Thursday, November 29, 2007

Washington Square Arch New York Herald Building Savoyard Centre - Detroit
Stanford White (November 9, 1853June 25, 1906) was an American architect and partner in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms. He designed a long series of houses for the rich and the very rich, and various public, institutional, and religious buildings, some of which can be found to this day in places like Sea Gate, Brooklyn. His design principles embodied the "American Renaissance". In 1906 White was murdered by millionaire Harry K. Thaw, leading to a widely-reported trial.

Stanford White's architectural career began as the principal assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson, the greatest American architect of the day, creator of a style recognized today as "Richardsonian Romanesque." In 1878, White embarked for a year and a half in Europe, and when he returned to New York in September 1879, he joined Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead to form McKim, Mead and White.
White designed the second Madison Square Garden (1890; demolished in 1925), The Cable Building—the Broadway cable car power station (611 Broadway, 1892), Madison Square Presbyterian Church, the New York Herald Building (1894; demolished), the First Bowery Savings Bank, at the Bowery and Grand Street, 1894, Washington Square Arch (1889), Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, and the Century Club, all in New York City. He helped develop Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower (his last design). White designed the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland (1887), now Lovely Lane United Methodist Church. He also built Cocke, Rouss, and Old Cabell Halls at the University of Virginia and rebuilt The Rotunda (University of Virginia) in 1898 after it burned down three years earlier (his re-creation was later reverted back to Thomas Jefferson's original design for the United States Bicentennial in 1976).
McKim, Mead and White also designed the American Academy in Rome, which crowns the Gianicolo hill, and looks across the city to the Villa Medici and the Borghese gardens. An imposing edifice, the American Academy is built in the style of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the north and south wings of which McKim, Mead, and White designed in 1911.

McKim, Mead and White
In the division of projects within the firm, the social and gregarious White landed the majority of commissions for private houses. His fluent draftsmanship was highly convincing to clients who might not get much visceral understanding from a floorplan, and his intuition and facility caught the mood. White's Long Island houses have survived well, despite the loss of Harbor Hill in 1947, originally set on 688 acres in Roslyn. White's homes are of three types, depending on their locations: Gold Coast chateaux, neo-Colonial structures in the neighborhood of his own house at "Box Hill" in Smithtown (White's wife was a Smith), and the South Fork houses from Southampton to Montauk Point.
Among his Newport "cottages", Rosecliff (for Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs, 1898-1902) adapted Mansart's Grand Trianon, but provided this house built for receptions, dinners and dances with fluent spatial planning and well-contrived dramatic internal views en filade.
In his "informal" shingled cottages, there were usually double corridors for separate circulation, (illustration, left) so that a guest never bumped into a laundress with a basket of bed linens. Bedrooms were characteristically separated from hallways by a dressing-room foyer lined with closets, so that an inner door and an outer door give superb privacy (still the mark of a really good hotel). White lived the same life as his clients, not quite so lavishly perhaps, and he knew how the house had to perform: like a first-rate hotel, theater foyer, or a theater set with appropriate historical references. White was an apt designer, who was ready to do a cover for Scribner's Magazine or design a pedestal for his friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens' sculpture. He extended the limits of architectural services to include interior decoration, dealing in art and antiques, and even planning and designing parties. He collected paintings, pottery, and tapestries. If White could not procure the right antiques for his interiors, he would sketch neo-Georgian standing electroliers or a Renaissance library table. Outgoing and social, he possessed a large circle of friends and acquaintances, many of whom became clients. White had a major influence in the "Shingle Style" of the 1880s, on Neo-Colonial style, and the Newport cottages for which he is celebrated.
Mansions and social clubs
During the suggestive chorus song, "I Could Love a Million Girls," at the premiere performance of the musical revue Mam'zelle Champagne at the Madison Square Roof Garden (a building that he had designed 15 years previously), White was shot point blank in the face and killed by Harry K. Thaw. Thaw was the jealous millionaire husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a popular actress and artist's model, whom White had seduced when she was 16. The initial reaction was one of good cheer as elaborate party tricks amongst the upper echelon of New York Society were common at the time. However, when it became apparent that White was dead, hysteria ensued. William Randolph Hearst's newspapers sensationalized the murder, and it became known as the Trial of the Century. Years later, White's son, Lawrence Grant White would write bitterly, "On the night of June 25th, 1906, while attending a performance at Madison Square Garden, Stanford White was shot from behind [by] a crazed profligate whose great wealth was used to besmirch his victim's memory during the series of notorious trials that ensued."

Stanford White Death
White's extensive professional outgoing correspondence and a small body of architectural drawings for his own residences are held by the Drawings and Archives Department of Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. The major archive for his firm, McKim, Mead & White, is held by the New-York Historical Society.

Sculpture in Madison Square.
Plaque at the base of the sculpture in Madison Square,
New York American on June 25, 1906.
Stanford White
Photo gallery
A fictionalized Thaw also appears in Jed Rubenfeld's 2006 novel The Interpretation Of Murder.

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955 movie)
The 1975 historical fiction novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow was adapted into the two below works:

  • The film Ragtime.
    The musical Ragtime.
    "Dementia Americana" - A long narrative poem by Keith Maillard (1994)
    My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon – play by Don Nigro
    La fille coupée en deux – movie by Claude Chabrol (2007) Fictional works based at least in part on the Thaw/White murder

    The "White Literature"

    Samuel G. White, with Jonathan Wallen (photographer), The Houses of McKim, Mead and White 1998. Lavish illustrations.
    Wayne Craven, Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiquities, 2005. Stanford White as an interior decorator and a dealer in the fine and decorative arts

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