20th Century Souvenir Buildings

David Weingarten Collection

Donated in 2019

The David Weingarten Collection of 20th Century Souvenir Buildings is comprised of over 3,000 three-dimensional miniatures of actual buildings and monuments that exist or have existed in the real world. Amassed over 40 years and representing buildings from over 60 countries, the 20th Century Souvenir Buildings Collection is the leading and most extensive of its kind.  After decades of display in museums and private residences, the entire collection was donated to the Museum in 2019.

“Though in a new and memorable setting—the National Building Museum—we imagine this collection of architectural mementos will continue its familiar work: sparking recollection of places modest and monumental, every day and extraordinary, and with this, architecture’s part in all our lives.” —David Weingarten.

Weingarten first began collecting souvenir buildings in 1976, on a trip to Speyer Cathedral in Germany with his uncle, architect Charles Moore. When his uncle purchased a larger miniature of the cathedral, Weingarten opted for a smaller representation. The two Speyer Cathedrals, part of this collection, sparked a decades-long endeavor, later assisted by Margaret Majua, with whom Weingarten wrote two books about the collection, and Lucia Howard, his partner at Ace Architects.

“The collection’s many types and groups of souvenir buildings suggest alternate (and entertaining) ways of thinking about architectural design and history. This history is popular, not pedagogic or polemic, focused not at all on the inexorable progress of the styles, but instead on those buildings people have thought remarkable and memorable, engaging and appealing, swell enough to commit to memory, provoked by a souvenir building.”—David Weingarten

These pocket-sized buildings are at once a reminder of travel, and a record of popular architecture. Included in the collection are iconic tourist destinations, like the Tower of Pisa; Empire State Building; the Parthenon; the Space Needle; the Alamo; the Eiffel Tower; and the Temple of Heaven. Also included are more modest buildings, like dozens of suburban American banks, grain silos, and football stadiums, as well as souvenirs from places with less architectural, but nonetheless popular, pedigrees: Lincoln’s log cabin; Elvis’ Graceland; and the Disneyland Castle.

Souvenir buildings are almost always cast in a mold, mass produced, and made from various materials: cork; every sort of marble; brass and bronze; zinc, iron, silver, copper, and gold; plastic, paper, wood, clay, wax, and rubber; and even soap. In addition to their purpose as a souvenir, some serve other functions: they are inkwells, lamps, and boxes; paperweights, pencils, and pencil weights; salt and pepper shakers, banks, bookends and bottles; cigarette lighters, cigarette boxes, and ashtrays; needle cases, radios; erasers, and candles.

Before arriving at the Museum, objects from the 20th Century Souvenir Buildings Collection formed exhibitions in museums across the United States, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Octagon Museum, St. Louis University, Museum of the City of New York, and SFO Museum. Souvenir Buildings/Miniature Monuments, describing the collection and phenomenon of architectural miniatures, written by David Weingarten and Margaret Majua, was published by Harry Abrams.