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Winston Weisman Soho Historic District collection

Call Number

PR 73


circa 1950-1973, inclusive


Weisman, Winston R.


40.91 Linear feet (100 boxes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English with only one in Italian.


Winston Weisman was an architectural historian and professor. This collection contains his extensive research material (including photographs, negatives, articles, and lectures) on cast-iron buildings in the Soho neighborhood of New York, as well as other buildings throughout the United States and the world.

Biographical Note

Architectural historian and professor Dr. Winston R. Weisman, born February 3, 1909 in New York City, compiled extensive pictorial documentation to support several areas of his research: cast-iron architecture, origins of the skyscraper, and commercial architecture in New York City, including the Soho district, Rockefeller Center, and buildings by architect George B. Post. His interest in these particular areas of research date from his 1939 dissertation on Rockefeller Center. He did most of his subsequent research as professor and head of the Department of Art History at the Pennsylvania State University, where he specialized in the history of commercial architecture. He dedicated 22 years to teaching at Penn State from 1958 to 1971.

Weisman was educated at Ohio State University where he received his B.A. in art history (cum laude) and journalism in 1932. He completed his M.A. in art history at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1936. Weisman then received his Ph. D. in art history and studio art from Ohio State University with his dissertation on the genesis of Rockefeller Center.

His research focused on commercial architecture and shaped his academic career, as he often taught classes on the specific subjects he was researching, whether the early history of skyscrapers or cast iron buildings. He did, though, explore other areas of art history, writing two manuals: Medieval Manuscripts Painting A Teaching Manualand An Annotated Portfolio of Photographs Taken from Medieval Manuscriptsin the Pierpont Morgan Library, both published in 1949. These two books reflect his developing scholarly interests before he focused exclusively on commercial architecture.

Weisman was director of the College Art Association of American Society of Architectural Historians. He published articles in magazines such as The Architectural Review, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Journal of the American Institute of Architects, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He contributed the paper, "The History of the Skyscraper 1907 -- 1917," for the Columbia University Symposium on Modern Architecture in May 1966, then spent the last decades of his life working on and researching the unpublished A History of Commercial Architecture Volume 1: The Elevator Building. This volume was a compendium of all of research and articles on the early skyscraper in various American cities, though predominantly New York. Weisman's essay "A New Vision of Skyscraper History" was one of four specially commissioned for a book, The Rise of American Architecture, published as part of the 100th Anniversary celebration of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Two significant projects marked the final years of Weisman's professional career. For the first "Project Soho" in 1970 and 1971, his students recorded a series of thoroughly detailed photos and data sheets documenting the cast iron buildings in Soho. This project continued work that Weisman had begun in the early 1950s. Weisman's historical efforts helped form the basis for the New York City Landmark Commission's final designation report making the Soho Cast-Iron Historical District an official landmark on August 14, 1973.

His second major project was overseeing the dismantling of the Laing Stores in the Soho District of New York City, an historical ironclad structure that was the complete building by James Bogardus standing at the time it was scheduled to be dismantled in the late sixties. In April of 1970, Dr. Weisman was named consultant to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

He died on October 9, 1997 at the age of eighty-eight.

Historical Note

Cast iron played a preeminent role in the architectural development of New York City and the United States during the 19th century. Cast iron is an alloy with a high carbon content (at least 1.7% and usually 3.0 to 3.7%) that makes it more resistant to corrosion than either wrought iron or steel. In addition to carbon, cast iron contains varying amounts of silicon, sulfur, manganese, and phosphorus. While molten, cast iron is easily poured into molds, making it possible to create nearly unlimited decorative and structural forms. Unlike wrought iron and steel, cast iron is too hard and brittle to be shaped by hammering, rolling, or pressing. However, it is more rigid and more resistant to buckling than other forms of iron.

In the second half of the 19th century, the United States experienced an era of tremendous economic and territorial growth. The use of iron in commercial and public buildings spread rapidly, and hundreds of iron-fronted buildings were erected in cities across the country from 1849 to the early 1900s, especially in New York City. By the turn of the century, steel was becoming available nationally, and was structurally more versatile and cost competitive. Its increased use was one reason why building with cast iron diminished after intensive use for a half century. A large proportion of iron fronts nationwide have been demolished in downtown redevelopment projects, especially since World War II.

James Bogardus (1800-1874) was a major proponent of the use of cast iron, and several of the buildings he designed are represented within this collection. In 1849 Bogardus erected the first structure with self supporting, multistoried exterior walls of iron. The Edgar Laing Stores was a row of small four-story warehouses that appeared as one building, and was constructed in lower Manhattan in only two months. Its rear, side, and interior walls were of brick; the floor framing consisted of timber joists and girders. One of the cast iron walls was load bearing, supporting the wood floor joists. The innovation was its two street facades of self-supporting cast iron, consisting of multiples of only a few pieces: Doric-style engaged columns, panels, sills, and plates, along with some applied ornaments. Each component of the facades had been cast individually in a sand mold by a foundry, machined smooth, tested for fit, and finally trundled on horse-drawn drays to the building site. There they were hoisted into position, then bolted together and fastened to the conventional structure of timber and brick with iron spikes and staps.


The collection is divided into eleven series:

Series I. Mounted Copy Prints

Series II. Negatives

Series III. Card Files

Series IV. Project Soho

Series V. Laing Stores Project

Series VI. Manhattan Buildings Research

Series VII. Lectures and Writings

Series VIII. Specific Architects Material

Series IX. Assorted Unmounted Copy Prints

Series X. Oversize Copy Prints

Series XI. 35 mm. Negatives

Scope and Content Note

The Winston Weisman Collection of Architectural Photographs spans the period from circa 1950 to 1973 and primarily depicts structures during the period circa 1850 to 1950. There are approximately 3,500 prints (8 x 10 in. and smaller) and approximately 3,800 film negatives (4 x 5 in. and smaller). The prints in this collection are accompanied by building reports, lectures, articles, maps and a six-box card file. Photographs and data sheets from the Soho Project are filed alphabetically by street name and have cross-indexing available by architect and building dates. Mounted prints are filed by street address, city, or country, whichever is most appropriate. The card file provides information about many buildings, arranged by date or place.

In addition to photographing extant buildings, Weisman reproduced architectural drawings and book and magazine illustrations depicting structures in the 1800s and early 1900s. The collection's most unique section documents cast-iron structures in the Soho area of lower Manhattan in 1971 through notebooks of photographs and building reports created by Pennsylvania State University students under Weisman's direction. In the largest series, mounted photographs depict commercial buildings in Manhattan (including many in Soho), Chicago, Philadelphia, and a few other United States and foreign cities, chiefly from 1850 to 1950. Weisman captioned many of the photographs with information about architect and building construction dates. There is a large amount of duplication of print copies throughout the various series. The first series of mounted copy prints is the best place to search for any particular image as it is the largest group and, to a large extent but not entirely, has many of the images to be found in the other series. The other important series for specific buildings in Soho or this cast iron area in general is Project Soho and its data sheets. The collection is divided into eleven series: Mounted Copy Prints; Negatives; Card Files; Project Soho; Laing Stores Project; Manhattan Buildings Research; Lectures and Writings; Specific Architects Material; Assorted Unmounted Copy Prints; Oversize Copy Prints; 35 mm. Negatives.

Access Restrictions

For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Winston Weisman Collection of Architectural Photographs, PR 073, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift from Winston Weisman in 1975-1986.

Collection processed by

Ricky Hunter

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:50:06 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Processed by Ricky Hunter, circa 2000.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024