The first years: Curtis in the 1920s

Date: February 24, 2015 Category:
Ruyl 1925  Curtis InstituteX
Ruyl 1925  Recital roomx
Ruyl 1925 Common RoomX
Ruyl 1925 Executive Buildingx
Ruyl 1925 studioX
Ruyl 1925 Preparatory Deptx
Ruyl 1925 Prep dept entrancex

 

When Curtis opened its doors on Monday, October 13, 1924, its original buildings looked very much as they do now. Yet they were also very different. Orchestra rehearsals were held in the Common Room, and recitals took place in an “Assembly Room” for lack of a proper concert hall. The school did not yet have a library, and there was a preparatory department in the building at 1720 Locust Street, where the present library is housed. During the “Roaring Twenties” the school remodeled its buildings, developed its program, and established its legacy. Join us for a virtual tour!

 

 

 

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Three mansions on Rittenhouse Square

The Curtis Institute of Music was founded at a transitional time for Rittenhouse Square, as its stately old mansions gave way to apartment high-rises to accommodate a new generation. To house the new conservatory, Mary Louise Curtis Bok and her husband purchased the residence of George W. Childs Drexel and his wife, Mary, at 1726 Locust Street. The neighboring Theodore Cramp mansion at 1720 Locust Street was to house the school’s preparatory department, and the Edward A. Sibley house at 235 South 18th Street was for the executive staff. (Read about the purchases.) After the school received its charter, Mrs. Bok began to turn the three mansions into a school. Three artists were commissioned to illustrate the school’s prospectus—the Catalogue—with exterior and interior drawings of the buildings.

 

The Drexel mansion before its purchase by Curtis's founder, 1924

The Drexel mansion before its purchase by Curtis's founder, 1924

This photo is taken from the northwest, on Rittenhouse Square. (At the time there was no building on the northeast corner of Locust and 18th Street; the construction of the Penn Athletic Club had not yet begun.) The small building adjoining the mansion on the left was a plant conservatory that opened to the Drexel family’s dining room. [Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

The Drexel mansion before its purchase by Curtis's founder, 1924
Curtis between the Penn Athletic Club and the Barclay Hotel, c. 1929

Curtis between the Penn Athletic Club and the Barclay Hotel, c. 1929

The 1920s saw the addition of five high-rises to Rittenhouse Square, including the Penn Athletic Club (across Locust Street from Curtis) and the Barclay Hotel, next to Curtis on South 18th Street. [Photographer: Photo Illustrators. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia]

Curtis between the Penn Athletic Club and the Barclay Hotel, c. 1929
The three school buildings, Louis H. Ruyl, 1925

The three school buildings, Louis H. Ruyl, 1925

This illustration by Louis Ruyl, whose drawings were used for the first three annual editions of the Catalogue, shows the three mansions, with Knapp Hall on the left and the former Sibley home on the right. The latter building, at 235 South 18th Street, was originally the school’s main entrance. [Catalogue 1925–26]

The three school buildings, Louis H. Ruyl, 1925
The Drexel family’s living room with adjoining drawing room, c. 1897

The Drexel family’s living room with adjoining drawing room, c. 1897

The room that is presently known as the Bok Room was once the living room of George Childs Drexel and his wife, Mary. It was connected to an adjoining room (now two offices). In 1898 the family commissioned the muralist Edwin Blashfield to paint the ceiling of this room. [Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

The Drexel family’s living room with adjoining drawing room, c. 1897
The entrance at 235 South 18th Street, by Herbert Pullinger, 1924

The entrance at 235 South 18th Street, by Herbert Pullinger, 1924

This drawing by Philadelphia artist Herbert Pullinger (1878-1961) depicts the "Executive Building," which housed the school's executive staff. The mansion to the right would be demolished a few years later, to make way for the Barclay residential hotel. Pullinger’s drawings were ultimately not selected for the Catalogue. [Curtis Archives Visual Materials Collection]

The entrance at 235 South 18th Street, by Herbert Pullinger, 1924

 

The first recitals and performances

To develop the curriculum and attract faculty, Mrs. Bok cooperated closely with two friends: pianist Joseph Hofmann, who headed the piano department and would become director of the school in 1927; and Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Stokowski was keenly aware that Curtis could nurture new talent for his famous ensemble. During the first three years he took charge of the Curtis orchestra himself—with the help of an assistant conductor—while all faculty teaching orchestral instruments were drawn from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Initially orchestra rehearsals were held in the Common Room of the main building, while recitals took place in an “Assembly Room” directly to the east of the Common Room. In 1927 a new concert hall would replace the Assembly Room and its adjacent plant conservatory.

 

The Common Room by Louis H. Ruyl, 1924

The Common Room by Louis H. Ruyl, 1924

In a description of the facilities that accompanied this illustration the Catalogue emphasized the “elegance and the homelike quality” of the three former residences. [Catalogue 1924-25]

The Common Room by Louis H. Ruyl, 1924
Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich rehearse the orchestra in the Common Room, 1925

Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich rehearse the orchestra in the Common Room, 1925

Initial orchestra rehearsals were held in the Common Room. Soon they were moved to the lecture hall of the Philadelphia County Medical Society at 21st and Spruce Streets (later the New School of Music) until Curtis built a concert hall that could accommodate a full orchestra. [Photographer: Kubey-Rembrandt Studios]

Stokowski and Thaddeus Rich rehearse the orchestra in the Common Room, 1925
"A recital in the Assembly Room," by Louis Ruyl, 1924

"A recital in the Assembly Room," by Louis Ruyl, 1924

From 1924 to 1927 recitals were held in the "Assembly Room," the onetime dining room of the Drexel mansion's previous owners. The room, which was to the left of the present main entrance, was paneled in mahogany with a stone fireplace on the street side. An adjoining plant conservatory was adapted to serve as a small stage. In 1927 the Assembly Room was reconfigured as the lobby of the new concert hall, with a street entrance replacing the fireplace. (View the plan.) [Catalogue, 1924–25 and 1925–26]

"A recital in the Assembly Room," by Louis Ruyl, 1924
Second annual concert of the orchestra with Stokowski, April 24, 1927

Second annual concert of the orchestra with Stokowski, April 24, 1927

The first concert of the Curtis orchestra (augmented by seven members of the Philadelphia Orchestra) was held in April 1926 in the Academy of Music. In this photo of the second annual concert, also at the Academy, six Philadelphia Orchestra members join the orchestra; note the seven harps. (View the program.) [Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

Second annual concert of the orchestra with Stokowski, April 24, 1927
Performance of Curtis’s first opera production, May 12, 1929

Performance of Curtis’s first opera production, May 12, 1929

In 1929 Curtis staged Eugen d’Albert’s Tiefland at the Academy of Music under the direction of Artur Rodzinski, who succeeded Stokowski as head of the orchestra department in 1927. This scene, the opera’s prologue, shows the Pyrenées on painted backdrops. The production was repeated in 1930 in cooperation with the Philadelphia Opera Company. [Photographer: Kubey-Rembrandt Studios]

Performance of Curtis’s first opera production, May 12, 1929

 

A library, a concert hall, and a new entrance

The architect hired for all building projects and renovations in the 1920s was Horace Wells Sellers, whose architectural drawings are preserved in the Curtis Archives. In 1926 he oversaw the building of the new library and began designing the new concert hall. The Drexel family’s former living room, which George and Mary Drexel had turned into a library with ceiling murals (presently the “Bok Room”), became the new library’s reading room, with a spiral staircase to the basement, containing several additional rooms of books, scores, and equipment. The new concert hall, named after Josef Hofmann’s father Casimir, was inaugurated in December, 1927. The wrought-iron gates over the doors leading from the street to the lobby of Casimir Hall were created by the famous Philadelphia artisan Samuel Yellin. After these projects were complete, the Locust Street entrance leading into the Common Room became the school’s main entrance.

 

The library reading room in the "Bok Room," 1930

The library reading room in the "Bok Room," 1930

The spiral staircase at the back led to eight additional rooms in the basement. (View a description in Overtones.) [Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

The library reading room in the "Bok Room," 1930
Plan of Casimir Hall by architect Horace Wells Sellers, 1928

Plan of Casimir Hall by architect Horace Wells Sellers, 1928

The former Assembly Room became the lobby leading to the concert hall, with an entrance from Locust Street and stairs leading to the basement. The concert hall itself (presently Field Concert Hall) replaced a former plant conservatory and its surrounding garden on Bouvier Street. Architect Horace Wells Sellers described the challenges he faced in an architectural journal.

Plan of Casimir Hall by architect Horace Wells Sellers, 1928
Casimir Hall, seen from Locust Street, 1927

Casimir Hall, seen from Locust Street, 1927

One of the difficulties that the architect faced was that the site was “at the junction of two busy thoroughfares carrying heavy automobile and trolley traffic.” To exclude outside noise, the new concert hall did not have any outside openings except basement fire exits, while lighting and ventilation were obtained by “mechanical means.” (Read an article about building Casimir Hall by architect Horace Wells Sellers.)

Casimir Hall, seen from Locust Street, 1927
Decorations in Casimir Hall prior to its inauguration, December 3, 1927

Decorations in Casimir Hall prior to its inauguration, December 3, 1927

Curtis director Josef Hofmann inaugurated the building with a piano recital, playing works by Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt.

Decorations in Casimir Hall prior to its inauguration, December 3, 1927
Construction crew in front of the new entrance, c. 1928

Construction crew in front of the new entrance, c. 1928

When a company had finished a project it was customary that their representatives were photographed in front of the entrance of that building. The men on this photo are presumed to be from the construction company that worked with architect Horace Wells Sellers. [Curtis Archives/Gift of Kathie Congdon]

Construction crew in front of the new entrance, c. 1928

 

Knapp Hall

Mary Louise Curtis Bok named the building at 1720 Locust (now the Rock Resource Center) Knapp Hall, after her mother Louisa Knapp. During the first school year the building housed a preparatory school for beginners or very young pupils, who might continue to more serious study at the conservatory level. When the preparatory department was discontinued, Knapp Hall housed the Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory.

 

The "Catalogue" about the Preparatory Department, 1924

The "Catalogue" about the Preparatory Department, 1924

The first issue of the Catalogue must have been assembled soon after the school buildings were purchased. It was not very elaborate, and contained only two small drawings by A. Anderson of the main building and the Preparatory Department on Locust Street. The Philadelphia artists Herbert Pullinger and Louis Ruyl must have been commissioned to create alternative drawings for the second issue of the 1924–25 Catalogue after the first issue went to print. (browse the first Catalogues).

The "Catalogue" about the Preparatory Department, 1924
A teaching studio at Knapp Hall, by Herbert Pullinger, 1924

A teaching studio at Knapp Hall, by Herbert Pullinger, 1924

While most of the views that Pullinger and Ruyl drew were the same, they chose different teaching studios. Ruyl, whose drawings were ultimately chosen for the Catalogue, drew Josef Hofmann’s studio in the main building, while Pullinger chose the back room on the ground floor of Knapp Hall (presently the library lounge). [Curtis Archives Visual Materials Collections]

A teaching studio at Knapp Hall, by Herbert Pullinger, 1924
Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory entrance hall, 1926

Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory entrance hall, 1926

Ruyl’s drawing of the entrance hall of Knapp Hall was first used in the 1924-25 Catalogue with the caption “the Entrance Hall in the Preparatory Department Building.” In the 1926-27 Catalogue, the first year that the mansion housed the Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory, the caption was adjusted. [Catalogue 1926-27]

Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory entrance hall, 1926
Lea Luboshutz with students, c. 1930

Lea Luboshutz with students, c. 1930

Lea Luboshutz was appointed to the violin faculty in 1927. At the end of the 1929-30 school year she asked her students to write about their experiences, which were put together in a ‘yearbook.’ It included a photo of teacher and students, as well as a pen-and-ink drawing of Luboshutz's studio by William Strasser. [MSS11, Lea Luboshutz yearbook/Kubey-Rembrandt Studios]

Lea Luboshutz with students, c. 1930
Luboshutz’s teaching studio by William Strasser, c. 1930

Luboshutz’s teaching studio by William Strasser, c. 1930

William Strasser was a Hungarian-born composer and artist who, after growing deaf, immigrated to the United States to find work in the music publishing industry. In 1928 Josef Hofmann appointed him as consultant to the library, but he also helped out with illustrations for Curtis publications. This room is thought to be the northwest-corner room of the first or second floor of 1720 Locust Street. [MSS11. Lea Luboshutz scrapbook]

Luboshutz’s teaching studio by William Strasser, c. 1930
 

 

DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.