Newport Casino – International Tennis Hall of Fame // 1880

Completed in 1880, the Newport Casino building is one of the best examples of Shingle style architecture in the world, and despite its name, it was never a gambling facility. Planning for the casino began a year earlier in August, 1879. Per legend, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the influential publisher of the New York Herald and a summer resident of Newport, bet his polo partner, Captain Henry Augustus Candy, a retired officer of the Queen’s 9th Royal Lancers and skillful British polo player, to ride his horse onto the front porch of the exclusive gentlemen’s-only club, the Newport Reading Room. Candy took the dare one step further and rode straight through the clubrooms, which disturbed the members. After Candy’s guest membership was revoked, Bennett purchased the land across the street from his home, on Bellevue Avenue, and sought to build his own social club. Within a year, Bennett hired the newly formed architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, who designed the U-shaped building for the new club. The Newport Casino was the firm’s first major commission and helped to establish MMW’s national reputation. The building included tennis courts, facilities for other games such as squash and lawn bowling, club rooms for reading, socializing, cards, and billiards, shops, and a convertible theater and ballroom. In the 20th century, the casino was threatened with demolition as Newport began to fall out of fashion as a summer resort. Saviors Candy and Jimmy Van Alen took over operating the club, and by 1954, had established the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the Newport Casino. The combination of prominent headliners at the tennis matches and the museum allowed the building to be saved. The building remains a National Landmark for its connections with gilded age society and possibly the first commission by McKim, Mead and White, who became one of the most prominent architectural firms in American history.

Old Stone Studio // c.1820

Just a stone’s throw away from the Marion Town Hall and Elizabeth Taber Library (yes, pun intended), this beautiful 200 year old stone building oozes charm. The building was constructed around 1820 as a salt works storage facility, and is an extremely rare surviving storage facility associated with the early 19th century salt industry. While many storage facilities we know today are void of architecture and soul, this building looks like it was plucked from the French countryside. The salt industry in Massachusetts began on Cape Cod during the Revolution. Salt was a vital necessity for the preservation and curing of fish and meat for sale in this country and overseas. According to local lore, the Old Stone Studio was originally “a place for the conversion of sea water into salt.” Around the Civil War, the building was being used as a whale oil refinery, a fitting use for a fireproof structure. It had fallen into disrepair by the 1880s, until New York magazine editor Richard Watson Gilder bought and restored it as a studio for his wife, artist Helena de Kay Gilder. Gilder renovated the building in the early 1880s as the town of Marion was becoming a vibrant summer colony. He added a massive stone fireplace and new windows to flood the interior with natural light. The towering fireplace, with its 9-foot long mantle, was apparently designed by leading 19th-century American architect and Gilder’s friend Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White. The fireplace provided a stunning backdrop for guests, including President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, who summered in town. Ms. Gilder even painted the First Lady in the studio, and hosted her on occasions.

Schenectady City Hall // 1931

Buildings of New England travels! Welcome to Schenectady, a great city in upstate New York, with an hard to spell and pronounce name! The name “Schenectady” is derived from the Mohawk word skahnéhtati, meaning “beyond the pines”. Schenectady was founded on the south side of the Mohawk River by Dutch colonists in the 17th century, many of whom were from the Albany area. In 1664 the English seized the Dutch New Netherland colony and renamed it New York. They established a monopoly on the fur trade around Albany, and issued orders to prohibit Schenectady from the trade through 1670 and later. The town grew mostly as an inland agricultural town until the Erie Canal was built in 1825, creating a navigable water route from New York City and the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, cutting through Schenectady. The town grew and became an industrial center, attracting a very diverse population of immigrants in the 19th century and African Americans as part of the Great Migration out of the rural South to northern cities for work. The community struggled (like many) in the mid 19th century but has seen a large resurgence as of late!

This building is the Schenectady City Hall, a massive architectural landmark which made my jaw drop when I saw it! The City of Schenectedy outgrew their old City Hall, and in the late 1920s, held a nationwide contest to select designs for a new City Hall. The contest was won by the prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White. It appears that the designs were furnished by James Kellum Smith of the firm, the often overlooked genius of the MMW practice. The exorbitant cost of the project, which was undertaken during the Great Depression, caused the building to be dubbed “Fagal’s Folly” after Mayor Henry C. Fagal, who allowed all the cost increases while the city’s future was uncertain. He was not re-elected after this building was completed. The building is a pleasing mixture of Colonial and Classical Revival styles and features bold pilasters and a towering cupola

William G. Low House // 1887-1962

One of the many significant losses to American architecture is the demolition of the Low House, a perfect encapsulation of the Shingle style of architecture by one of the most prolific designers in American history. The William G. Low House was constructed at the southern tip of Bristol, Rhode Island by esteemed architect Charles Follen McKim (my personal favorite) of the firm McKim, Mead & White. The Shingle style, which took off in the Northeast United States, primarily in seaside communities in the late 20th century, the homes of the style often had a strong horizontal emphasis. The style contrasts the other Victorian-era styles, de-emphasizing applied decoration and detailing in favor of complex shapes wrapped in cedar shingles. The Low House, formerly located on Low Lane, stood out for its 140-foot long gable which appeared to protrude right from the hilly outlook. The home was demolished in 1962, but was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey program, which documented the home inside and out before it was a pile of rubble. Architectural historian Leland Roth later wrote, “Although little known in its own time, the Low House has come to represent the high mark of the Shingle Style”.

Burlington City Hall // 1928

One of the largest, most grand buildings in Downtown Burlington, Vermont is its City Hall building, constructed in 1928, just before the Great Depression. The brick facade with extensive carved marble trim is Neo-classical in style, with virtually all the finish materials – brick, marble, roofing slate, and granite produced in Vermont. The building replaced the 1850s City Hall, which was poorly constructed and suffered from deterioration, exacerbated by an earthquake in 1925. Architect William M. Kendall was hired to complete the designs of the large, bold Classical building. Kendall spent his career with the New York firm of McKim, Mead & White, the leading American architectural practice at the turn of the century, and showcased the best of that firm with the design of this building.

Stockbridge Casino // 1887

The Stockbridge Casino was built in 1887-1888 according to the design of Stanford White, a principal architect of the firm McKim, Mead & White. The building was not what we think of casinos today, it was a ‘casino’ in the older sense of the term, having been established as a place for a reading-room, library, and social meetings, for the richest in town to hang out. For forty years, it offered its members tennis, billiards, dances, theatricals, and lectures throughout the summer seasons. After a period of decline after WWI, the group sold the property to Mabel Choate, who wished to move the Mission House (home of the first missionary to the Stockbridge Indians) from up on Prospect Hill to Main Street. There was reluctance to see the casino torn down, so a group of local citizens — led by Walter Leighton Clark, President of the Grand Central Art Galleries of New York; Austen Fox Riggs, psychiatrist; and Daniel Chester French, sculptor — acquired land at the end of Main Street and moved the Casino to its present site, saving it from the wrecking ball. The building was renovated and reopened in 1928 as the Berkshire Playhouse, and was later renamed the Fitzpatrick Main Stage, a theater run by the Berkshire Theatre Group.

St. Paul’s Church, Stockbridge // 1884

Located on the idyllic Main Street in Stockbridge, MA in the Berkshires, this stone church marks the emergence of the once sleepy town into a summer retreat for wealthy citizens, escaping the cities in the late 19th century. This building is Charles Follen McKim’s first church design, a building reflecting his early training in the office of H. H. Richardson with the use of Romanesque detailing, though with a hint of Norman design. St. Paul’s Church is constructed of gray Berkshire granite with stained glass windows by John La Farge. The church replaced an older wooden church building designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style. The church was almost entirely funded by Charles Butler, a New York lawyer who wanted to honor his late wife Susan Ridley Sedgwick Butler, a descendant of Theodore Sedgwick, whose home I featured not long ago.

Bachelor Apartments // 1890

Located at the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, the Bachelor Apartments showcase the luxurious housing available to single Bostonians and young couples. The seven-story apartment house was designed by Charles Follen McKim in the Renaissance Revival style and is one of a limited number of McKim, Mead & White buildings in Boston. The building was likely geared towards young bachelors (due to its name) who were not yet established in their professions. The building featured commercial space on the ground floor, which originally housed a grocer. By the 1940s, the residents of the 13 apartments were mostly represented as widows with a few single bachelors there. The stunning building stands today as a prominent southern anchor of the Beacon Hill neighborhood and an entry to the Charles Street commercial district.

Old Penn. Station // 1910-1963

Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan was opened in 1910, and its sheer scale immediately evoked a sense of awe. At the time it was completed, it was the largest building ever built occupying two entire city blocks, and boasted the biggest waiting room in history. Over 500 buildings were demolished for the station to make way for the Charles McKim-designed station, an icon in the Beaux-Arts style. The structure had “nine acres of travertine and granite, 84 Doric columns, a vaulted concourse of extravagant, weighty grandeur, classical splendor modeled after royal Roman baths, rich detail in solid stone, and an architectural quality in precious materials that set the stamp of excellence on a city.” Sadly, being one of the most beloved architectural gems in the city did not constitute its maintenance nor preservation.

In 1961, after numerous plans for redevelopment, air-rights were sold on the building and in 1963, Penn Station was razed. The former grand station was replaced by Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Plaza, an office skyscraper, all with a modernized station below. When the building was destroyed, art historian Vincent Scully famously said, “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” In 1965, two years after Penn Station’s demolition commenced, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, thereby creating the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Additionally, Grand Central Station was proposed to be demolished later in the decade, but was saved thanks to preservation efforts.

Stone Lea // 1884

One of the grandest summer cottages in Narragansett has to be Stone Lea, a large, 2-1/2 story stone and wood-frame Shingle Style dwelling at the end of Newton Ave, off Ocean Road. Designed by McKim, Mead & White, the cottage was built for George Vaux Cresson a manufacturer based out of Philadelphia. Cresson apparently paid $26,000 (about $750,000 based on inflation to 2019) not including the land costs. Various members of the Cresson family used Stone Lea as their summer residence until 1911, when the property was sold. In later years, the Newberry’s, major stockholders of Packard Motor Car Company, purchased Stone Lea and summered here.  Sadly, the home was significantly altered in the 1940s and some of the amazing original details by McKim, Mead & White were removed.