James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

James Betelle, Where Are You? header image 1

It seems as though this masterly architect built his own career on an architectural plan—with everything in its proper place and dovetailing, with no part out of harmony with the other. — Fortune Story Magazine, October 1929

Luck Be a Lady Betelle

August 27th, 2006 · No Comments · Diary

As satisfying as it is to find an elusive publication, photograph or news item I had been looking for, even more thrilling is finding material I wasn’t looking for. I had a lot of this recently.

essex-club-1928.jpgLast week I came into posession a stack of letter between Betelle and Pierre S. duPont regarding the schools he had designed for Delaware (thanks, John!). In one letter, Betelle sent duPont an issue of The Architectural Forum from 1928 that had illustrated one of the schools. Naturally, I had to see it. So I went to the Boston Public Library and sat down with the whole set of 1928 Forums. I found that picture, but along with it a were a mountain of new photographs, plates and articles by Betelle. One standout was a photograph and plans of the Essex Club from 1928.

And just today I received a packet of papers from the American Institute of Architects archives that I had requested. I knew it would contain an excerpt of his will (Betelle had decided to leave a portion of his estate to the AIA, which he sent them for perusal in 1930), some personal letters and a newspaper clipping about his wedding. I didn’t expect this:

  1. The AIA-relevant paragraph of his will is interesting, but the pages he sent them just happened to include a section indicating that “all the office furniture, office library and the good will and firm name of the business” should be given to his associates Charles H. Bauer and Grant A.C. Behee equally upon his death. It also notes their exact addresses.
  2. A nice hand written note from Betelle from 1939 to the AIA indicating his retirement, giving the simple reason that he had put in 30 good years and wanted to kick back. Given this is 9 years after the Will he drafted above, one has to wonder if it was changed at all, and if Bauer and Behee were still bequeathed the business.
  3. marie.jpgA front page article of the “Society/Editorials/Humor” section of the Sunday Ledger, 1/28/34. The headline: “Famous Architect’s ‘Dream House’ for His Bride Not One of $100,000,000 Buildings He Designed!” It’s a very funny fluff piece about his romance with Marie; how they met, how she wooed the hesitant bachelor, etc. It includes a stern sitting photo of Betelle, a shot of the house, and a portrait of Marie herself. There are a few factual tidbits, like they were both living at the Treat Hotel when they met, etc. It discusses a fair bit about her Russian heritage and her heirlooms, and she spins colorful yarns about the old country.

And finally, a trip a few weeks ago to the Essex County Hall of Records was a bit of a bust, but it turned out to be an interesting “walking tour” of Betelle’s Newark, which I will be writing about in the next few days.

Tags: ··

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply