Stanford White

Washington Square Arch, designed by Stanford White

Stanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was an American architect and partner in the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms. He designed a long series of houses for the rich, and numerous public, institutional, and religious buildings. His design principles embodied the "American Renaissance".

 

In 1889, White designed the triumphal arch at Washington Square, which, according to White's great-grandson, architect Samuel G. White, is the structure White should be best remembered for. White was the director of the Washington Centennial celebration and created a temporary triumphal arch which was so popular, money was raised to construct a permanent version.

 

Elsewhere in New York City, White designed the Villard Houses (1884), the second Madison Square Garden (1890; demolished in 1925), the Cable Building – the cable car power station at 611 Broadway – (1893),  the baldechin (1888 to mid-1890s) and altars of Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph (both completed in 1905) at St. Paul the Apostle Church; the New York Herald Building (1894; demolished), the First Bowery Savings Bank, at the intersection of the Bowery and Grand Street (1894), Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square, the Century Club and Madison Square Presbyterian Church, as well as the Gould Memorial Library (1903), originally for New York University, now on the campus of Bronx Community College and the location of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

White, a tall, flamboyant man with red hair and a red mustache, impressed others as witty, kind, and generous. The newspapers frequently described him as "masterful," "intense," "burly yet boyish." A sophisticated collector of all things rare and costly, artwork, and antiquities, White was also a serial seducer of teenage girls. He maintained a multi-story apartment with a rear entrance on 24th street in Manhattan; its interior design was intended to fulfill one primary purpose: to function as an opulent, seductive lair where White and his female conquests could "wine and dine" in seclusion. One green hued room was outfitted with a red velvet swing, which hung from the ceiling suspended by ivy-twined ropes. This is where Evelyn Nesbit, a popular chorus girl and model, and other young women "in varying degrees of undress" would provide the entertainment. There are conflicting accounts of whether this swing was in the "Giralda" tower at the old Madison Square Garden, or in the nearby building at 22 West 24th street. Most sources seem to concur that the notorious swing was a feature of the 24th Street location.

In 1906, White was murdered by millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw over White's relationship with Thaw's wife, actress Evelyn Nesbit. This led to a court case which was dubbed "The Trial of the Century" by contemporary reporters.     White’s presence at the roof garden theatre of Madison Square Garden on the night of June 25, 1906, had been an impromptu decision. White had originally planned to be in Philadelphia on business; he postponed the trip when his son, Lawrence, made an unexpected visit to New York. Accompanied by New York society figure James Clinch Smith, they dined at Martin's, near the theatre, where Harry Kendall Thaw and his wife Evelyn Nesbit also dined. Thaw apparently saw White there.

 

That evening’s theatrical presentation was the premiere performance of Mam'zelle Champagne. During the show’s finale, "I Could Love A Million Girls", Thaw approached White, produced a pistol, standing some two feet from his target, said, "You've ruined my wife", and fired three shots at White, hitting him twice in the face and once in his upper left shoulder, killing him instantly. Part of White’s face was torn away, and the rest of his features were unrecognizable, blackened by gunpowder.   The crowd's initial reaction was one of good cheer, as elaborate party tricks among the upper echelon of New York society were common at the time. However, when it became apparent that White was dead, hysteria ensued.

 

Stanford White Documentary
Goelet Building, designed by White