Joseph Urban (1872- 1933), came to the United States in 1911 as an established architect, illustrator and theatre set designer. Establishing himself a few years later in New York, he worked as a designer for the New York Metropolitan Opera. After capturing the attention of musical producer Flo Ziegfeld, Urban worked for him as the scenic designer for the Ziegfeld Follies from 1915-1931.  Their musical and dance revues stage shows were wildly popular from the beginning in 1907, and the Follies of the 1920’s became the big stars of their day on Broadway in their home on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre.  Designed by Joseph Urban and theatre and movie houses architects, Thomas W. Lamb, in 1927, the new Ziegfeld Theatre became the offices and permanent home of the Ziegfeld Follies.


(L:) The Ziegfeld Theatre in 1931. Corner of 54th Street and Sixth Avenue, Manhattan, New York City.

(R:) Theatres, by Joseph Urban. Design elevation of Ziegfeld Theatre Gallery. p.6


The Cooper Hewitt Design Library’s copy of the limited edition of Joseph Urban’s 1929 documentation of his design works in Theatres, has sections devoted to the planning, elevations, and ideas behind his designs for 6 theatres, including the Ziegfeld Theatre.

He states that “the effort has been made to differentiate between the principal elements of dramatic entertainment and to find an expression for each appropriate to site, climate and use.” Referring to the Follies, the theatre was “intended to be  a representative home for the most successful home for the most successful form of theatrical production in the busiest and gayest city in the world-…the keynote of such a theater must be its brilliance” and that here is a “modern playhouse for modern musical shows.” The scheme of Urban’s decoration was a single mural painting which covered the entire room, uninterrupted by moldings or other architectural elements.

Two Mural Panels, “The Joy of Life,” for the Ziegfeld Theatre are currently on view in The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.

Elizabeth Broman is a Reference Librarian at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library.

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