Updated: Dec 4, 2020
by Bart Boehlert
New York City grew dramatically after the Civil War with the rapid economic boom of the Gilded Age. During this period, many of the city’s great landmark buildings were constructed as New York fashioned itself into a world-class metropolis. A leading architecture firm of the time that helped define New York as we know it today was McKim, Mead & White, made up of Charles McKim, William Mead and Stanford White.
In 1878, a young Stanford White set off on a year and a half-long tour of Europe to study architecture. When he returned to New York in September 1879, he joined with architects McKim and Mead to form their eponymous firm. Evoking the grandeur of Europe, the firm worked in the Beaux Arts style, which was taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and promoted classical Greek and Roman architectural themes. Inspired by romantic memories of Continental countries, they give the Gilded Age a classical setting and imbued New York with the elegance of a European capital.
McKim, Mead & White went on to win nearly 1,000 commissions in New York and around the country including the original Pennsylvania Station, which was sadly demolished in 1961, the Washington Square Arch, the Brooklyn Museum, The Morgan Library, the Columbia University campus, Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South, and the original Madison Square Garden located on Madison Square. Samuel White, the great grandson of Stanford White who has published a new book, has poetically described the Garden as “a building that gave back in pleasure as much as it took up in real estate.” Two McKim, Mead & White building that are thriving today and appreciated by two Brown Harris Stevens brokers are the Harvard Club and the Harmonie Club.
In the late 1890s, the Harvard Club moved from 11 West 22nd Street to its new home on West 44th Street, which was then a block of stables. Charles McKim was hired, and designed a neo-Georgian gem of red brick and limestone that opened in 1894. The dramatic, three-story Harvard Hall was added in 1905. Further expansions included a modern glass and limestone wing by Davis Brody Bond in 2003, and a stylish rooftop bar in 2014. “It’s a home away from home,” says Brown Harris Stevens broker Dean Dunbar, who graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, and as has been a club member for 32 years. Dean takes advantage of the lectures held at the club, and entertains clients and friends there. “It’s a refuge for me,” he says. “A familiar place where ‘everybody knows my name.’”
In 1905, while Charles McKim was working on the Harvard Club, his partner Stanford White was finishing the Harmonie Club uptown at 4 East 60th Street. Originally called Gesellschaft Harmonie, the city’s second oldest social club (after the Union Club), was started by a group of German New Yorkers in 1852. When it outgrew its home on West 42nd Street, the Club relocated to White’s Beaux Art beauty with a limestone facade and terra cotta decorations. Inside, besides modern renovations, the interior features the original oak-paneled dining room and a ballroom with a hand-carved ceiling. Brown Harris Stevens broker Mike Lubin and his family joined the club three years ago. “I was looking for a place where we could enjoy sports and fitness coupled with the opportunity to share delicious meals with friends in a beautiful setting and attend cultural and speaking events,” says Mike. “I love that I feel as if I’m entering a world of a lost New York. It’s a welcoming environment that provides a sense of peace within the chaotic city.”
Sadly, Stanford White and Charles McKim met an early end. In 1906 the flamboyant, larger-than life, 52 year-old Stanford White was shot on the roof of his Madison Square Garden by Harry Thaw, who was obsessed with White’s relationship with his wife Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. Charles McKim died three years later. Thankfully though their elegant, classical buildings like the Harvard Club and the Harmonie Club live on for generations to enjoy.