Chicago Should Have Had Dozens
By Megan McKinney
Why wasn’t the great New York architect Stanford White more active in Chicago? In 1891 he did design a single superb mansion that continues to dominate the intersection of Astor Street and Burton Place, the house Chicago Tribune owner Joseph Medill commissioned for his daughter Elinor and her husband, Tribune Editor Robert W. Patterson, Jr.
Elinor Patterson was so pleased with the Chicago house that when she had money of her own after her father’s death, she commissioned Mr. White to create a second showplace for her at 15 Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.
Charles Dana Gibson’s illustration for our title question about architect Stanford White is appropriate for several reasons. The model is turn-of-the-century beauty Evelyn Nesbit, who—as our second article on Mr. White will describe in detail—was an important figure in Mr. White’s life. And death.
But also, there is the superb house designed by Stanford White for Gibson and his wife, Irene, in New York. The lovely Irene was one of the five fabulous Langhorne girls of Virginia and the original Gibson girl. The Gibson house by Stanford White was widely considered significant for its role in establishing New York’s Upper East Side as the place to live throughout the 20th century.
Stanford White’s New York house for the Gibsons, located at 127 East 73rd Street, was only one of the splendid houses and other structures the architect designed within the city. His Chicago presence was quite different, with White’s name on only one house in a metropolis that was such an immense architectural center before and after the turn of the last century. From 1871, there was a devastated city to rebuild and, leading up to May 1893, a fantasy city to create—with America’s greatest architects arriving to join those within the city’s permanent base to participate in the fantasy.
Chicago’s own architects were many and marvelous. We personally appreciate them immensely and have spent several issues this season examining Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root. However, our favorite architectural group during the era was New York’s great Beaux Arts firm McKim, Mead & White.
The partners were, left to right, William Rutherford Mead, Charles Follen McKim and Stanford White.
Within the trio the most compelling is Stanford White—but not merely for his personal life, although it was certainly something to watch.
White’s partner, Charles F. McKim, was more active in Chicago. In 1892, he designed the Bryan Lathrop house at 120 East Bellevue Place, now home of The Fortnightly Club.
And while the future Fortnightly was going up, McKim was also at work on the city’s dazzling Agricultural Building for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
However, Stanford White was truly magical. He was personally a delightful man, as charming as the buildings he designed. His Rosecliff in Newport is as handsome as ever today.
And White’s amazing New York Herald Building for James Gordon Bennett Jr. did not last long but its location is still known as Herald Square.
It is the second Madison Square Garden for which Stanford White is best remembered. Designed in 1890, the “Garden” was New York’s largest entertainment venue, hosting such events as boxing matches, orchestral performances, light operas and romantic comedies, circuses and political conventions. Our interest in Stanford White and his connections to the second Madison Square Garden will extend into our next feature.
Classic Chicago Publisher Megan McKinney’s next article will continue exploring the fascinating life and extraordinary talent of Stanford White—as well as his tragic death.
Edited by Amanda K. O’Brien
Author Photo: Robert F. Carl