Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stanford White

Stanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was an American architect and partner in the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & 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 Kendall Thaw over White's affair with Thaw's wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit, leading to a trial which was dubbed at the time "The Trial of the Century"

Stanford White was the son of Shakespearean scholar Richard Grant White and Alexina Black Mease (1830–1921). He began his architectural career 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 designed the Cosmopolitan Building, a three-story Neo-classical Revival building topped by three small domes, in Irvington, New York, built in 1895 as the headquarters of Cosmopolitan Magazine. He 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). He also designed the Blair Mansion at 7711 Eastern Ave. in Silver Spring, Maryland (1880), now being used as a restaurant. He was also responsible for designing the Boston Public Library and the Boston Hotel Buckminster, both still standing today. In 1902, he designed the Benjamin Walworth Arnold House and Carriage House in Albany, New York.

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.

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 – on the roof of a building that he had designed 15 years previously – White was shot point blank in the face and killed by Harry Kendall Thaw. Thaw was the jealous millionaire husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a popular actress and artist's model, with whom White had had a sexual relationship when she was 16 and White was 47.

The initial reaction of the crowd 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." White was buried in St. James, New York.

White was noted for his womanizing; he had a red velvet swing installed in an apartment where Nesbit and other girls "in varying degrees of undress" would entertain him, which became a focal point of press coverage of the trial. There are conflicting accounts of whether this swing was in the "Giralda" tower at the old Madison Square Garden, or in a nearby building on 24th Street.

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