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Cass Gilbert Edit Profile

Architect

Cass Gilbert was a prominent American architect, responsible for the traditional style and regal proportions seen in many of the nation's finest public buildings including the Supreme Court Building, in Washington, D. C. .

Background

Gilbert was born in 1859 in Zanesville, Ohio, the middle of three sons, and was named after the statesman Lewis Cass, to whom he was distantly related.

Education

He attended school in Zanesville until the death of his father in 1868.

At that time, his mother, Elizabeth Fulton Wheeler, apprenticed him to an architectural firm in St. Paul, Minnesota.

There, he completed his education and trained as a surveyor.

In 1878, Gilbert enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture for one year.

Career

He began his architectural career at age 17 by joining the Abraham M. Radcliffe office in St. Paul. Gilbert later worked for a time with the firm of McKim, Mead, and White before starting a practice in St. Paul with James Knox Taylor. Together, Gilbert and Taylor pursued both institutional and residential work, but they were unable to succeed financially.

The business partnership dissolved.

His architectural work from this period included the Dayton Avenue Church, St. Paul (1888); St. Martin's by the Lake, Minneapolis (1888); and the Lightner House, St. Paul (1893).

His success convinced Gilbert that he was ready to compete in New York.

Shortly after moving to New York, Gilbert was among those invited to submit plans for the U. S. Custom House.

He won the competition, but not without controversy.

Other firms involved in the competition thought Taylor, then architect of the Treasury Building, in Washington, D. C. , had unfairly influenced the choice of his former partner.

His pursuit of the contract for the Woolworth Building, in New York, is just one example of his tenacious nature.

It was the tallest building in the world and it towered over the New York skyline for almost twenty years.

The building made Gilbert a celebrity and substantially increased the demand for his professional services.

In 1910, Gilbert was appointed to the National Commission of Fine Arts by President william howard taft.

He was reappointed for another term by President woodrow wilson in 1914.

Two symmetrical wings on either side of the central hall contained offices, libraries, and other Court functions.

Initially, the building was criticized for both its size and its exterior embellishment.

Charges of wasted space in the halls and corridors, and excessive seating in the courtroom, have diminished with time.

The building's exterior embellishment featured prominent legal figures and themes and was executed by some of the finest artists and sculptors of the day.

Time and improved sound technology have diminished this criticism.

This description could as easily be applied to the public buildings Gilbert designed.

Gilbert's work stayed true to the traditional themes that inspired him as a young man traveling in Europe.

Achievements

  • Gilbert was one of the first celebrity architects in America, designing skyscrapers in New York City and Cincinnati, campus buildings at Oberlin College and the University of Texas at Austin, state capitols in Minnesota and West Virginia, the support towers of the George Washington Bridge, various railroad stations (including the New Haven Union Station, 1920), and the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D. C. .

Views

Gilbert believed strongly that architecture should serve the established political and social order; much of his work continues to serve its public purpose decades after its conception and completion.

Quotations: "Let us pay our architectural debts to the creators of the plan of Washington. "

- Cass Gilbert

Membership

At various points in his career, he was an active member of the Architectural League of New York, Academy of Design, National Institute of Arts and Letters, Academy of Arts and Letters, Royal Institute of British Architects, Royal Institute of Canada, Architectural Society of Liverpool, Royal Academy of Arts, and French Legion of Honor.

Personality

Although Gilbert entered, and won, a number of competitions during his career, most of his work came from his professional associations and his power of persuasion.

Quotes from others about the person

  • “Heilbrun says "Gilbert's pioneering buildings injected vitality into skyscraper design, and his 'Gothic skyscraper, ' epitomized by the Woolworth Building, profoundly influenced architects during the first decades of the twentieth century. "”

Connections

father:
General Samuel A. Gilbert

was a Union Civil War veteran and a surveyor for the United States Coast Survey

spouse:
Julia T. Finch

uncle:
Union Gen. Charles Champion Gilbert

grandfather:
Charles Champion Gilbert

mayor

partner:
James Knox Taylor