Number 160, Fifth Avenue today is a branch of the clothing store Club Monaco. But once this was home to the grandest architectural firm America had ever seen.
McKim, Mead and White transformed New York into a city of opulent marble and imposing beauty to rival the finest cities of Europe. They were the architectural firm of the vast new wealth that flooded America after the Civil War, that built homes for the titans of the late 19th century, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, the Astors, and the Vanderbilts. Drawing on Roman and Greek forms seen through the beauty of the Parisian Ecole des Beaux-Arts, McKim, Mead & White set the style for New York’s Gilded Age.
They built the Gentleman’s Clubs that dominated the high society of new money, including the Harvard Club on West 44th Street and the Metropolitan Club on East 60th. They were at the forefront of the Arts, building the Brooklyn Museum, and the Players Club in Gramercy Park. They designed Columbia University, Boston Public Library, and numerous hotels, churches, casinos and mansions, as well as the marble arch in Washington Square Park that Stanford White modeled after the Arc de Triomphe.
From modest offices at 57 Broadway, the firm’s growing successes saw them move to the heart of the city they helped shape, occupying floors at 160 Fifth Avenue. Whilst the original office on Lower Broadway is sadly demolished, the firm’s offices further uptown are still there, with Club Monaco’s Manhattan flagship store on the sidewalk level.
In Mosette Broderick’s book, Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal and Class in America’s Gilded Age, the story is told of how immediately after Stanford White’s murder, his private offices on the sixth floor of 160 Fifth Avenue, were combed over by three of his trusted draftsmen, “destroying anything that could be used by the press,” including letters, photographs and some 160 books of erotica.
Walking around New York today, particularly from the base of Fifth Avenue and the beautiful arch Stanford White built for the Washington centennial, up past the Flatiron District and Madison Square, is to see the wealth of the city that flourished and was transformed during the Gilded Age, most notably at the hands of McKim, Mead and White.
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