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Benjamin Dombar Papers

Identifier: DAAPLIB-2018-03

Scope and Contents

Collection of professional papers, correspondence, project files, office records, clippings, printed architectural perspectives, sketches, photographs/slides,and other related materials of Benjamin Dombar, AIA and Associates.


  • 1933-2017


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.


5.84 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Physical Location

Robert A. Deshon and Karl J. Schlachter Library for Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP Library)


Benjamin Dombar (1916 - 2006)

In 1934, Ben Dombar arrived at Taliesin to study with Frank Lloyd Wright. Ben's older brother Abe was already there. The younger Dombar was 17 years old and had just graduated Hughes High School in Cincinnati. Ben Dombar had a more cheerful and extroverted personality than his brother and got along better at Taliesin, staying for seven years, until 1941. He was popular, based upon frequent mentions of him in memoirs by other Taliesin members. Ben worked to pay his way at the school and served a year in the Taliesin kitchen for a corresponding year of tuition. Ben became one of Wright’s favorite apprentices for construction supervision. Between 1935 and 1939, he assisted in building several Wright-designed houses, many of them “Usonians,” in the Madison, Wisconsin area. His assistance to Wright included work on the Johnson’s Wax Corporate Headquarters at Racine, WI; supervisory work at Taliesin East itself, the Bernard Schwartz House in Twin Rivers, WI (1939), and the Charles and Dorothy Manson House in Wausau, WI (c. 1938-40, at 1224 Highland Park Blvd.). Ben claimed that, between 1934-41, he participated in the design and construction of approximately 50 of Wright’s projects.

Ben Dombar left Taliesin in 1941, the year the United States entered WW II. He was drafted into the army in 1942 and remained until 1945; also in 1942, he married his wife Shirley. Although Ben did not return permanently to Wright after his discharge, he obtained his architectural license in 1945 and he and Shirley visited for extended periods at Taliesin. Ben thus kept in close touch with Wright and his projects through the 1940s and 1950s and remained aware of all Wright’s new buildings. In fact, Wright so much trusted Ben's construction supervision that he retained him to supervise some of his commissions in the Midwest and South, such as Wright's Kraus Family house in St. Louis, MO (1948-52) and Wright's Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum House in Florence, AL (1940, with additions in 1948). In 1954-56, Ben supervised construction of Wright’s house in Cincinnati for Cedric and Patricia Boulter (and in 1958 supervised an addition to it). However, because Ben's practice outlasted that of Wright by over three decades, he received commissions for many new building types such as drive-in restaurants, motels, and both drive-in and multi-plex cinemas that had not existed during Wright’s career. In his own Cincinnati practice, Ben was highly organized and productive: he claimed to have served over 1,500 clients and to have designed over 1,000 buildings between the mid 1940s and the 1980s. Ben seemed particularly close to his residential clients and would often return to make changes, additions, alterations, and repairs to his houses—sometimes into the second and third generations of owners. His houses are often recognizably Wrightian-organic and interact well with the dramatic landscapes of Cincinnati and the Ohio River Valley.

Ben Dombar’s buildings, like those of Wright, are often based upon modular plans using squares, parallelograms, triangles, hexagons, octagons, and circles. They often begin with a small and innocuous entry and then dramatically open to nature—often with extensive views of the Ohio River or other dramatic topography in which the region abounds. As is evident from his architectural drawings, Ben Dombar considered not only the building itself but extended his design thinking into the landscape. Among his favorite drawing types for studying the relationship between buildings and their sites were aerial perspectives and eye-level perspectives, both types showing his buildings within their larger landscape settings. Ben Dombar frequently used local materials, some directly from the building site itself. Other Wrightian features such as horizontal compositions, low overhanging roofs, corner windows, open carports, passive solar design, and radiant floor heating, appear in Ben Dombar's houses. While scholars sometimes question the quality of Wright’s architectural education at Taliesin, Ben Dombar’s boundless enthusiasm, creativity, and productivity—along with the hundreds of high-quality buildings he built in Cincinnati and beyond—seem a recommendation for Taliesin’s training. Ben Dombar also played a significant role in the architectural profession in Cincinnati. He was a long-time member of the Cincinnati Architectural Society and its president in 1950-52 (he hand-drew many of the posters for its events). He also served as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1950-52.

Ben Dombar’s daughter, Rockell D. Meese, donated his surviving architectural drawings to the University of Cincinnati. Like his projects, these number in the thousands. The process of organizing, cataloguing, and researching this important collection has only just begun (the donation occurred in 2017). A full assessment of Ben Dombar’s architectural career, buildings, and clients must await further organized research into this large collection but, in the meantime, drawings for a selection of his projects are presented as representative of his work in the Cincinnati region.
Guide to the Benjamin Dombar Papers
Edited Full Draft
Elizabeth Meyer, Sebra Debrecht
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Robert A. Deshon and Karl J. Schlachter Library for Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP Library) Repository

5480 Aronoff Center for Design and Art
2600 Clifton Ave.
Cincinnati Ohio 45221