Biography of Stanford White

Famous Architect of the Gilded Age at McKim, Mead & White (1853-1906)

B/w 19th cent. pose, mustacheod architect Stanford White, hands behind back, suit, waistcoat, tie
Portrait of American Architect Stanford White, c. 1900. Photo by Bettmann / Bettmann / Getty Images (cropped)

It's up for debate whether Stanford White (born November 9, 1853 in New York City) is famous for being a significant partner in the prolific 19th century architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White OR more famous for seducing teen-aged girls and eventually being shot and killed by a jealous and furious Harry Kendall Thaw. White died June 25, 1906, at the supper club theater on the roof of the old Madison Square Garden, a building that he had designed.

Stanford White's father was the noted Shakespearean scholar and essayist, Richard Grant White. Based in New York City, the Whites had ready-made connections to influential people. Young Stanford skipped college and as a teenager in 1870 joined the office of architect Henry Hobson Richardson just as Richardson was beginning the Trinity Church project in Boston. In 1879, after learning the magnificence of masonry structures, Stanford White became a partner with Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead in New York City, forming the architectural design firm of McKim, Mead & White.

Like his buildings, Stanford White's personal life was lavish. A red velvet swing hung from the gold leaf ceiling in his Madison Square Garden apartment, an opulent den where he entertained many beautiful young women. Some people insist that his motives were lascivious and perverted. Today, White's affairs are often considered acts of rape, if not child molestation.

White's killer was the millionaire husband of Evelyn Nesbit, a popular actress who as a teenager had fallen prey to the charms of an architect in his 40s.

Stanford White's scandalous life and shocking murder captured news headlines and often eclipsed the brilliance of his work. Nevertheless, he left America some of its most remarkable buildings, including lavish summer homes for the Astors and the Vanderbilts.

White became one of the most prominent architects of America's Gilded Age and the American Renaissance.

Stanford White's architecture is remembered everywhere and anywhere in America where grand, opulent structures are present—none more visible or accessible than the arch at Washington Square, the central gathering place of New York City's Greenwich Village.

White's personal story is legendary—the grist for movies and innumerable books. America's fascination with architects as personalities, as "starchitects," remains an odd phenomenon to this day. Yet White's architecture with both Richardson and McKim stands alone, perhaps as lavish and flamboyant an expression as his own personality.

Important Projects:

The architectural firm McKim, Mead, & White designed relaxed summer homes, many in the Shingle Style, and grand public buildings in the more ornate Renaissance Revival and Beaux Arts styles. McKim's style was often more traditional compared with Stanford White's chance takings. Many of the firm's buildings have been razed, making new spaces for the Modernist movement. Landmark McKim, Mead, & White examples include these:

  • 1885: Tiffany House (demolished 1936) on 72nd Street in New York City
  • 1890: The second Madison Square Garden (demolished in 1925) at Madison Square Park in New York City
  • 1894: New York Herald Building (demolished 1921), the newspaper offices near the present Herald Square in New York City
  • 1895-1903: Rhode Island State House, Providence, Rhode Island
  • 1889: Washington Square Arch, entrance to Greenwich Village, New York City
  • 1898-1902: Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island
  • 1902-1904: Astor Courts, Rhinebeck, New York
  • 1910: Pennsylvania Station (demolished in 1963) at the site of the 1968 Madison Square Garden in New York City
  • 1917: Tesla's Wardenclyffe, laboratory and transmitter tower on Long Island, White's last project

Learn More:

  • Stanny: The Gilded Life of Stanford White by Paul R. Baker, 1989
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  • Stanford White : Letters to His Family, Rizzoli, 1997
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