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ArthurDubin / Donnelley and Lee Library Archives and Special Collections at Lake Forest

Arthur D. Dubin

Finding aid to 5,500 photographs from Dubin’s collection at Lake Forest.  

Arthur Detmers Dubin (March 14,1923-October 3, 2011), a nearly lifelong resident of suburban Highland Park, IL, was born in Chicago and worked in the city until his retirement in the 1990s.  He was an architect, the son of an architect (Henry Dubin), the brother of an architect (David Dubin), the father of an architect (Peter Dubin), and the father-in-law of an architect, Terry (Teresa) Gordon Dubin.  In addition, he was a railfan, railroad archives and photography preservationist, collector, and author of major books on U.S. railroad history.  His two landmark titles, both published by Kalmbach Publishing (Wisconsin), are Some Classic Trains (1964) and More Classic Trains (1974).  And Arthur Dubin’s 1997 Kalmbach book, Pullman Paint and Lettering Notebook : a Guide to the Colors Used on Pullman Cars from 1933 to 1969, reveals his long-standing devotion to the accurate details of rail car design, along with his passion to preserve and share the records of the era of great trains. 

Arthur also has provided to generations of railroad authors images from his collections for use in their books, perhaps among the earliest and most notable the irrepressible Lucius Beebe (1902-1966).  Beebe was known to have doctored photos of locomotives or trains with different names when he couldn’t find the precisely correct image to fit his story.   Beebe was an artist who appreciated, though, Dubin’s complementary precision, and honored him with an introduction to Some Classic Trains that itself is one of the classic essays of railroad history.  In his short essay Beebe likens Dubin’s collecting and writing to advice given by art dealer Lord Jospeh Duveen to Julius Bache, a collector who “had been running hog wild in the entire field” of painting.  Duveen to Bache: “‘Don’t dissipate—concentrate.’”  Dubin, Beebe observes, “has not dissipated.  He has not wasted his expertise in frivolous excursions into the realms of trivia.  He has concentrated his efforts and directed his energies down the rich vistas potentiality suggested by the purview of his own intelligent interests” p. [9]. 

While beginning his studies in architecture at the University of Michigan he entered the Army, and from Louisiana was shipped to Lake Forest College, 1943, as part of the Army Special Training Program (ASTP) for training future officers.  Here he took a full load of classes and contributed to Tusitala, the College literary magazine (1944), an account of a train ride from Ann Arbor to Chicago on a wartime train, the beginning of his career of countless articles and several books.  He lived in Blackstone Hall at Lake Forest, given in 1907 by Mrs. Timothy Blackstone in honor of her late spouse, at one time head of the Chicago and Alton Railroad.  By 1944 Arthur and half of the four hundred Lake Forest ASTPs departed for the Pacific theater where he with the group participated in the crucial bloody battles of Leyte (Phillippines) and Okinawa, where he was wounded twice, received two Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart. 

Following his time in the Army and after he concluded his architectural education at Michigan, Dubin embarked in the summer of 1949 on an extensive tour of Europe before returning to Chicago to begin his work in his father’s architecture firm. Dubin kept a detailed and vibrantly illustrated journal of his travels now in the College’s collection of original modern travel journals.

Arthur Dubin’s work as an architect is acknowledged by his inclusion in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Architects Oral History Project, leading in the mid twentieth century the family’s three generational firm housed in the Builder’s Building (demolished), Wacker Drive, Chicago.  He played a part in many significant Chicago modernist buildings including train stations; was a member of the American Institute of Architects, was president too of the Builder’s Club, and friends with a wide circle of architect colleagues.  His firm in 1966 was the first in Chicago to have an African-American partner, 1948 IIT architecture graduate John Warren Matoussamay (1922-1995).


Arthur Dubin’s interest in architectural history, inherited in part from his father who knew Louis Sullivan, etc., has made him an architectural preservationist.  In the postwar years he was responsible for regularly inspecting the condition of Sullivan’s 1890s Chicago Stock Exchange trading room.   When it was demolished he played a key role in saving fragments from it, and donating a large canvas to the Art Institute.  This now hangs just outside the relocated and restored trading room in the museum, one of the greatest preserved Chicago spaces. 

Arthur also designed in the mid 1950s his classic ranch house at 229 Park Avenue, Highland Park, opposite his brother David’s sibling residence.  These houses incorporated all of the best points of the modernist movement: the houses followed (with a step down near the entry) the terrain down the slope, as in California ranch houses; they had compact kitchens, utility rooms (no basements), and open car ports; they had low-pitched roofs; and they were made of natural materials (stone, brick, wood, etc.) with some floor length glass windows.  Also, exterior materials, brick and stone, were employed for the great fireplace/chimney in the living room, in the Arts & Crafts manner of Philip Webb’s 1860 house for William Morris at Bexley Heath, near London. 

But throughout his life Arthur was a lover of all things relating to trains and railroads, especially the application of his architect’s eye to the phenomenon from the 1890s to the 1960s of high-speed “through” de luxe, named special trains.  These were the “classic trains” of his two encyclopedic and still-standard volumes on the subject and of his many articles in Trains magazine (Kalmbach Pulbishing).  He thus developed a unique collection of images and publications relating to the design of trains (cars, locomotives, stations, etc.) and the interiors of passenger cars and stations.  Passenger car interiors especially are known in books of the past generation sourced from his discerning collection of images gathered from salvage and also from company files. 

The people who traveled and worked on these cars, and how they spent their time and employed the resources at hand was a major interest of Arthur’s.  As a result, for example, some of the best images  of African-American Pullman porters and yard workers are found among the thousands of company photographs he collected and rescued.  Many of these appeared in the documentary Rising From the Rails, about the porters and their role in advancing an African-American middle class in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. 

Arthur’s downtown Chicago office put him on the spot especially from the 1940s to the 1960s when railroad passenger service by the great railroad companies was ending, and records were being disposed of, through dealers like Owen Davies or …worse.  In the late 1960s as the Pullman-Standard Company was ending rail car production in Chicago after almost a century, Arthur stepped in to halt the wanton destruction of Pullman glass negatives, as well as drawings and other photographs.  He found homes right away for some of this material (the Smithsonian, Washington, DC, California Railroad Museum, and Chicago’s Newberry Library; Pullman collection finding aid) and later after he had organized it in more repositories (Abraham Lincoln Library, Springfield; Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis; Barriger Library, St. Louis; and Special Collections, Lake Forest College library).  In additon to the photographs, Dubin was invited by the company to go over the Poole Brothers printers, Chicago, archives to preserve their own copies of lavish classic railroad publicity brochures going back a century.  This apparently preceded these archives being transferred to the Newberry Library and then onto the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts. 

After he began to turn over his architectural practice to others especially, Arthur Dubin traveled extensively with his second spouse, Phyllis, to ride trains on all the continents and especially the great trains—the Orient Express, the Trans-Siberian Railway, etc.  He loved ships, planes, and hotels as well, and developed collections on each of these, the hotels in particular recording the era of great trains’ travel on both sides of the Atlantic.  Special Collections has thousands of slides he and others took recording these journeys.  These will provide in turn generations of students work in organizing, digitizing and interpreting these often rare images. 

Arthur has belonged to many railfan and related scholarly organizations such as the the Center for Railroad Photography and Art, the Wagons-Lits Society and the Steamship Historical Society, and has been notably honored for his work by the Locomotive & Railroad Historical Society.  He also served on advisory boards for Amtrak in its early days and for Illinois’ high speed rail initiative. 

Arthur H. Miller

September 3, 2009; rev. November 1, 2009 (with Mr. Dubin’s input); rev. October 4, 2011