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Stanford White (November 9, 1853 – June 25, 1906) was an American architect.
He was also a partner in the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, the frontrunner among Beaux-Arts firms.
He designed many houses for the rich as well as numerous civic, institutional, and religious buildings.
His design principles embodied the "American Renaissance".
In 1906, White was shot and killed by the mentally unstable millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, who had become obsessed about White's previous 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.
Early life and training
White was born in New York City in 1853, the son of Richard Grant White, a Shakespearean scholar, and Alexina Black (née Mease) (1830–1921). His father was a dandy and Anglophile with little money but with many connections to New York's art world, including the painter John LaFarge, the stained-glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
White had no formal architectural training; like many other architects at the time, he learned on the job as an apprentice. Beginning at age 18, he worked for six years as the principal assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson, known for his personal style (often called "Richardsonian Romanesque") and considered by many to have been the greatest American architect of his day.
In 1878, White embarked on a year and a half tour of Europe, to learn about historical styles and trends. When he returned to New York in September 1879, he joined two young architects, Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead, to form the firm of McKim, Mead and White. As part of the partnership, they agreed to credit all of the firm's designs as the work of the collective firm, not to be attributed to any individual architect.
In 1884, White married 22-year-old Bessie Springs Smith, daughter of J. Lawrence Smith. She was from a socially prominent Long Island family. Her ancestors had settled in what became Suffolk County in the colonial era, and Smithtown, was named for them. The White couple's estate, Box Hill, was both a home and a showplace for the luxe design aesthetic which White offered to prospective wealthy clients. Their son, Lawrence Grant White, was born in 1887.
White, a tall, flamboyant man with red hair and a red mustache, impressed some as witty, kind, and generous. The newspapers frequently described him as "masterful", "intense", "burly yet boyish". He was a collector of rare and costly artwork and antiquities. He maintained a multi-story apartment with a rear entrance on 24th Street in Manhattan. One room was painted green and outfitted with a red velvet swing, which hung from the ceiling suspended by ivy-twined ropes. He used playing with the elaborate swing as a means to groom under-age girls for a sexual relationship, including Evelyn Nesbit, a popular photographer's fashion model and chorus dancer.
After White was killed and the newspapers began to investigate his life, continuing through the trial of Thaw, the married architect's sexual relations with numerous underage girls were revealed. The White family historian Suzannah Lessard writes:
White belonged to an underground sex circle, made up of select members from the Union Club, a legitimate men's club. According to Simon Baatz:
Mark Twain, who was acquainted with White, included an evaluation of his character in his Autobiography. It reflected Twain's deep immersion in the testimony of the Thaw murder trial. Twain said that New York society had known for years preceding the incident that the married White was
Based on White's correspondence, including that conducted with Augustus Saint-Gaudens, recent biographers have concluded that White was bisexual, and that the office of McKim, Mead & White was unruffled by this. White's granddaughter has written that Stanford's eldest son (her father) was "unflinching in his awareness of Stanford's nature".