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Arthur Cort Holden

Arthur Cort Holden

Arthur Cort Holden exercised his skills as a city planner to benefit preservation interests in New York, especially in Greenwich Village.

Organizations: Save the Village, Washington Square Association
Places: Brooklyn Battery Bridge, Greenwich Village, Washington Square
Public Policy: Bard Act (1956)
Above: Washington Square, New York, c. 1900 - 1920; Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Arthur Cort Holden, architect, planner and poet, was born in New York City on November 29, 1890. He attended Princeton University, where he was elected the president of his class. He graduated in 1912 with a Bachelor of Literature. In 1915, he subsequently pursued degrees at Columbia University, receiving a Bachelor of Architecture and an M.A. in Economics.1

After army service during World War I, he joined the architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White.2 In 1920, he established his own firm, Holden, McLaughlin, and Associates. Holden is perhaps most noted for advising Frank Lloyd Wright on the design of the Guggenheim Museum in 1949. His architectural achievements were acknowledged in 1957 when he received the Medal of Honor from the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.3 At the age of 87, his professional focus shifted towards consulting on the financing of construction and real estate. He was the consulting architect to American Houses, Inc.4

During the Great Depression, Holden worked on committees for both the National Recovery Administration and the Work Progress Administration.5

Holden was the author of several books and pamphlets on the topics of finance, architecture, housing, and urban design. His works include: Primer of Housing (New York: Workers Education Bureau Press, 1927), Money in Motion (1940), Brick Architecture of the Colonial Period in Maryland and Virginia (1919), and Sonnets for my City; an essay on the kinship of art & finance as factors in the development of the city and the molding of man’s environment (New York: Schulte Publishing Company, 1965).6

He died on December 18, 1993, at the age of 103.7

New York Urban League, Inc.
Board President and Chairman, 1922-1931

American Institute of Architects
Chairman of Civic Design, 1935-1942
Vice Chairman, Committee on Post-War Planning, 1944-1946
Chairman, Housing Committee, 1947-1949

Arthur Cort Holden exercised his skills as a city planner to benefit preservation interests in New York. Holden was a member of the New York City Mayor's Committee on City Planning from 1934 to 1938. In addition, he was involved, along with Albert S. Bard, in the 1939 battle against Robert Moses's plan to construct a Brooklyn Battery Bridge.

Holden was also involved in the fight to save Greenwich Village. After World War II, the residents of New York's Greenwich Village found themselves in a continuous battle to preserve the cherished ambiance of their neighborhood. In doing so they faced challenges in the forms of developer Robert Moses, an ever-expanding New York University, and the encroachment of out-of-scale apartment buildings. The Washington Square Association launched a planning effort in 1944 designed "to preserve the residential character of the Washington Square and Greenwich Village sections of Manhattan.”8 Arthur Cort Holden produced the plan, which was published in a 101-page booklet in 1946, entitled the Washington Square Association's Planning Survey. It called for the "protection of historic and picturesque buildings.”9 As reported in The New York Times, the plan recommended, "the area around Washington Square and north to Fourteenth Street be guarded as a high-class residential section, that Greenwich Village be redeveloped to retain its essential character but with a periphery of high apartment buildings...The majority of buildings in Greenwich Village should not be disturbed.”10

Arthur Cort Holden also helped to draft an amendment to New York City's zoning for the purpose of saving the Village. On June 24, 1959, James Felt announced that a new zoning resolution would go into effect, after a one-year moratorium. The year gap would in essence create a "grace period" that would legally "grandfather" in building projects that followed the old zoning.11 This "grace period" presented a serious threat to existing Greenwich Village architecture, because real estate developers rushed to get new projects underway before the new zoning came into effect. Robert C. Weinberg suggested that Greenwich Village residents go to the City Planning Commission and try to obtain an amendment to the existing zoning in order to protect it in the meantime. The amendment that Weinberg was referring to was "essentially the same as the one which Holden had recommended in his "Washington Square Survey.”12 Holden subsequently took up the challenge of uncovering the most effective way to implement the Bard Act in New York City, largely on behalf of Save the Village.13

  • Arthur Cort Holden Papers, 1845-1993
    Princeton University Library
    Manuscripts Division
    One Washington Road
    Princeton, New Jersey 08544
    Tel: (609) 258-3184
    Fax: (609) 258-2324
    Email: [email protected]

  • Finding Aid to the collection is available online at the Princeton Library Website.

    Arthur Cort Holden Papers, 1920-1987
    Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
    Carl A. Kroch Library
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, NY 14853
    Tel: (607) 255-3530
    Fax: (607) 255-9524
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Finding Aid to the collection is available on-line here.

    Greenwich Village historic district designation report (New York, 1969) (signed by Commissioners)
    Avery Library
    Columbia University
    1172 Amsterdam Avenue
    New York, NY 10027

  • Oral History with Arthur Cort Holden, January 20, 1971, conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  1. 
Biographical Introduction to the finding aid for the Arthur Cort Holden Papers, 1845-1993 (bulk circa 1890-1993).
  2. 
”Arthur Cort Holden, Architect, 103, Dies,” The New York Times, 21 December 1993.
  3. 
Oral history interview with Arthur Cort Holden, 20 January 1971, conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  4. 
Biographical Introduction to the finding aid for the Arthur Cort Holden Papers, 1845-1993 (bulk circa 1890-1993).
  5. 
Ibid.
  6. 
Guide to the finding aid of the Arthur Cort Holden Papers, 1920-1987.
  7. 
”Arthur Cort Holden, Architect, 103, Dies,” The New York Times, 21 December 1993.
  8. 
”Seeks to Improve the Lower West Side as a Home Center,” The New York Times, 23 April 1944.
  9. 
”Washington Square Tomorrow,” The New York Times, 3 October 1946.
  10. 
”Plan is outlined for Village Area,” The New York Times, 1 October 1946.
  11. 
Makielski, The Politics of Zoning: The New York Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), pages 88 and 93.
  12. 
”The Boiling Cauldron-GVA,” Villager, 22 October, 1959.
  13. “Accelerate Drive to ‘Save the Village,'” Villager, 12 November 1959.