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Morris Lapidus Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: PRB
Date: Feb 1995

Biographical History

Morris Lapidus (1902-2001) was a Russian-born American architect and designer.

Morris Lapidus was born on November 25, 1902 in Odessa, Russia, the son of Estonian and Polish Jews. In 1903, his family immigrated to New York City. They lived in lower Manhattan before moving to Brooklyn, first to Williamsburg and during his high school years to East New York. Lapidus's design sensibility was shaped by his experience of life in New York's tenements and exposure to the spectacle of Coney Island. He graduated from the Boys High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant and enrolled in New York University, intending to purse a degree in drama. He hoped to become an actor but eventually turned his attention to scenic design. He transferred to Columbia University's School of Architecture during the 1920s. Lapidus was deeply interested by -- but received little instruction in -- the revolutionary modernism of European architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Eliel Saarinen. His first job (while he was still in school) was in the drafting room of Warren and Whetmore, a prominent New York architecture firm.

He received his bachelor's degree in Architecture from Columbia in 1927. He was hired first by the firm Block and Hess, developing the ornamentation for buildings, and then by the architect, Arthur Weiser. Lapidus's big break came when he began to work for Ross-Frankel, a firm that designed storefronts. He began to create distinctive, and very modern, storefronts, which used color and light to draw customers into the store. He also developed a number of characteristic forms known as "cheese holes," "woggles" and "bean poles," which he would continue to use throughout his career.

Lapidus worked for Ross-Frankel for 15 years, finally opening his own office during World War II. He continued to design store fronts until one of his clients introduced him to Ben Novak, who was building a hotel in Miami Beach called the Sans Souci. His work with Novak on the Sans Souci led to other commissions, and Lapidus quickly made a name for himself as the associate architect for a number of hotels in the area: the Nautilus, the DiLido, the Biltmore Terrace and the Algiers. His most famous individually-designed hotels were built during the 1950s, including the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc. Lapidus used techniques learned in storefront and stage design to create dramatic public spaces that provided guests with a sense of adventure and escape.

In addition to hotels he worked on other public spaces, such as the 1960 redesign of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, turning it into one of the nation's first pedestrian malls. He also built office buildings, private residences, and community and religious buildings, although they were a smaller percentage of his architectural output. Lapidus continued to enjoy a lucrative and international career in hotel design throughout the 1970s. He retired in 1983, at which time he destroyed most of his drawings.

Lapidus often found himself at odds with an architectural establishment that favored some version of Modernism. His reputation began to be resuscitated with An Architecture of Joy, a controversial exhibition of his work mounted by the Architectural League of New York in 1970. Beginning in 1994, he worked with architect, Deborah Desilets, who devoted herself to changing the critical perception of Lapidus's work. Both Lapidus and Desilets gave many lectures on his legacy, and together they designed furniture and a night club, Aura, at 613 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, FL.

Lapidus married his wife, Beatrice Perlman, in 1929. The couple had two sons, Richard, a lawyer, and Alan who followed in his father's footsteps and became an architect. Morris Lapidus died at home after an accidental fall, on January 18, 2001 at the age of 98.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Spanning most of the twentieth century, the Morris Lapidus Papers comprise biographical material, correspondence, architectural work, writings and memorabilia of the Russian-born American architect, as well as a limited number of presentation drawings for several of his major projects. Documenting the development of Lapidus' philosophy of the "architecture of joy", the collection illuminates the career of this designer of retail stores, hotels and apartments.

Personal papers consists of a large number of family photographs and memorabilia, along with correspondence between Lapidus and his childhood friend, Manfred Lee (one half of the mystery-writing duo known as Ellery Queen), lists of books and records owned by Lapidus and some biographical publications/resumes.

Professional papers includes information on awards and honors that Lapidus received, exhibitions of his work, and photographs of most of his projects. This series also contains a very limited number of drawings for projects such as the Eden Roc, Americana and Fontainebleau Hotels. Correspondence mostly dates to later in Lapidus's career and relates to organizing lectures of his work. Much of the preparatory material for those lectures can also be found here.

Writings contains articles, books and essays (both fiction and architecture-related) written by Morris Lapidus. It also contains numerous newspaper and magazine articles about Lapidus and his work, in addition to a couple of thesis papers on Lapidus.

The final series is devoted to Deborah Desilets, a Florida architect and fashion designer who worked with Lapidus beginning in 1994. It is often difficult to distinguish between the output of Desilets and Lapidus during this time, especially as she often helped him to arrange and prepare lectures and developed his preliminary designs into more finished products. This series contains only material for which her authorship was clear, or which relates to projects wherein she was not working on Lapidus's behalf.

Note: Audiovisual items have been assigned unique ID numbers (lapidus_01, lapidus_02 and so on). Please reference these numbers when requesting these items.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Access to computer media or recordings requires advance notice.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Desilets, Deborah.
Ibelings, Hans.
Lapidus, Morris.
Lee, Manfred B. (Manfred Bennington), 1905-1971.
Pelli, Cesar.
Queen, Ellery.
Risom, Jens.
Sanders, Joel.
Spear, Laurinda.
Tisch, Preston.
Wallace, Mike, 1918-2012.

Corporate Bodies

Architectural League of New York.
Columbia University.
Cooper-Hewitt Museum.
Florida International University.
Morris Lapidus Associates.
Morris Lapidus, Harle & Liebman.
Smithsonian Institution.


Architect-designed furniture.
Architects -- United States.
Architectural design.
Architectural drawing -- United States -- 20th century.
Architectural firms.
Architectural practice.
Architecture -- Designs and plans.
Architecture -- Human factors.
Architecture -- Psychological aspects.
Architecture -- United States -- 20th century.
Architecture -- Vocational guidance.
Architecture, American.
Furniture designers.
Hotels -- Designs and plans.
Painting -- United States -- 20th century.
Russian Americans.
Stores, Retail -- Designs and plans.

Genres and Forms

Architectural drawings (visual works)
Exhibition catalogs.
Scripts (documents)
Slides (photographs)
Sound recordings.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Morris Lapidus Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Morris Lapidus, 1970-1988.

Additional materials gift of Deborah Desilets, 2011.

Table of Contents

Personal papers

Professional papers


Deborah Desilets