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Born: 1875, Died: 3/5/1954

Influential and important movie theater designer John Eberson was born in Cernauti, Bukovina in Romania. He left this rural region to attend high school in Dresden, Germany and then moved to Vienna, Austria to study at the university in the vibrant period at the end of the nineteenth century when design innovation and fantastic theatricality were part of the city's culture. Eberson emigrated to the United States in 1901 after an altercation with a superior officer of the Fourteenth Hussars of the Austrian Army, with whom Eberson served. After his emigration, Eberson settled in St. Louis in a community of German immigrants and found employment as a stage designer and painter, working for Karl Hoblitzelle, an early motion picture promoter. Eberson's first independent design was for a theater in Hamilton, Ohio in 1909, where he also received a number of commissions for industrial and commercial buildings. He moved to Chicago in 1910, and began to build a practice that would include projects throughout the world, including several in the Philadelphia region. In 1923, Eberson designed his first "atmospheric" theater. The interiors of these buildings were grand if not extravagant stage sets consisting of elaborate false architectural facades and structures in historicist styles set below illusionistic painted ceilings with small electric lights that mimicked stars. These fantastic buildings set the tone for movie theater design into the 1930s. In 1926, Eberson moved his office from Chicago to New York City, and two years later his son was made a full partner in John & Drew Eberson, Architects. Their work declined significantly in the Depression, and they were forced to dissolve the firm for a period, but were able to re-establish the office in 1934. The elder Eberson continued to design theaters until his death in 1954.

Written by Emily T. Cooperman.

Clubs and Membership Organizations

  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • Architectural League of New York
  • New York Society of Architects
  • Building Congress of New York

School Affiliations

  • University of Vienna (Austria)


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