White, Stanford

Stanford WhiteStanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was the son of Shakespearean scholar Richard Grant White and Alexina Black Mease. His father, though not of means, had many connections in New York’s art world, including painter John LaFarge, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Frederick Law Olmstead.

White was elected to The Lambs on 12 April 1894.

While White had no formal architectural training, he was fortunate to have begun his career at the age of 18 as the principal assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson, the greatest American architect of the day and creator of a style recognized today as “Richardsonian Romanesque.”

White was an architect and partner in the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White in New York City. His style embodied the “American Renaissance,” as evidenced by his many houses for the rich, and by public, institutional and religious buildings. In 1889, White designed the triumphal arch at Washington Square. Among other notable New York buildings are: The second Madison Square Garden (1890 – demolished in 1925), The New York Herald Building (1894 – demolished), the First Bowery Savings Bank (1894), and Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square.

Just as his Washington Square Arch still stands, so do many of White’s clubhouses, which were focal points of New York society: the Century, the original Colony Club, Harmonie, Lambs, Metropolitan, and Players clubs.

– Deborah Stone

Stanford White
(1853 – 1906)
By Richard James Porter

In today’s argot, Stanford White might be called a “starchitect.” During his career, which spanned the Gilded Age from 1879 to 1906, he was admired for designing some of the most prominent and many would say most beautiful buildings in New York, as well as other cities. He was also known as a figure in society, mingling with the wealthiest New Yorkers, the source of many of his lucrative commissions, as well as a more Bohemian group of artists. Parties that White threw in his various studios and “hideaways” sometimes brought these two groups together. That free-wheeling lifestyle ultimately led to his murder on June 26, 1906, an event central to two popular movies, “The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing,” (1955) and “Ragtime” (1981 ).

Lambs Club 44th StreetHis dramatic death ensured his fame for a century, but his legacy as an architect will endure far longer. One cannot spend much time in New York without seeing White’s impressive architectural work, including the Arch in Washington Square, which he helped to lay out, and the imposing Judson Memorial Church next to the square. He created still-extant club houses for The Players, The Century Association, and The Lambs, to all of which he belonged. The beautiful campus of Bronx Community College, originally designed for New York University, stands out as one of White’s most brilliant designs. White was also known for his interiors and decorative designs. One example that can be seen in the Lambs’ Clubhouse is the delicate frame on the fine portrait of early Lamb’s Shepherd Harry Beckett, painted by Lamb Charles X. Harris, who was also a Lamb. A large portrait of Stanford White is also in the collection.

White’s large and burly appearance belied an artistic sensitivity and taste for beauty that characterized all his work. In addition to his size, he was distinguished by his thick dark red hair, worn closely cropped, and an enormous red moustache, both of which can be seen in his portrait in the Lambs’ Clubhouse. He was born on November 9, 1853, to Shakespeare historian and man-about-town Richard Grant White and Alexina Black Mease. He showed an early interest in art and design and at age 18 apprenticed to the great American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. After six years, he embarked for an 18-month sojourn in France, but amazingly received no formal training in architecture. Upon returning from France in 1879, he joined Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead (also Lambs) to establish the powerhouse architectural firm of McKim Mead and White. It was White’s social connections and magnetic personality as well as his talent as a designer that enabled his firm to get some of the most important commissions in New York, Boston, and Newport. Although he had apprenticed with Richardson, who was known for his work in the Romanesque style, White championed Neo-Classical design and contributed to the Georgian Revival at the end of the 19th century.

Stanford White married Bessie Springs Smith, daughter of a prominent Long Island family, in 1884. They had one son, Lawrence Grant White, who became an architect and joined his father’s firm. White’s love of beauty extended to young women, with whom he had countless extra-marital affairs, most famously with a young chorus girl named Evelyn Nesbitt, whom he allegedly pushed naked on a red velvet swing suspended from his private studio ceiling. Nesbitt later married Harry K. Thaw, a mentally unstable millionaire from Pittsburgh. Thaw became obsessed with his wife’s relationship with White. On the night of June 26, 1906, White was enjoying the opening performance of “Mam’zelle Champagne” in the roof-top theater of the now-demolished Madison Square Garden, one of his most glorious achievements as an architect. Thaw and his wife were there as well. In the midst of a lively tune called “I Could Love a Million Girls,” Thaw approached White’s table. When White looked up, Thaw shot him point blank in the face, killing him instantly.

The trial that followed, dubbed in the sensational press as “the trial of the century,” overshadowed for decades White’s fame as an architect,* but it is as one of America’s greatest architects that he will be remembered.

*There were actually two trials, replete with lurid testimony, as the first ended with a hung jury. In the second trial, Thaw was defended by Martin W. Littleton, one of New York’s best-known lawyers, who obtained a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” (Littleton was the great uncle of Jeanne Chenault Porter, wife of Lambs member Richard James Porter.)