Samuel B. Zisman:
An Inventory of his Papers, 1937-1970
Samuel Bernard Zisman (1908-1970) was born in Boston on June 13, 1908 to Russian Jewish emigrant parents. He attended Boston University in the 1920s and earned a B.S. in Architecture from the Massashusetts Institute of Technology in 1930. From 1930-1935 he was Assistant Professor of Architecture at MIT and spent one summer traveling in Europe. In 1935 he became Professor of Architecture at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and continued there until the advent of World War II in 1941. At that time he began service to the United States, first as a member of the National Resources Planning Board in Washington, D.C., and also with the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency. From 1943-1945 he was Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, instructing troops in camouflage techniques in California and in Colorado.
From 1945-1947 he was director of the Bavarian District of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. He returned to the United States in 1947 and became director of the Citizens Council on City Planning in Philadelphia for the next two years. In 1949 he established private practice in San Antonio, Texas as a planning consultant and architect. That same year his previous experience in post-war Europe was called upon when he became a visiting expert on city planning for the Department of Defense, studying city rebuilding in Germany with the German-born planner, Hans Blumenfeld. From 1950-1952 that expertise was applied on the domestic front as consultant to the U.S. Urban Redevelopment agency. His practice involved projects throughout the United States and also abroad, in Germany, Guam, Kenya, Colombia, and Mexico.
Zisman established professional relationships with Texas architects, planners, and landscape architects, most notably O'Neil Ford, Brooks Martin, and Stewart King. He was the author of four books and many articles and reports, and with Wanda Ford, wife of O'Neil Ford, was an activist in the pioneer preservation movement in San Antonio. Though never married, he adopted the three children of his brother, James, after they were orphaned. Samuel Zisman died in San Antonio on March 25, 1970 at the age of 61.
The Samuel B. Zisman papers consist of photographs, professional logs, correspondence, and postcards that reveal the career of this architect, planner, and author. Correspondence is primarily letters to Zisman from fellow Texas architect O'Neil Ford; other letters are from Wanda Ford, Arch B. Swank, and a woman named Mary Ann.
The Professional Logs of Samuel B. Zisman
Contributed by Paul D. Spreiregen, nephew of Zisman; Washington, D.C., November 2002
The logs of Sam Zisman are primarily an insight into the daily work and life of an independent and in some ways pioneer urban planning consultant in the 50s and 60s, specifically 1956-1970. They are a perspective on a broad range of types of planning projects, covering a wide geographic area. The clients or sponsors for these projects were public, institutional and corporate.
The logs also furnish insight into the experimental, one might say trial -- efforts of mid-century American planning, many of which have become standard planning methods, particularly as practiced at municipal level.
Sam Zisman's work had its moral and intellectual foundation in the political liberalism of the 1930s through the early 1960s, a liberalism that has been all but displaced. The basis of his thinking was a pragmatic sense of social justice, the belief that America's bounty should be accessible to all. It was also informed by his conviction that the physical and operational health of America's communities, its towns and cities -- was fundamental to the health of society, and that all parts of that were interdependent. His focus was on the physical community that is the setting of society and, in his view, a key lever of social improvement.
His logs also reveal his belief in the importance of the role of federal and state government in providing the enabling legislation and funding, through tax allocation or grants, for local urban planning and redevelopment. He was active in the formulation of legislation at Federal level, as well as the formulation of policies of the American Institute of Planners, then the professional society of American planning.
Good planning, in his view, was a benefit to all. He regarded every planning project as an opportunity for wider and more distributed benefits. All his work was all done at a personal level, working carefully with his clients on a one to one basis. Because of that he spent much of his time traveling, very often sleeping on overnight flights.
His logs reveal a great sense of loyalty to friends, and a deep sense of responsibility to nurturing the upcoming generation of professionals. They reveal, as well, a great sense of commitment and responsibility to his own community through his activities in the politics of San Antonio and indeed Texas. He was an active participant in San Antonio's early conservation efforts. He saw and wrote of the relationship of San Antonio's historic parks and Spanish colonial missions as integral to the present and future life of the city, resources to be cared for. His perspective, always, was from the viewpoint of the daily life of the average citizen.
The logs record many personal and family matters, the latter unavoidably intertwined with his daily work and life. The logs record trying family problems. The main one concerned his younger brother James, who left three small children upon his death in 1965. Rather than scatter the three with his nieces and nephews -- which he could have done -- he adopted them, relocating them from Boston to San Antonio and setting up a new household for them. This complicated his life at a time when his health began to fail. This aspect of his character serves to illustrate his sense of personal responsibility.
His logs often express exasperation with the vicissitudes of professional practice, but at the same time an understanding and sympathy with the world he tried to improve, and the sometimes failings of his peers. He is remembered by his friends and colleagues for his sense of humor, ever at the ready. Many is the table that he set on a roar.
Sam Zisman was the most sociable of men, the kind of guest you'd want to have at a party, the kind of person who you'd want to have for a drink or a meal.
He had the ability to enjoy himself wherever he might be. He worked very hard, but he enjoyed his work and his many friends. He could be at home anywhere. At the same time he was a rather private person.
As a planner he was less the technician and more the pragmatic visionary, usually spurring others to see and imagine for themselves the possibilities of their own communities. He was also self-effacing, very often letting others take credit for work for which he should have been acknowledged and credited. He was very much the man behind the scene. It is a major oversight that he was not honored professionally in his own lifetime or after.
His friend and colleague, Israel Stollman, former Director of the American Institute of Planners recalled that "in the thirties, Sam was doing some work for the National Resources Planning Board or its predecessor. He led the preparation of a comprehensive plan for Corpus Christi -- I think it was. This was meant to be a model for other communities to follow. Tacoma, Washington, and two or three other cities, done by other planners were included in this approach. He also touched everything with humor. I remember his description of his work on the [primate research] experimental labs as 'planning some new towns for monkeys'…"
Of his many professional projects he would probably take particular satisfaction in his college campus planning -- St Mary's in San Antonio and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs -- in his planning for primate research facilities in Kenya and San Antonio, for the site planning of the Texas Instruments plant in Dallas, and the planning of Little Rock Arkansas. There are many more, but those are particularly representative.
Not the least, he was the best of all possible models of how to be an uncle.
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Samuel B. Zisman papers, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin
Processed by Beth Dodd, 2002. Additons by Donna Coates, May 2005. Please see the archive's staff for more information.
Other Finding Aids
Unpublished inventory in archive.
Detailed Description of the Collection