McKim, Mead & White - Table of Contents

McKim, Mead & White in Buffalo

The most dazzling architect triumvirate in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that of of New York City's Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, and Stanford White. The brilliance of McKim, Mead, and White changed the course of American architecture. Of the three talented men, it was the genius of Stanford White that most importantly influenced the architectural scene in Buffalo.

McKim, Mead, and White was formed in 1878 when Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909) formed a partnership with William Rutherford Mead (1846-1928) and William B. Bigelow. Bigelow retired the following year when Stanford White (1853-1906) joined the firm and the firm's name was established.


Click on photos for larger size

Stanford White

Stanford White portrait in the Williams-Pratt House

Williams-Butler House

Williams-Pratt House

Root House

Metcalfe House


Francis W. Tracy Monument

Niagara Falls Power Co. / Edward Dean Adams Power Station


Charles McKim was the original leader by virtue of his education, his ability, and his clients. He had attended Harvard and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and had apprenticed for two years in New York with Henry Hobson Richardson at 57 Broadway before setting up his own practice down the hall from Gambrill & Richardson's office.

William Rutherford Mead, the oldest of the three, was a graduate of Norwich University and Amherst College. He had apprenticed for three years with Russell Sturgis, whose office was also at 57 Broadway. In 1871 Mead left New York for two years in Florence, after which he joined McKim. Beginning in 1877 McKim and Mead were in partnership with William Bigelow, a classmate of McKim's from the Beaux-Arts and the brother of his wife Annie. McKim, Mead & Bigelow disbanded shortly after Annie Bigelow abandoned McKim in 1878.

Stanford White: When McKim left Gambril & Richardson in 1872, his position as Richardson's principal assistant was immediately filled by Stanford White, a nineteen-year-old firebrand whose original plan to become an artist had been redirected into architecture. White stayed in Richardson's office until 1878, when he departed for a self-guided tour of Europe. Abroad for fifteen months, he was based in Paris in the company of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, his lifelong friend with whom he was already collaborating on three commissions. White returned to New York in September to join McKim and Mead, forming an association that would last until their deaths.

Stanford White's fame as an architect, which was well deserved, was almost matched by his notoriety as a playboy. On June 25, 1906, White attended a cabaret show on the rooftop theater of Madison Square garden, which was also one of his own architectural designs. At a nearby table sat Harry K. Thaw, a 37-year-old millionaire, and his wife, Evelyn, who had been one of White's many mistresses and Thaw knew it. At 11 p.m., Thaw walked to White's table and murdered him with three shots from his pistol.

The Firm's Accomplishments

McKim, White, and Mead each brought specific and identifiable strengths to the partnership. McKim was a designer with a keen understanding of early American buildings and decorative arts, a powerful ability to simplify forms, and a list of clients and connections that would benefit the firm for the next thirty years. White was a skilled artist, capable of creating elegant details and brilliant arrangements of texture, color and objects based on unconventional juxtapositions. Mead ran the office and, in his own words, "kept [his] partners from making damn fools of themselves."

It would be misleading to spend too much effort sorting out their individual contributions on specific projects and incorrect to see their work as anything less than a collaboration. McKim, Mead & White's architecture rose to the level of excellence because the strengths and weaknesses of each partner complemented the others, because each architect understood his own role in the process, and because they worked together. Individually, Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, and Stanford White might have been interesting footnotes in the history of late-nineteenth-century American architecture, By their collaboration, they defined it.

During the period between 1879 and 1912, McKim, Mead & White became the largest and most important architecture office in America, if not in the world. With a staff that grew to over one hundred, the firm became the model for the modern architectural practice. In order to manage multiple large commissions, they established procedures for controlling every stage and detail of the architectural process. During its first thirty years the firm received and executed nearly one thousand commissions, championed the movement to introduce classical order to America's cities, trained the next generation of American architects, created standards of conduct for professional practice in this country, and were awarded, through McKim, the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The partners liked to design houses. McKim started out in 1872 as a house architect. By 1879 he had completed summer houses in Elberon, New Jersey, Newport, Rhode Island, and St. James, Long Island. Even after the rapid growth of the partnership, and as he became more identified with the firm's largest institutional and commercial commissions, McKim never abandoned his interest in creating houses for the American landscape.

Stanford White started out seven years behind McKim, but he eventually became the partner in charge of most residential commissions. White was a better draftsman as well as a more facile and intuitive designer than McKim, and he was not wedded to a single formal paradigm. He saw houses, including their contents, their owners, and even their occupancy, as scenographic elements in the performance of life. He often designed furniture for the elegant houses he planned. Believing that an architect should live better than his clients, White was the only one of the three partners to maintain elaborate country and city residences. He extended the traditional limits of architectural services to include interior decoration, dealing in art and antiques, and even planning and designing parties.

- Source: "The Houses of McKim, Mead and White," by Samuel G. White, 1998

The Pioneers: McKim, Mead and White
Excerpted from "American Revivalism," By Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins, published in The Magazine Antiques, May/June 2011, p. 99

A major watershed in the evolution of the colonial revival occurred in 1877 when four young architects - Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, William Bigelow, and Stanford White - toured New England, sketching and measuring historic, colonial era houses in Marblehaed, Newburyport, and Salem, Massachusetts, as well as in Portsmouth, New Hampshirte. (Even before this joint effort, McKim had visited and sketched colonial buildings for years on his own in Newport, Rhode Island.) In the process, a new direction in American architecture was forged. 

The firm of McKim, Mead and White was esablished in New York in 1879, and three years later the architects began to design the H. A. C. Taylor House in Newport.  Completed in 1886 the house was a pioneerting example of the colonial revival.

McKim, Mead and White followed this foray into the colonial revival with the Mount Vernon-inspired James L. Bresse House (1906) on Long Island, as well as numerous residences in New York City.

See also: Stanford White on Long Island

Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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