Monday, November 29, 2010

Remembering... Cass Gilbert

Although he is most often associated with the many Beaux-Arts gems he contributed to an earlier incarnation of the Manhattan skyline, Cass Gilbert (born this day in 1859) got his start in St. Paul; that city's Minnesota State Capitol (begun in 1895) is considered one of his earliest triumphs.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYet the whole time he was building palace after palace along Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Gilbert was aware that enduring fame for any American architect could only come from working in one city in particular. It was one such commission, from the city in question - the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York - which finally brought him and his firm East.

While Gilbert's first job in the metropolis had been the relatively modest Broadway-Chambers Building at 277 Broadway he soon compiled an impressive series of edifices to his credit; the man many consider to be the 'Father of the Skyscraper' could have asked for no better mother to help birth and nurture his particular vision of urbanism than Manhattan.

Over the next thirty years Gilbert sent one tower after another into the skies over the city, buildings so beautiful that even now, even as they are being crowded out by generic glass towers, they still inspire the same awe they did in the optimistic 1910s and 1920s. Arguably the finest of these is the Woolworth Building (1913), although surely the mammoth New York Life Insurance Building (1926) comes a close second.

Gilbert's last commission - the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC - was completed a year after his May 1934 death by his son.
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