Architectural Archives

  • Paul P. Cret, c. 1930

Paul Philippe Cret Collection (062)

The largest part of this collection comprises drawings by Paul Cret: student drawings, travel sketches, competition drawings and project drawings.  The collection contains a small number of construction drawings for a few projects.  Also included are reproductions of Cret drawings, clippings related to Cret projects, photographic portraits of Cret, World War I photographs of Cret and by Cret, and other materials of biographical interest.

Architectural Work
Non-Architectural Work

Biographical / Historical Sketch

Paul Cret was born in Lyon, France and studied at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris.  In 1903, the School of Fine Arts of the University of Pennsylvania offered him the position of Professor of Design.  He was the dominant force in architectural education there until his retirement in 1937, and he had a profound impact on an entire generation of American architects.  He employed many of his students in his own firm.  Four of these -- John F. Harbeson, William J. H. Hough, William Henry Livingston, Sr., and Roy Frank Larson -- became full partners in the office.  They continued the firm on Cret's death as Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson (later renamed H2L2).

Cret had an important national practice and designed major museums, libraries, government buildings, academic buildings, monuments, bridges, and city and campus plans.  In and near Philadelphia, he designed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Washington Memorial Arch at Valley Forge, the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and the Federal Reserve Bank among other buildings, monuments, bridges, and planning projects. 

Major projects beyond Philadelphia include the Pan American Union (Washington, DC), Indianapolis Public Library, Detroit Institute of Arts, Folger Shakespeare Library (Washington, DC), Federal Reserve Board Building (Washington, DC), University of Texas at Austin, and monuments in Europe for the American Battle Monuments Commission and the Pennsylvania Battle Monuments Commission.

Scope & Content Note

Cret's archives were donated to the Library of the University of Pennsylvania by John F. Harbeson, Cret's student and colleague, and a partner in his successor firm, Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson.  The collection was later divided, and almost all the architectural drawings and project-related photographs were transferred to the Architectural Archives, together with a small amount of additional material.  The archives, as received by the University Library, had been organized and, in many cases, annotated by Harbeson.  Most of the materials transferred from the Library to the Architectural Archives had been mounted on large sheets of paperboard in groups of project-related drawings, photographs, and clippings, with annotations in Harbeson's handwriting.  At the time of the transfer, the University Library retained all of Cret's correspondence, writings, and teaching files and nearly all personal materials.  After Harbeson's death, the firm withdrew from its archives an additional large quantity of materials related to Cret's projects.  These materials were sold to the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. 

This collection is rich in Cret's sketches, renderings, and other design materials.  Cret's student drawings and early competition renderings are a highlight of the collection.  Of special note are renderings he made as a student in Paris, particularly "A Museum of Archaeology" and "Rendering of a Stair," and his oversized, elaborately rendered competition drawing for the Robert Fulton Memorial (with Albert Kelsey and Louis E. Jallade).  These three drawings and several others in this collection were published in professional journals during Cret's lifetime. 

The earliest project materials are designs for a school, made ca. 1896 while Cret was employed in the office of Louis Rogniat, in Lyon.  The latest is a design for a bridge in Philadelphia in the year of his death.  Projects with numerous design drawings include the Washington Memorial Arch at Valley Forge, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the University of Texas, and a number of war memorials (including the Quentin Roosevelt Memorial and various memorials for the Pennsylvania Battle Monuments Commission and the American Battle Monuments Commission).  Drawings not related to specific projects include numerous student drawings, watercolor paintings and sketches. 

Although nearly all the materials of personal or biographical nature were retained by the University Library, the collection contains photographic portraits, an oil portrait (1925 by Carlo J. Ampaglia), diplomas and honors, photographs taken during World War I, watercolors by Cret's father-in-law, Oscar Lahalle (1862-1884, many made when Lahalle was an officer in the army of Emperor Maximilian), and a sketchbook (1828) and medal (1823) of Pierre Bernard (architect of Lyon, France; a member of Cret's extended family).  Also useful for biographical research are Cret's sketches for interior alterations to his own residence in Philadelphia (1913, 1920) and Cret's watercolor sketches made in France.

Additional materials acquired by the Architectural Archives from other sources include construction prints of Cret's Chemistry Building for the University of Pennsylvania, construction prints of the Pan American Union (with Albert Kelsey) and construction prints of the Hartford County Building.  None of these constitutes a complete set.  The collection contains no office files.


Acquisition:  Gift of John F. Harbeson to the Library of the University of Pennsylvania, 1965-1978.  Transferred to the Architectural Archives 1978-1980.  Additional materials transferred from the University of Pennsylvania, Division of Facilities Services.  Additional materials gift of the Library of Congress, 1993.

Series Overview

I.  Project Materials.
II.  Memorabilia.
III.  Cret Sketchbooks and Unmounted Small Drawings.
IV.  Three-Dimensional Objects
V.  Oversize

Series I combines drawings, photographs, and clippings in one series.  Most of the materials in this series were arranged, mounted on paperboard, and annotated by John Harbeson for study and exhibition.  Harbeson wrote numbers on these materials corresponding to job numbers, even though many "jobs" so identified were not products of Cret's architectural practice.  Harbeson's comments in his typescript job list, "The Architectural Work of Paul Philippe Cret, 1876-1945" provide useful information about the numbering system:

Previous to 1920 the office had been conducted from Paul Cret's house, 516 Woodland Terrace.  In 1920 numbers under 100 were assigned to the jobs done at Woodland Terrace, but these are not strictly arranged in proper date sequence.  . . .  For convenience the earliest numbers have been assigned to Cret's student projects, to early studies and sketches, to architectural work performed in France, before he came to this country in 1903, and to minor compositions such as book-plates, seals, medals, title pages, small memorials and to early architectural projects in this country.  . . .  When work was done for a client on more than one occassion [sic] even though a new contract number was assigned the records were, for facility or [sic] consultation, later filed under the earlier job number - thus many of the trains designed for the Budd Company became ultimately all 278 with a, b, c, etc., down to zz, and the forty or more tablets for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission all became 180, etc.

In Series I, materials are arranged by job numbers found in Harbeson's annotations.  Materials lacking a label or annotation (including materials acquired from other sources) have been interfiled with labeled materials using numbers from Harbeson's job list. 

Series II. Memorabilia includes diplomas, honors and photographic portraits of Cret, as well as drawings by others which Cret kept.  These drawings include, for example, watercolors by his father-in-law, Oscar Lahalle, a sketchbook of Pierre Bernard, a watercolor by Boris I. Riaboff and caricatures of Cret and others by Alfred Bendiner. 

Series III.  Cret Sketchbooks and Unmounted Small Drawings includes only drawings by Cret.

Series IV.  Three-Dimensional Objects includes medals designed by Cret and medals awarded to Cret.  Of particular interest are two plaster models of Cret's medal designs (Alfred Bottiau and A. Pietz, sculptors) and examples of the completed medals.

An index to projects represented in this collection is found in Appendix A.  The index includes materials not related to Cret's architectural projects when they were found in the numbering scheme of the Harbeson job list.  Therefore, Harbeson's system has produced some indexing inconsistencies; for example, caricatures of Cret by others (or photographs of those caricatures) are indexed, but an oil portrait of Cret, portrait photographs of Cret and war photographs by and of Cret are not indexed.

Related Collections