLA,50-PALM,1-13.tif
Entrance hallway, Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida
Ziegfeld Theatre, New York City
Hearst Tower (Manhattan, New York) 002.jpg
Base of Hearst Tower, New York City
66 West 12th Street New School entrance.jpg
Entrance to The New School, New York City

This partial list [6] omits unrealized projects. [4]

Book illustrations

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  1. 1 2 "Joseph Urban Dies; Versatile Artist". The New York Times. July 11, 1933. Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  2. Paul Goldberger (December 20, 1987). "At the Cooper-Hewitt, Designs of Joseph Urban". The New York Times . Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  3. 1 2 3 "Guide to the 66 West Twelfth Street Architectural Plans and Drawings 1924–1986". Archives and Special Collections. The New School . Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  4. 1 2 Henderson, Amy; Bowers, Dwight Blocker (1996). Red Hot and Blue: A Smithsonian Salute to the American Musical . Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p.  47. ISBN   1-56098-698-0.
  5. Mackaye, Percy (1916). Caliban by the Yellow Sands. New York: Doubleday Page & Co. pp.  153.
  6. Archived September 16, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ostergard, Derek E. (2000). "Assimilation and Eclecticism: The Architecture of Joseph Urban". Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban. Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  8. Cannan, Gwynedd (2000). "The Joseph Urban Collection: An Overview Gwynedd Cannan". Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban. Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Aronson, Arnold (2000). "Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban". Columbia University Libraries. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  10. "Checklist of the Exhibition". Architect of Dreams: The Theatrical Vision of Joseph Urban. Columbia University Libraries. 2000. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  11. "Wheatsworth Mill and Gingerbread Castle". Preservation New Jersey. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
  12. "N.J.'s landmark Gingerbread Castle getting much-needed restoration". October 3, 2018.
  13. Photograph of Park Avenue Restaurant
  14. Archived February 13, 2008, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading