Maybeck and Annie walking in Elsah woods, 26 April 1931

The Principia Archives is the institutional archives for The Principia, a private educational institution serving preschool through college, located in St. Louis, Missouri, and Elsah, Illinois. The Maybeck Collection is the portion of the archives relating to the building of Principia College by architect Bernard Maybeck.

The Maybeck Collection is unusually large for a private institution and covers events extending over nearly a third of the school’s 100-year history. In part, because of the distance separating the architect’s San Francisco and Elsah offices, as well as the client in St. Louis, written correspondence between the architect and client was extensive.

Mules excavating Anderson Hall, 14 July 1931

In addition, the local office at Elsah made weekly reports and maintained complete vendor files. Photographs documenting construction, from excavations to completed buildings, provide an extensive record of the building process. Transcripts of subsequent interviews with participants, both from the architect’s office and from the school, help to complete the documentation of the commission. These materials remain at the school and constitute the heart of the Collection. Correspondence between Maybeck and Principia Director Frederic Morgan began in 1920. Active work on the Elsah college buildings lasted from 1930 until 1939. Subsequently, Henry H. Gutterson, a close associate of Maybeck, served as the College’s architect. Maybeck continued informally as a consultant on the Elsah project until his passing in 1957.

The Maybeck Collection not only documents a significant architectural commission but also reveals a close kinship that developed over the decades between the architect and his client. Dialogues between architects and clients are usually oral and thus lost to history. The extensive correspondence that passed back and forth between Maybeck and Frederic Morgan-plus reports, annotations, marginal sketches, and other written documents that constitute the Collection-provide a unique and rich record. Bernard Maybeck and Frederic Morgan, both visionaries, shared a philosophical belief that architecture expressed ideas and that the buildings themselves were significant expressions of the ideals of Principia. The Collection contains the following: 9 linear feet plus numerous blueprints, red prints with corrections, drawings, and pastels; photographs including 1,655 photographs taken by Jane Rhea Massengale during the construction from winter 1930 to December 1934; 1,118 written communications between Maybeck and client from March 1920 to February 1952; and a 66-page essay by Maybeck on his philosophy dated 1940.

Additional contents of the Maybeck Collection:

  • Maybeck’s incoming correspondence
  • Frederic Morgan outgoing correspondence
  • numbered and unnumbered letters from architect’s office, Elsah, Illinois
  • numbered field reports; vendor files; contractor files
  • blueprints; tissues
  • tissues of full size details
  • construction blueprints
  • red prints with notations
  • steel specifications
  • Dewell’s engineering drawings, specifications and correspondence
  • construction photographs
  • early interior photographs
  • exterior photographs
  • pastels
  • gouache drawings
  • presentation packages
  • essay by Maybeck on his philosophy
  • interviews about construction from Frederic Morgan, Edward Hussey, Howard Van Heuklyn, Frank Berverweiler, Jane Stuessie, Jacomena Maybeck, G. Eldridge Hamlin
Introduction Historic District About the Collection