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Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Architectural and social historian Mosette Broderick discusses the lives of Charles McKim, William Mead, and Stanford White—who created the most influential, far-reaching architectural firm of its time. Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America's Gilded Age tells the story of their world and times, and the buildings they built:including houses for the Astors and the Vanderbilts, Trinity Church in Boston, Judson Memorial Baptist Church in New York, the Boston Public Library, the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City, the arch in Washington Square, and Columbia University and New York University.

Guests:

Mosette Broderick

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Comments [6]

Judy Mahler

RLewis from Bowery. I think White "slept with" Mrs Thor when she was 16 and Mr. Thor shot White years later on the terrace of Madison Square Garden. Thor was tried in the basement of what now is a Public Library (Washington Square -(well worth a visit) and served time in an "insane asylum" where his money bought him the luxury he was used to. So much for justice!

Dec. 15 2010 03:27 PM
Mike from Tribeca

Thanks for this excellent interview of a very informative guest. The tidbit about the Manhattan Municipal Building tower was alone worth the price of admission. By the way, that tower was admired by and copied several times by the Soviets during the Stalin era.

Dec. 14 2010 02:01 PM
John Massengale from Manhattan

I'm about 3/4 of the way through Mosette's book. I've enjoyed it very much and learned a lot about the private lives of McKim, Mead and White. As a Classical architect (and co-author of New York 1900), the one place where we disagree a bit, is that Mosette's favorite period is the 19th century, so she prefers the firm's pre-classical buildings, and says the office became less creative as it became more Classical. She also prefers White's Classicism to McKim's, because his designs had more surface ornament and fewer direct precedents.

Architects of the early 20th century would agree with me more than Mosette. An architecture article of the time compared the working methods of the two design partners, and implicitly says they are different but equal masters. And surveys of architects at the time almost unanimously said McKim, Mead & White were the leading American office and McKim and White the leading American architects. Right behind them were various architects who had worked for them and eventually gone off on their own.

But the real test is how they have stood the test of time, and here personal preference does have some bearing. Many of my favorite New York's buildings were designed by McKim and they're all Classical. I'll take McKim's Pulitzer House over White's private house that is now the French consulate, for example. But that's not a knock on White: the two greatest buildings New York has lost are McKim's Penn Station (yes, I know all about Robinson) and White's Madison Square Garden.

Some are Classicists, some are more Romantic and eclectic. While other architects of the time, like Cass Gilbert, were eclecticists who designed in many styles, McKim, Mead & White transformed themselves into a Classical firm that only designed Classical buildings. Many of their pre-Classical buildings, which numbered in the hundreds were consigned to a rarely talked about past.

Dec. 14 2010 01:59 PM

How much cocaine are you feeding your guests, Leonard?

Dec. 14 2010 01:58 PM
tom from Asotia

Does your guest regret the current 'shell game' that so many contemporary firms play? That is, gutting historic buildings like the Plaza Hotel, The Stanhope and soon the Flatiron, leaving the shell and obliterating the interior.

Dec. 14 2010 01:44 PM
rlewis from the bowery

I hope you are going to get to the part where Stanford sleep with a guys wife, and the guy shot & killed him on the roof of Penn Sta/msg.

Dec. 14 2010 01:37 PM

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