Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh architect Benno Janssen (1874-1964) purveyed im­peccable taste and elegance with his many commissions during the early decades of this century. He is best remembered for such monumental landmarks as the Pittsburgh Athletic Association (1911), the William Penn Hotel (1914-1916 and 1927-1928), and the Mellon Institute (1931-1937), now part of Carnegie Mellon University. He partnered successively with Franklin Abbott and William York Cocken, and maintained an extensive practice in in­stitutional, commercial, and domestic architecture. Architectural historian James D. Van Trump characterized Janssen as “the most facile and talented of Pittsburgh’s Eclectic architects … who had very abundantly and enormously helped to form the architectural image of the city between 1905 and 1940.”

The first portion of the William Penn Hotel, now known as the Westin William Penn, was designed in 1913 by the firm of Janssen & Abbott; the hotel was doubled in size by Janssen & Cocken, with designer Joseph Urban, in 1927-1928. The grand hotel was the last of a grouping of four buildings erected by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, who vowed it would be the finest hotel in the country (see “A Grande Dame Named William Penn” by Marianne Lee in the spring 1991 issue). Its Grant Street facade embodies the opulence of the Edwardian era.

Benno Janssen’s residential designs are especially noteworthy. His sources for domestic design were many and eclectic, and he developed a warm and sophisticated manner based on rural French and English styles, reflected by country houses he de­signed in the Pittsburgh area. These commissions included La Tourelle (1924) for Edgar J. Kaufmann, founder of the city’s well known department store, and a house four years later for Ralph M. Dravo, an executive with the Dravo Corporation, an interna­tional engineering company. Because of such assignments, he has been called Pittsburgh’s “society architect.”

The Pittsburgh architect’s distinguished career is documented by the Benno Janssen Collection of the Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives. This collection consists of more than five hundred renderings, drawings, and blueprints, as well as photographs and records, documenting more than sixty of Janssen’s projects. Included are more than one hundred and fifty architectural drawings and related records that document the William Penn Hotel. These drawings were transferred to the Architecture Archives by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. The collection has been assembled from major gifts by the architect’s son A. Patton Janssen, Johnson/Schmidt and Associates, and John E. Pekruhn, among others.

The Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives was founded in 1984 to collect, conserve, and promote the use of ar­chitectural records documenting and interpreting the architects and architecture of the greater Pittsburgh area. Its holdings in­clude thousands of drawings and blueprints, extensive files and photographs, and a number of architectural models. Of particular interest to architectural historians are preliminary or schematic sketches chronicling the design process and working drawings that document the completed project. Records have been ob­tained as gifts from architects and their families, architectural firms, clients, property owners, and governments.

For additional information, write: Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives, University Libraries, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213; or telephone (412) 268-8165.