Collection ID: 10249151

Collection context


Burnham, Alan, 1913-1984 and Hunt, Richard Morris, 1827-1895
Alan Burnham (1913–1984) was an American architect and architectural historian who served as the Executive Director of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1965 to 1973 as well as the Commission's Director of Research. This collection consists mainly of reference materials related to architectural history and New York City architectural history, as well as professional papers and papers relating to Richard Morris Hunt and the history of New York City apartment buildings.
38 linear feet
English .
Preferred citation:

Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.


Scope and Content:

This collection is primarily composed of notes, correspondence, pencil drawings, clippings, publications, organizational newsletters, photographs, negatives, slides, and other reference materials Burnham used throughout his professional career for his architectural, advocacy, and research work. The basis for the series and subseries order was developed from Burnham's own groupings from his personal reference archive, the American Architectural Archive. For the majority of the collection, Burnham's folder titles have been maintained and material sorted according to Burnham's own organizational system from his reference archive.

Biographical / Historical:

Alan Burnham was born on February 10, 1913 in Englewood, New Jersey. He spent his early childhood in Philadelphia, later attending preparatory schools in Connecticut and Colorado. In 1931, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend Harvard University. There, he would meet lifelong friends, Henry Hope Reed, architectural critic, and Wayne Andrews, architectural photographer, who he would correspond and collaborate with for the entirety of his professional career. Burnham graduated from Harvard in 1935 with a Bachelor of Science and went on to receive a Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University in 1940. In 1939, he obtained from Richard Barren Hunt a copy of Catherine Howland Hunt's manuscript chronicling the life of her husband, Richard Morris Hunt. Burnham's work editing and indexing the Hunt manuscript sparked an enduring fascination in the career of the 19th century architect.

After receiving his architectural degree, Burnham worked as an architect, but always maintained an active interest in the study of American architectural history. In 1953, he served on the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter's Committee on Housing, authoring a committee report entitled The Dwelling in Greater Manhattan: The Apartment 1850-1895, chronicling the history of apartment housing in New York City. While working as an associate at Shanley & Sturges, Burnham served as a member of the Municipal Arts Society's Committee on Historic Architecture under the tutelage of his employer and Committee Chairman, Walter Knight Sturges. He succeeded Sturges as chairman and through the Municipal Arts Society, authored a broad survey of New York City's historic architecture called New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York, later published by Wesleyan University Press in 1963. In the course of his research for both the AIA and the MAS, Burnham began acquiring reference materials that evolved into his American Architectural Archive. Burnham saw the archive as his contribution to the study of architectural history, amassing a great wealth of publications, photographs, and prints catalogued for use by other historians.

Throughout his career, Burnham was a member of numerous preservation organizations, such as the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Victorian Society in America, as well as worked on a variety of preservation projects, such as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, the Greenwich Christ Rectory, and the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. His unwavering commitment to the preservation of America's historic structures established him as a founder of the burgeoning preservation movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. From 1965 to 1973, Burnham served as the Executive Director of New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission. After 1973, he stayed on at the Landmarks Preservation Commission as their Director of Research. Burnham also served as a member of the Connecticut Historic Commission and the Historic District Commission of Greenwich. He died in 1984 at the age of 71. Burnham left unfinished his work on a biography of Richard Morris Hunt, a compendium of New York City public squares, and an annotated biography of New York City, published posthumously as New York City: The Development of a Metropolis.


Burnham, Alan. New York Landmarks: A Study & Index of Architecturally Notable Structures in Greater New York. (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1963).

"Ennis, Thomas W. "Director of Landmarks Panel Quits on Advice of Physician." (New York: The New York Times, November 24, 1965), 48.

Fraser, C. Gerald. "Alan Burnham is Dead at 71; Architect and Preservationist." (New York: The New York Times, March 5, 1984), B11.

Acquisition information:
Source of acquisition--Jeffrey N. Lew and Andrea Anson. Method of acquisition--Donated;; Date of acquisition--2011. Accession number--2011.006.
Processing information:

This collection was processed by Emily Rinaldi (Graduate Intern) under the supervision of Shelley Hayreh, Avery Archivist, in 2012-2013.


This collection is made up of five series: New York City Reference, General Reference, Professional Papers, A.I.A. Committee on Housing, and Richard Morris Hunt Family Papers.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard



This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email


Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For additional guidance, see Columbia University Libraries' publication policy.

In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.


Alan Burnham papers, 1874-1999, (bulk 1940-1982), Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

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