The John and Drew Eberson Architectural Records Archive

Wolfsonian Museum. October 2009.

The John and Drew Eberson Architectural Records Archive is one of the major architectural holdings of The Wolfsonian-Florida International University, documenting the work of the firm John and Drew Eberson, Architects from 1909 through 1988.

Thanks to major grants from the Getty Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, The Wolfsonian has been working for over a year on arranging and processing the archive, which includes records for more than 420 projects and totals more than 7,600 items. That work is now completed and information on the archive, including a finding aid and a project index, is now available on The Wolfsonian’s website.

John Eberson (1875-1954) is known as the creator of the “atmospheric” style movie palaces and credited with designing almost 100 such theaters throughout the country in the 1920s, including Miami’s Olympia Theater (1926), now the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. The firm, which John’s son Drew (1904-1989) joined in the 1920s, transitioned to designing theaters in the art deco style in the 1930s and ’40s. Many of the early Eberson theaters were later renovated as performing arts centers – in some cases Drew Eberson worked on preservation and renovation of these buildings. Twenty-eight John Eberson theaters were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of May 2008. The John and Drew Eberson Architectural Records Archive at The Wolfsonian is a significant historical and cultural resource.

“We’re delighted that we’re now able to share this valuable archive with researchers,” notes Kimberly Bergen, The Wolfsonian’s senior registrar, who oversaw the arranging and processing of the archive. “We’re fortunate in that Drew Eberson carefully preserved hundreds of drawings and project records that are a rich source of material for preservationists, architects, and historians.” The completion of the project will allow access to these rich materials by scholars, historic preservationists, architects, and others. One of these scholars, Ph.D. candidate, Jason Fox, was recently selected as a Wolfsonian research fellow for 2009-10. Fox, the first scholar to explore The Wolfsonian’s extensive body of Eberson material, will focus on the drawings, photos, and documents found in the archive.

Eberson’s atmospheric style is characterized by bringing an opulent and exotic “outdoors” inside to create romanticized indoor “courtyards” bordered by villas and tropical foliage, topped with ceilings painted to look like the nighttime sky, complete with stars and clouds. Eberson credited Florida as his inspiration for the atmospheric style, telling the Daily Times (Tampa) in 1926 that, “I was impressed with the colorful scenes which greeted me at Miami, Palm Beach, and Tampa, where I saw happy, gaily-dressed people living constantly under azure skies and amongst tropical splendor. Visions of Italian gardens, Spanish patios, Persian shrines and French formal garden lawns flashed through my mind.”

Items in the archive include correspondence, professional and personal material, photographs, and drawings, which range from quick sketches on paper napkins to ink on linen design drawings that are so specific that they include fine details such as proper orientation of the grain in marble.

Wolfsonian Museum – FIU
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