Ely Jacques Kahn (1884-1972)

Kahn & Jacobs


View the collection record in the Columbia University Libraries Online Catalog (CLIO)

To find itemized records  (i.e. listings of individual drawings) for all of the individual projects in the collection, do a "Guided Keyword" search in CLIO. Enter "kahn," "jacobs," and "drawings" in the three separate windows, leaving everything else as it is, and click "Search". When the results page appears, click on an individual title and then choose "Full View" to see the complete record.

A paper inventory of the drawings and archival materials is also available in the Department of Drawings & Archives' Reading Room in Avery Library.

Ely Jacques Kahn was one of the most significant architects in New York City in the 20th century, sustaining an active career over more than six decades. Many of his buildings are now New York City landmarks, bearing witness to the sophistication of Art Deco and Moderne styles and the ambitions of the post-World War II building boom.

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Born in Manhattan, Kahn graduated from Columbia College in 1903 and completed further study in architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1907-08. Returning to New York, Kahn struggled to find work in the wake of the 1907 stock market collapse. Competition for architectural jobs was tough given the growing number of trained architects and Kahn also faced a rising wall of anti-Semitism in the patrician world of New York architecture. In 1914, Kahn took a teaching position at Cornell as a replacement for a French architect unable to return due to the outbreak of World War I. In 1917, he joined the partnership of Buchman and Fox, already an established firm. As part of Buchman & Kahn, he began designing and building successful commercial buildings, profiting from the building boom in the 1910s and 1920s.

After Buchman's retirement in 1930, Kahn practiced alone for a decade, and was joined in 1940 by the much younger Robert Allan Jacobs. Kahn finished his career in partnership with Jacobs, retiring from the practice in 1969. Jacobs retired soon after, in 1973, and the remaining junior partners of Kahn & Jacobs joined the St. Louis-based architecture firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK) that same year.

The bulk of this collection consists of the Kahn & Jacobs architectural drawings and papers, created between circa 1893 and 1965, which were donated to Avery Library by HOK in 1978. A small amount of personal papers was transferred from the Arendts Library at Syracuse University in 1997. Additional personal papers, including two large scrapbooks, were donated by Mrs. Ely Jacques Kahn in 1992 and 1993. Also found in this collection are student drawings and an incomplete autobiographical essay, donated to Avery Library by Kahn himself in 1963.

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The projects in this collection represent the history of a firm that lasted nearly a century. The roots of the firm can be traced back to Hermann J. Schwarzmann, a German-born architect who designed the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876. Schwarzmann soon partnered with Albert Buchman and practiced with him until 1887. Unfortunately no drawings survive from the two earliest firms. This collection begins with records from the partnership of Buchman & Deisler (circa 1888-1899), followed by a succession of partnerships until the dissolution of the firm: Buchman & Fox (1899-1917), Buchman & Kahn (1917-1930), Ely Jacques Kahn Architects (1930-1940), and Kahn & Jacobs (1940-1973). The bulk of the collection documents the firms' work from 1893 until 1950.

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The collection includes approximately 8,250 architectural drawings for projects located primarily in New York City that were designed or altered by Kahn & Jacobs and the various predecessor partnerships. Major projects include the Bergdorf Goodman Department Store (1927); Bloomingdale’s Department Store (1903-1917); the Bonwit Teller Department Store at Fifth Avenue and 38th Street (1911); the Film Center building (1928-1932); the original New York Times Building at 42nd Street and Broadway (1915-1920); and the Squibb Building (1929-1951), all in New York City. Researchers will also find drawings for the Oppenheimer-Collins Company buildings in Brooklyn (1915-1928), New York City (1906-1930), Philadelphia (1923), and Pittsburgh (1919-1928).

Ely Jacques Kahn (center) and Robert Allan Jacobs (right), circa 1950s. Ely Jacques Kahn (center) and Robert Allan Jacobs (right), circa 1950s.

Additionally, the collection contains drawings by other firms for buildings that were later altered by the Kahn firm; these firms include Cyrus L. W. Eidlitz, Starett & Van Vleck, and Edwin Ashley. A small group of drawings by other firms seemingly unrelated to the Kahn firm can also be found with the Kahn & Jacobs drawings.As well, this collection includes a list of jobs from 1945 to 1959; account books covering 1928 to 1941; and a plan book containing a listing of drawings created between 1929 and 1945.

Completing the Kahn holdings are personal materials from Ely Jacques Kahn, including drawings done while Kahn was a student at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris (1907-1908), sketchbooks, diplomas, autographs from fellow students, a typescript of Kahn’s autobiography, and scrapbooks containing clippings, photographs, telegrams and other ephemera.

Kahn & Jacobs drawings and records may also be found in the Robert Allan Jacobs papers and the Abbott, Merkt & Company records, both held in the Dept. of Drawings & Archives.

Ely Jacques Kahn. Dowling Theater, Times Square, New York City, 1944-1947. (1978.001.07321) Ely Jacques Kahn. Dowling Theater, Times Square, New York City, 1944-1947. (1978.001.07321)