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Stanford White: Genius Architect Who Loved the Ladies

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We hear a lot about Stanford White houses in the East End, but did you know he was murdered by a jealous husband after White seduced his wife as a sixteen year old? The ensuing court case was called "The Trial of the Century" and was immortalized in books and films, including The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing in 1955 and Ragtime (1981).

From about 1880 until his death, Stanford White (1853-1906) and his firm were the architects to the rich and famous. The rather spectacularly mustachioed architect joined Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead to form McKim, Mead and White in 1879.

In New York, White designed the second Madison Square Garden (demolished in 1925) and the Washington Square Arch, as well as mansions for the Astors and the Vanderbilts. He helped develop Tesla's Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham, Long Island, which is planned as a Tesla Science Center.

From Southampton to Montauk, White designed Shingle Style mansions as summer houses for the wealthy. The Montauk Association Houses—a group of cottages known as the Seven Sisters—float across the landscape like ships above the Atlantic bluffs. He also designed the clubhouse at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton.

White was a genius as an architect. Today he'd probably be in jail as a sexual predator. He maintained an apartment on West 24th Street in Manhattan (above FAO Schwarz!) for his conquests. One green room was equipped with a red velvet swing suspended from the ceiling. Here White would ravish teenage models and chorus girls.

One of them was sixteen year old Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit was said to have been the original Gibson Girl. She is also supposed to have been the model for Augustus Saint-Gaudens's sculpture of a nude Diana, which was the weathervane on top of White's Madison Square Garden. The statue stood on a 300-foot-high tower, making it the highest point in the city and was lit at night by electricity. Saint-Gaudens said of Evelyn, "She has the face of an angel and the heart of a snake."

On the night of June 25, 1906, White was at the roof garden theater of Madison Square Garden. Harry Kendall Thaw and his wife Evelyn Nesbit were also there. During the show's finale, "I Could Love a Million Girls," Thaw went up to White, said "You've ruined my wife," and shot White three times in the face, killing him. Over White's body, Thaw yelled, "I did it because he ruined my wife! He had it coming to him. He took advantage of the girl and then abandoned her!"

Millionaire Thaw was obsessed with White as a romantic rival, even though by 1906 White had moved on from Nesbit. White was excoriated in the press after his death as seducer of girls; even his architectural achievements were dismissed. Mentally ill, Thaw was also a drug abuser. While in The Tombs, Thaw was pictured eating dinner catered by Delmonico's.

Thaw was tried twice for the murder; in the first trial the jury deadlocked, and in the second Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Thaw eventually escaped from the lunatic asylum where he was committed, and by 1915, he was declared sane and freed. (That same year Nesbit divorced him.) In 1928, Thaw spoke to a newspaper reporter and said, regarding White, "Under the same circumstances, I'd kill him tomorrow."