Tag Archives: Biographical

“A Simple But Impressive Ceremony”

James Betelle’s death is one of the more curious aspects of his story.  He died in Italy, ending up in an unmarked pauper’s grave, while in Delaware, a stone with his name on it sits quietly in an old cemetery. How did he come to be buried (as it were), in two places?

I’ve already known from his will he desired  to be buried at his family plot in Wilmington, the stone being evidence of that. And yet, upon his death in Florence on June 3rd, 1954, he was buried there, and not returned to the U.S. per his request. Why?

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The Point of Pencils

James O. Betelle

The output of new works from Guilbert & Betelle plummeted in the 1930s, as the Depression caused a suspension of school infrastructure programs. The firm layed off most of the staff, which numbered over 200 just a few years earlier.

Reduced to minor, low profile jobs—building service upgrades, interior renovations—James Betelle had little need to personally involve himself with the daily operation of his firm. He went to the office infrequently, spending his time at home or traveling with his wife, having recently married in 1932. By the mid 30s, the architects in the office rarely saw the man.

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Marie Betelle Sleeps with the Fishes

This morning I went down to the Surrogate Court Building in New York to find information on Marie Betelle. According to her obituary, she died living in NYC, so I was hoping to both find a copy of her will and perhaps see what her building looked like (my first walk around that area revealed no structure where I thought it should be).

The Surrogate Court is a big, imposing cube of Beaux-Arts goodness plunked right down on Chambers Street. I crossed the main entrance, and was dazzled by a beautiful, mosaic-lined barrel-vaulted lobby. It was empty, save for a security desk and a metal detector manned by two guards; one big, one little.

After receiving a visitors pass sticker, I went through the detector. I collected my bag on the other side and headed towards the elevator, when the big guard said loudly, “Sir- come here please.”

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Luck Be a Lady Betelle

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.
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“A Great Architect”

This article appeared in the October, 1929 issue of Fortune Story magazine. Fortune Story was a 15¢ pulp magazine filled with these kinds of up-lifting, moralistic tales aimed at impressionable younger readers. The only new information it garnered was G&B’s first office being “in an attic room over an art store”, but the writing is so colorful I couldn’t resist sharing it.

Fortune Story Magazine


Fortune Story Magazine, October, 1929 Vol. 27, No. 3

From a two-dollar-a-week office boy to the position of America’s foremost designer of schools is the record of James O. Betelle. The secret of his success can be found in the old formula of hard work plus perseverance which all must follow who seek fame and fortune.

The son of parents of humble circumstances, Betelle had to leave school at the age of sixteen. But the youth early decided to become an architect, and made up his mind that he would provide himself with the best possible education for his chosen work.
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