Bidding on Architectural History

After years of hunting on eBay for SOM artifacts, historian Nicholas Adams shares his favorite finds.

SOM partners during a 1954 meeting in San Francisco. Despite the firm’s many thousands of buildings completed since its founding in 1936, there was no comprehensive overview of SOM as a whole before Nicholas Adams began his multi-decade quest to document its history. (© SOM)
First report of the Building Committee, Connecticut General Life Insurance Headquarters, Bloomfield, Connecticut, 1953. It was one of the most important of the buildings for which Gordon Bunshaft was senior designer. The intense planning process was a critical part of the building’s success. (Avery Fine Arts & Architectural Library, Columbia University)
Bruce Graham, Gordon Wildermuth, and Robert Cutler at a partners’ meeting in 1981.
U.S. Navy Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, 1952, one of a group of five drawings prepared under the supervision of Walter Netsch. Framed and with the location of the perspective drawing identified on the plan, it is likely that this was part of a presentation series. (In process of transfer to a museum)
Nina Wayler (1914–1994) was an actress and dancer before marrying Gordon Bunshaft in 1943. This card was one of a series of “Glamour Girls of Stage and Screen,” given out free with a package of cigarettes. (SOM Chicago, archives)
William S. Brown (1910–1999), introduction and table of contents, “SOM: The Formative Years” (1986). These sheets came with the draft version that Adams purchased. (Avery Fine Arts & Architectural Library, Columbia University)
Gordon Bunshaft (1909–1990), diary, open to show his hotel rating system from his scholarship travels in 1935. The second image shows a list of the books owned by the architect added many years later. (Avery Fine Arts & Architectural Library, Columbia University)
Two works by Louis Skidmore. Left, view of the temple of Amon Karnak, lithograph (14 x 19 ½ inches), executed during the period that Skidmore was resident at the American Academy in Rome, 1928. Right: greeting card, engraving, Paris, Notre Dame and the quai, 1928 (approximately 3 ½ x 5 ½ inches) (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.)

My goal is to put objects in public institutions where they can be found by others. I am not a collector. I am a matchmaker.

Joanna C. Diman (1901–1991) at the time of her employment by SOM (ca. 1949); view of the original garden at Lever House (1952) where she was the designer. (RISD archives)

We are a collective of architects, designers, engineers, and planners building a better future. To learn more, visit