Architectural Archives

Thomas Harlan Ellett (1880-1951)

Biographical / Historical Sketch

Thomas Harlan Ellett was born in Red Oak, Iowa on September 2, 1880, and spent his childhood and youth on the farm of his parents, Thomas Ely Ellett and Caroline Bake.  Ellett began his professional training at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he received a certificate in architecture in 1902, and completed his studies at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Architecture, earning a B. S. Arch. in 1906.  At Penn, he studied under the newly appointed professor of design, Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945), and with long-time professor of drawing and watercolor, George Walter Dawson.  An outstanding student, Ellett served as his class valedictorian, and won the Arthur Spayd Brooke Award for excellence in design.  He also was awarded the Cresson Traveling Fellowship (from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts), which allowed him two years of travel and study in Paris and at the American Academy in Rome.

Upon his return from Rome in 1909, Ellett entered the offices of McKim, Mead and White.  The firm completed several important late projects while Ellett was in the office, including New York’s Pennsylvania Station (completed 1911) and United States Post Office (1913), and the American Academy in Rome (1913).  Although it is not known what projects Ellett worked on while in the office, specifications for several of the firm’s buildings in the Ellett collection suggest his participation.

Ellett established an independent practice in 1915 in New York City.  He built his reputation through a series of distinctive country estates built mostly in the New York area, but his work included projects as far as Louisiana and Illinois.  Important public commissions followed, including the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery & Memorial, designed for the American Battle Monuments Commission and completed in 1927.  Ellett’s work earned several professional accolades, including an honorable mention in the 1922 Chicago Tribune Building Competition, the Architectural League of New York’s 1928 Silver Medal for the J. Seward Johnson House (New Brunswick, New Jersey), and the 1933 Gold Medal for the Cosmopolitan Club of New York. 

During the Depression, Ellett worked as a consulting architect to the Procurement Division of the U. S. Treasury Department.  Among his many designs for post offices, those for Huntington, Long Island and Bronx, New York are particularly notable.  His late works include the Club House of the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the (unbuilt) headquarters of the National Academy of Design (1946-48).  Ellett died in Garrison, New York on November 25, 1951. 

Adapted from George Koyl by William Whitaker and Emily Cooperman

Scope & Content Note

This collection is the primary archive of the work of architect Thomas Harlan Ellett, comprising architectural drawings and blueprints, photographic prints, office files, scrapbooks and memorabilia, which document buildings and projects spanning the years 1915-1948.  The vast majority of Ellett's major commissions are represented by drawings in the collection.  Also included are renderings for the Chicago Tribune Competition.  Project drawings include twelve renderings by Schell Lewis and one by Chester B. Price.  The office file for the Bronx Post Office includes a small amount of correspondence with the sculptor, Charles Rudy.  The collection also contains sketches, student drawings and one 18th century print by Francesco Piranesi.

Gift of Mr.and Mrs. W.H. Benjamin, 1985.