Claude Bragdon: His Work in Rochester

Conclusion: Final years and legacy

After his experience with the Chamber of Commerce commission, Bragdon's architectural commissions fell off dramatically in Rochester. He did design the Hunter Street Bridge in Peterborough, Ontario.

Through his work beginning in 1915 with his color, light and music spectacles, Bragdon was increasingly drawn to the world of theater, a world he had loved since childhood.

The first Festival of Song and Light, held in Highland Park on the night of September 30, 1915, was a great success. The festival involved a chorus, a band, and special effects created by the use of electric lighting and many Japanese style lanterns, scattered throughout the park, which Bragdon designed and made. This combined to create the effect of what Bragdon called "a cathedral without walls."

These festivals were repeated in Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse and in New York's Central Park. Bragdon had already worked with Walter Hampden on some set designs. The pull of theatrical design proved so great that in 1923 Bragdon moved to New York City permanently in order to design more sets for Walter Hampden. He worked on Hamlet, Macbeth, Cyrano de Bergerac, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, The Immortal Thief, Caponsacchi, and An Enemy of the People, The Light of Asia and many others.

Bragdon settled easily into New York's social life, and corresponded with famous individuals such as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leopold Stokowski, Alfred Steiglitz and Eugene O'Neill. He also wrote books on yoga, architecture, theosophy and other topics. In 1938 he wrote More Lives Than One, his autobiography, parts of which have been excerpted here.

Claude Bragdon died in New York on September 14, 1946. His contributions to architecture in Rochester were enormous, and even though his masterpiece, the New York Central Railroad Station, is gone, many of his designs remain to delight the eye and inspire the soul.

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