Stanford White (1853-1906) found in Rhode Island the perfect social and natural setting for his artistic talents. In Stanford White, Rhode Island found the architectural genius that perfectly captured the spirit of its “Gilded Age”. While one without the other would have been noteworthy, the combination truly exemplified one of the greatest epochs in American architecture.
At the age of nineteen, Stanford White began an apprenticeship in the Boston office of Henry H. Richardson, the most famous architect of his time. He then studied architecture in Europe, accompanied by his lifelong friend, sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens. Upon his return in 1879, White entered into partnership with Charles F. McKim and William R. Mead. As the firm of McKim, Mead & White. This trio received several major commissions including New York’s Pennsylvania Station, Madison Square Garden, the Washington Memorial Arch, and the Boston Public Library. The firm also secured several Rhode Island institutional commissions including the Newport Casino, the Rhode Island State House, and the Narragansett Pier Casino.
As the most flamboyant, gregarious, and socially mobile member of the partnership, White developed a bevy of high profile, private residential commissions. Many of his finest examples, done in the distinctive “shingle” and “beaux arts” styles, are still to be admired right here in Newport, Rhode Island. They include Kingscote (1881), Ochre Point (1882), Fairlawn (1883), The Isaac Bell House (1883), Sunnyside (1885), Beacon Rock (1891) and Rosecliff (l902), later chosen as the backdrop for several Hollywood movie productions including “The Great Gatsby”, “The Betsy” and “True Lies”.
Even in death, White was sensational. He was murdered at age 53 at the Roof Top Supper Club of Madison Square Garden, a facility that White designed. The ensuing trial was deemed the “trial of the century”. His killer, millionaire Henry K. Thaw, was the first defendant to gain acquittal by reliance on the controversial theory of “temporary insanity”.
Though taken in the prime of professional life, White has gained eternal tribute through his magnificent Rhode Island architectural legacy. For his extraordinary contribution to Rhode Island’s rich architectural landscape, Stanford White is now enshrined in the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.