The Archivist's Angle: Stanford White,
The NYU "Arch"-itect
A sketch of the first memorial arch
in Washington Square from Harpers Weekly, 1889.
By Julianna Monjeau (CAS '09, GSAS ‘11)
For much of its history, New York University’s campus has been on the move. From our various locations within New York City and its boroughs to our current expansion into Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, NYU has certainly covered a lot of territory in its 180 years. However, one thing has remained near constant amidst our presence in the city: the architectural thumbprint of the great Stanford White. From the Washington Memorial Arch, Judson Memorial Church, and Paulette Goddard Hall near Washington Square Park, to the entire University Heights campus in the Bronx, some of White’s greatest masterpieces are closely linked to NYU.
White was born on November 9, 1853 in Manhattan. His mother wrote children’s verse and his father, Richard Grand White, an 1839 graduate of New York University, was a literary, art, and music critic. Like his father, Stanford White was enamored with all aspects of art; he spent much of his life proving that he was able to design almost anything, including book covers, jewelry, parade decorations, and yacht interiors. He was apprenticed to renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson at the age of 16, and in 1879, he founded the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White with Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead. By the end of the century, McKim, Mead & White was the largest architectural firm in the world, receiving nearly 800 commissions by 1909.
The first Commencement in Washington Square Park, 1976.
Stanford White was awarded an honorary master of arts degree from NYU in 1881, and one of his most famous works became an emblem of the University, as well as an iconic city landmark. Interestingly, it was inspired by a design he completed for free. In 1889, prominent residents living on Washington Square determined that a triumphal arch should be erected to commemorate the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States. When McKim, Mead & White was asked to design the arch, Stanford White enthusiastically agreed to take on the project without charge. The original arch cost about $2,700 and was paid for with private donations from residents living near the park. It was constructed out of wood and papier-mâché, painted ivory, and decorated with garlands, laurels, American flags, and flags of foreign nations represented among the American population. The temporary arch was so well loved that it was decided that a marble arch, also designed by McKim, Mead & White, should be erected in its place. The Washington Memorial Arch was erected in 1892 and dedicated on May 4, 1895.
Gould Library at the University Heights campus, 1914.
It was not until much later, however, that the arch truly became an image associated with the NYU campus. In 1894, only two years afte the marble arch’s construction, Chancellor Henry Mitchell MacCracken decided to move the undergraduate college to a more spacious setting in the Bronx and hired White to design the new campus. Its crowning glory was Gould Library, erected upon a high terrace on the edge of campus. Built in the style of the Pantheon in Rome, the library soon became home to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Part of NYU’s student body continued to reside at Washington Square during this time, and when the University Heights campus was closed in 1973, the central location of NYU returned to Washington Square. Since our first outdoor graduation ceremony in Washington Square Park in 1976, the park became our unofficial campus and the arch our best loved symbol.
To learn more about Stanford White and how the designs of McKim, Mead & White have shaped our campus and our city, join us for Speakers on the Square on June 13 from 6:00-8:00 PM. Professor Mosette Broderick, Director, Urban Design and Architecture Studies will discuss "Art, Architecture, and Scandal in America’s Gilded Age: McKim, Mead & White and Their Influence on New York.”
To learn more about Stanford White and how the designs of McKim, Mead & White have shaped our campus and our city, join us for Speakers on the Square on June 13 from 6:00-8:00 PM. Professor Mosette Broderick, Director, Urban Design and Architecture Studies, will discuss "Art, Architecture, and Scandal in America’s Gilded Age: McKim, Mead & White and Their Influence on New York.”