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Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982)

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Preferred Citation

Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

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

Summary Information

Abstract

Alan Burnham (1913–1984) was an American architect and architectural historian who served as the Executive Director of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1965 to 1973 as well as the Commission’s Director of Research. This collection consists mainly of reference materials related to architectural history and New York City architectural history, as well as professional papers and papers relating to Richard Morris Hunt and the history of New York City apartment buildings.

At a Glance

CLIO record: View CLIO record
Creator(s):Burnham, Alan, 1913-1984
Title:Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982)
Physical description:38 linear feet.
Language(s):In English
Access: The bulk of this collection is stored in Columbia University Libraries' off-site storage facility. Materials will be recalled by request. This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please call (212) 854-4110 or email avery-drawings@libraries.columbia.edu.  More information »

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is made up of five series:

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Description

Scope and Content

This collection is primarily composed of notes, correspondence, pencil drawings, clippings, publications, organizational newsletters, photographs, negatives, slides, and other reference materials Burnham used throughout his professional career for his architectural, advocacy, and research work. The basis for the series and subseries order was developed from Burnham’s own groupings from his personal reference archive, the American Architectural Archive. For the majority of the collection, Burnham’s folder titles have been maintained and material sorted according to Burnham’s own organizational system from his reference archive.

Series I: New York City Reference

Comprised of two subseries: Architects and Topical . The first subseries mostly contains newspaper and magazine clippings that reference nineteenth and early twentieth century architects who designed buildings that stood within the New York metropolitan area. Files are sorted according to the name of the architect or architectural firm. Architects who almost exclusively designed structures in Brooklyn are grouped together under the file folder name, Brooklyn, NY. In addition to clippings, some folders contain photographs, negatives, slides, notes, and correspondence. Burnham collected a significant amount of reference and photographic material for McKim, Mead, & White, Frederick C. Withers, and Alexander Jackson Davis. The second subseries contains topical reference files regarding subjects, places, or structures that are located in or somehow related to New York City architecture or landscapes. Most of the material is newspaper and magazine clippings with some photographs, negatives, slides, publications, and correspondence. The Manhattan Parks file folders contain material Burnham gathered for an unfinished project that surveyed New York City public parks and squares. File folders Burnham sorted according to borough, such as Manhattan, NY, or type of structure, like churches, have been maintained in this subseries.

Series II: General Reference

Comprised of three subseries: Architects, Topical, and Cities, USA. The first subseries contains materials that reference twentieth century architects who designed structures within the United States, not exclusively limited to American-born architects. A majority of this material is newspaper and magazine clippings. The second subseries contains topical reference files regarding a wide-range of people, places, buildings, and subjects. Burnham maintained a series of file folders on architectural critics, architectural styles, and sculptors. This second subseries also contains the reference card catalogue Burnham used for his American Architectural Archive as well as miscellaneous reference material and photographs Burnham did not sort into file folders. The third subseries contains mostly newspaper and magazine clippings regarding architects, buildings, and subjects within or referencing cities in the United States. File folders are organized by the name of the city in alphabetical order.

Series III: Professional Papers

Contains correspondence, clippings, photographs, negatives, slides, organizational newsletters, notes, and publications regarding professional organizations Burnham participated in or extensive research projects Burnham conducted for a professional organization as well as original articles and talks written by Burnham. He maintained a series of files for organizations like the American Institute of Architects, the Municipal Arts Society, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. This series contains files from Burnham’s architectural history class that he taught at the New School in 1965 under file folders named Architecture US as well as research he undertook for the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture regarding James Bogardus and Niels Poulson. It also contains a draft of Burnham’s manuscript for New York Landmarks as well as correspondence regarding its publication. There is an oversized folder containing some of Burnham’s larger pencil drawings and architectural renderings.

Series IV: A.I.A. Committee on Housing

Contains correspondence, clippings, photographs, negatives, floor plans, notes, publications, and other reference materials Burnham used in his research for his A.I.A. Committee on Housing report documenting the history of the apartment building in New York City, entitled The Dwelling in Greater Manhattan: The Apartment 1850 – 1895. This series contains drafts of Burnham’s committee report under file names Draft Committee Report and Dwelling in Greater Manhattan, in addition to the final committee report divided into four volumes held in three ring binders. Other research materials are divided by subject, such as French flats or tenement housing, by Burnham’s folder titles, such as Historic Research or General Reference, or if research pertained to a specific apartment building, that material is sorted by apartment house name.

Series V: Richard Morris Hunt Family Papers

Contains correspondence, clippings, photographs, negatives, notes, publications, student papers, and other reference materials Burnham collected regarding an unfinished project for a biography on Richard Morris Hunt. This series contains a manuscript written by Hunt’s wife, Catherine Howland Hunt, documenting Hunt’s life and professional career. Burnham originally index the papers in 1939, and a revised edited version of the Catherine Howland Hunt manuscript can be found in an oversized file. This series contains correspondence between Burnham and a variety of professionals and students regarding Hunt or the Hunt manuscript dating from 1940 to 1981. Burnham collected photographs, negatives, and illustrations that he planned to use in a published version of the manuscript. This series also contains a scrapbook in memoriam of Hunt assembled by Catherine Howland Hunt in an overside file and a letter removed from the scrapbook from Catherine Howland Hunt to Joseph H. Hunt. Finally, this series contains an edited manuscript, with notes by Burnham, of Paul R. Baker’s biography of Richard Morris Hunt published in 1986 by The MIT Press.

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Using the Collection

Access Restrictions

 The bulk of this collection is stored in Columbia University Libraries' off-site storage facility. Materials will be recalled by request. This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please call (212) 854-4110 or email avery-drawings@libraries.columbia.edu.

Restrictions on Use

Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For additional guidance, see Columbia University Libraries' publication policy.

In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

Preferred Citation

Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

For Further Information

For more information about using the collections and conducting research in the Department of Drawings & Archives, please see our FAQ.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Avery Architecture and Fine Arts Library. Department of Drawings and Archives; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Emily Rinaldi (Graduate Intern) under the supervision of Shelley Hayreh, Avery Archivist, in 2012-2013.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion April 19, 2013 Finding aid written in English.
    2013-04-19 File created.

CLIO ID: 10249151 View CLIO record

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Index Terms

The names and terms listed below are represented 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 consortial/union catalog offered by OCLC that allows users to search the holdings of multiple archives and libraries.

All links open new windows.

Additional Creator (Personal Name)

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Hunt, Richard Morris, 1828-1895PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subjects (Coporate Names)

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
McKim, Mead & White.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
American Institute of Architects.--Housing Committee.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Friends of Cast Iron Architecture.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
New York (N.Y.).--Landmarks Preservation Commission.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Municipal Art Society of New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subjects (Personal Names)

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Davis, Andrew Jackson, 1826-1910PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Withers, Frederick Clarke, 1828-1901PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subjects (Geographic Name)

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
New York (N.Y.)--Buildings, structures, etc.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Subjects (Occupation)

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Architects.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Topics

HeadingCUL Archives:
Portal
CUL Collections:
CLIO
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
ArchiveGRID
Architecture--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Architecture--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Architectural firms--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Architectural firms--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Parks--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Neighborhoods--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biography

Alan Burnham was born on February 10, 1913 in Englewood, New Jersey. He spent his early childhood in Philadelphia, later attending preparatory schools in Connecticut and Colorado. In 1931, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard University. There, he would meet lifelong friends, Henry Hope Reed, architectural critic, and Wayne Andrews, architectural photographer, who he would correspond and collaborate with for the entirety of his professional career. Burnham graduated from Harvard in 1935 with a Bachelor of Science and went on to receive a Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University in 1940. In 1939, he obtained from Richard Barren Hunt a copy of Catherine Howland Hunt’s manuscript chronicling the life of her husband, Richard Morris Hunt. Burnham’s work editing and indexing the Hunt manuscript sparked an enduring fascination in the career of the 19th century architect.

After receiving his architectural degree, Burnham worked as an architect, but always maintained an active interest in the study of American architectural history. In 1953, he served on the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter’s Committee on Housing, authoring a committee report entitled The Dwelling in Greater Manhattan: The Apartment 1850-1895, chronicling the history of apartment housing in New York City. While working as an associate at Shanley & Sturges, Burnham served as a member of the Municipal Arts Society’s Committee on Historic Architecture under the tutelage of his employer and Committee Chairman, Walter Knight Sturges. He succeeded Sturges as chairman and through the Municipal Arts Society, authored a broad survey of New York City’s historic architecture called New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York, later published by Wesleyan University Press in 1963. In the course of his research for both the AIA and the MAS, Burnham began acquiring reference materials that evolved into his American Architectural Archive. Burnham saw the archive as his contribution to the study of architectural history, amassing a great wealth of publications, photographs, and prints catalogued for use by other historians.

Throughout his career, Burnham was a member of numerous preservation organizations, such as the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Victorian Society in America, as well as worked on a variety of preservation projects, such as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, the Greenwich Christ Rectory, and the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. His unwavering commitment to the preservation of America’s historic structures established him as a founder of the burgeoning preservation movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. From 1965 to 1973, Burnham served as the Executive Director of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. After 1973, he stayed on at the Landmarks Preservation Commission as their Director of Research. Burnham also served as a member of the Connecticut Historic Commission and the Historic District Commission of Greenwich. He died in 1984 at the age of 71. Burnham left unfinished his work on a biography of Richard Morris Hunt, a compendium of New York City public squares, and an annotated biography of New York City, published posthumously as New York City: The Development of a Metropolis.

Sources:

Burnham, Alan. New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York. (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1963).

“Ennis, Thomas W. “Director of Landmarks Panel Quits on Advice of Physician.” (New York: The New York Times, November 24, 1965), 48.

Fraser, C. Gerald. “Alan Burnham is Dead at 71; Architect and Preservationist.” (New York: The New York Times, March 5, 1984), B11.

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