June 25: Murder!

2016/06/25 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1906 Stanford White was murdered.

A few architects have come to dramatic ends appropriate to their very character as designers: devoted Gaudí so eager to get to mass that he didn’t hear the trolley bearing down on him; aged Robert Mills succumbing to heart failure after his rickety brand of Classicism was rejected by yet another committee; wild-eyed genius Borromini hurling himself onto his sword when sequestered from his drawing instruments.  Then there is the elegant urban swashbuckler Stanford White (b. 1853) who lived as expensively and dangerously as his clientele, and died likewise.

White first studied architecture under H. H. Richardson and later pursued a finishing-school-cum-Grand Tour through Europe for a few years.  By 1880 he had joined in partnership with Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead. In the next twenty-five years the firm scooped some of the country’s greatest commissions offered by the crème of American society as well as some of its greatest institutions, including the Newport Casino (1880), Isaac Bell House (1883), Boston Public Library (1887), Washington Square Arch (1892), University Club (1900) and Morgan Library (1906).

This brief glance at his portfolio communicates the idea that White–supremely talented and excellently ‘stached–just could not lose.  And no doubt his professional success encouraged his personal bravado and recklessness which led him to Madison Square Garden on that fateful night in 1906.  The Garden (this second version of it) was one of New York’s great recreational venues, in turns boisterous and elegant, a fantasy of a building (featuring his version of the Giralda) that White had designed back in 1890 and in which he kept an apartment.  He met his former girlfriend, the twenty-two year-old stunner Evelyn Nesbit, on its rooftop garden, and then the two were joined by a third party, who spoiled the fun of Stanny’s flirtations.  Evelyn’s husband, Harry Thaw, fired three pistol shots directly into the architect’s face.

The resultant trial–the sensation and lurid detail of which leaves any reference to OJ in the dust–left Evelyn destitute, Harry in a hospital for the criminally insane, and the rest of us without a few more years’ worth of great buildings from one of the great American Classicists of all time.

Image: one of the many papers that announced the crime, and then followed the “trial of the century”


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You are currently reading June 25: Murder! at Clio’s Calendar: Daily Musings on Architectural History.


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