NOVEMBER 9, ON THIS DAY
Stanford White was a master of architecture, interior design, and ornament, fearlessly juxtaposing materials and objects from myriad cultures and times. Drawing on precedents from antiquity and the Renaissance, from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe as well as Colonial America, White created complex surfaces inside and out. White was an American architect and partner in the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms. He created a large number of mansions for the wealthy in addition to various civic, institutional, and religious structures. The \”American Renaissance\” was expressed in his design ideals.
Stanford White was born on Nov. 9, 1853, in New York City. His father, Richard Grant White, was a well-known Shakespearean scholar as well as a theatre and music critic. White didn\’t receive any professional training in architecture before starting his work at the age of 18 as Henry Hobson Richardson\’s primary assistant. Richardson was the best American architect of the time and the originator of the \”Richardsonian Romanesque\” architectural style. He spent six years working for Richardson. White decided in 1878 that he needed to study architecture in Europe. He resided in Paris for over two years during which time he travelled widely, occasionally alongside McKim and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and he made sketches of various structures and architectural features, mediaeval ornamentation, and armour.
The arch in Washington Square, the focal point of New York City\’s Greenwich Village, is one of the most noticeable and approachable examples of Stanford White\’s architecture that can be found anywhere in America. The men became quite well known with their projects, designing mostly mansions in the shingle style. The shingle style is just as it describes- buildings were covered in shingles instead of regular siding. There are still buildings in coastal locations that follow this style. White created one of his most well-known structures of this period, the Newport Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. Additionally, the company would contribute to the Neoclassical architectural trend. Renaissance ornamentation would also be used in White\’s designs.
“Well-versed in art, antiques and architecture, White designed buildings that were not simply dressy evocations of Gilded Age wealth, but also reflections of the seismic industrial changes that occurred following the Civil War and the possibilities that new building, transportation, and communication technologies held for a country also in the midst of huge demographic growth,” said Debra Schmidt Bach, curator of decorative arts and special exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society.
In addition, White would go on to create numerous significant buildings in New York City. The Washington Memorial Arch, the New York Herald Building, the first Madison Square Garden, and the Madison Square Presbyterian Church are some examples. He expanded the scope of architectural services to cover party planning and design, dealing in art and antiques, and even interior design. He gathered tapestries, paintings, and pottery. White might sketch neo-Georgian standing electroliers or a Renaissance library table if he were unable to find the appropriate antiques for his interiors. He had a wide range of friends and acquaintances due to his extroverted personality, many of whom turned into clients.
White loved to create theatrical buildings with lavish ornament and interiors where important events could cause commotion. White died tragically on June 25, 1906, when Harry Thaw, believing that White had seduced his wife, shot him in Madison Square Garden while White was watching an evening show. Following the killing, there was blanket press coverage, as well as editorial speculation and gossip. Journalistic interest in the sensational story was sustained. William Randolph Hearst\’s newspapers played up the story, and the murder trial became known as \”The Trial of the Century\”.