C. Emlen Urban understood the power of relationships as well as anyone in the business. Shortly after launching his career in 1886, he joined the most prominent social clubs in Lancaster, including the prestigious Hamilton Club. This club in particular provided Urban with an opportunity to meet other successful business persons in the community, including James Shand, Peter Watt, A. B. Rote, and perhaps most fortuitously, Milton S. Hershey.
Hershey, who was 32 at the time, and Urban, who was 27, were two young and emerging entrepreneurs. They teamed up in 1890 to design alterations to Hershey’s personal residence, which he shared with his wife, Catherine Hershey.
This residential venture was the beginning of a long and illustrious partnership between two friends spanning more than 40 years. Similar to Urban’s experience with Peter Watt and the Watt & Shand department store, the relationship began with Urban designing a residential project followed quickly by numerous commercial ventures.
Residential commissions are always the most challenging, risky and exhausting because of the intense personal nature of the design decisions. Urban’s success with the three-story Shingle-style mansion and carriage house for the Hersheys resulted in several major commissions that would take him well beyond Lancaster city.
Hershey’s Lancaster-based confection empire was growing exponentially in the late 1890s, employing 1,300 workers in and around the city. A contentious dispute between the City of Lancaster and Hershey involving property assessment led to Hershey relocating his entire production operation to Derry Township, Dauphin County, and eventually establishing the town of Hershey.
It was no surprise that he brought his architect with him and entrusted the young Urban to design the original Hershey Co. factory in 1903, the Cocoa House in 1905, the Hersheys’ second private residence, High Point Mansion, in 1908, the Leitheiser, Murrie and Hershey mansions in 1909, the McKinley School in 1910, the Hershey Trust Co. and the M. S. Hershey Consolidated School in 1914, and finally, the Hershey Theater, Convention Center and Press buildings in 1915.
All of these commissions were accomplished by Urban while maintaining and expanding his portfolio of clients in Lancaster County.
The Hersheys had Urban design their second residence, High Point, in a more formal Neoclassical style than their former Shingle-style residence in Lancaster. While far less pretentious in comparison to the mansions designed for other industrial magnates of the time, this two-story residence rivaled all other homes in Hershey at the time.
Interestingly, Hershey also commissioned Urban to design residences for his three key senior executives in three different styles. The result was a two-story Colonial Revival for the Leitheiser Mansion, English Gothic for the Erza Hershey Mansion and Tudor Revival for the J. Murrie Mansion.
Urban single-handedly shaped the architectural landscape of downtown Hershey for the first 30 years of the 20th century, from its factories, schools, theaters and museums to its commercial institutions. With few exceptions, they all stand today as a testament to his timeless talent.
What was behind the bitter dispute between Milton Hershey and the City of Lancaster?
The Scribbler, a column written by LNP’s Jack Brubaker, describes a time when Hershey’s refusal to make a substantial financial contribution to the Lancaster City Republican Party led to the arbitrary doubling of his property assessments. Hershey viewed this as unfair retaliation.
When was the Hershey Theatre constructed?
Interestingly, the theater was fully designed in 1916, but only constructed in 1932. The story behind this 16-year gap and other details about the theater design will appear in a future segment.
Is there a similarity between the Hershey Consolidated School and Lancaster Catholic High School?
Yes. Both schools were designed by Urban, in 1914 and 1929, respectively. The chosen style was Tudor Revival with similar tower elements, parapets, crenellations, Gothic arches, cast stone and red brick.
- This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email GScott@rlps.com.