“I love the photo of the original building because it is literally the first page of the Schomburg Center story. The Landmark Building was designed by prominent architect Charles McKim—the son of an Underground Railroad station master, Rev. James McKim.
In 1849, Rev. James McKim was on the postal receiving end for Henry “Box” Brown, an innovative and determined slave from Richmond, Virginia. Addressed to Rev. McKim, Brown arrived in a small shipping box and emerged into freedom. Charles McKim’s designs include the campus of Columbia University, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 1903 restoration of the White House.
McKim’s 135th Street Library opened in 1905 to serve an immigrant community of Germans and European Jews. In 1920, the public school located across the street reported a 90% African-American student population.”—Christopher Moore, Curator and Special Projects Coordinator, Schomburg Center.
To learn more about Arturo Schomburg’s collection and the Center, join Christopher Moore on a guided tour on October 5, 2011.
In 1901, Charles McKim was appointed by Senator James McMillan to the Senate Park Commission, which was meant to suggest improvements to the National Mall. McKim was a dominant voice in the Commission, recommending a return to the 1791 design proposed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant and extending the boundaries of the Mall to include the site designated for the Lincoln Memorial. Because of his work on the McMillan Commission, McKim was chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 to remodel the White House.
“The Boston Public LibraryMcKim Building (built 1895) in Copley Square contains the library’s research collection, exhibition rooms and administrative offices. When it opened in 1895, the new Boston Public Library was proclaimed a "palace for the people.” The building includes lavish decorations, a children’s room (the first in the nation), and a central courtyard surrounded by an arcaded gallery in the manner of a Renaissance cloister. The library regularly displays its rare works, often in exhibits that will combine works on paper, rare books, and works of art. Several galleries in the third floor of the McKim building are maintained for exhibits.“
The Morgan Library was originally built to house the private collections of James Pierpont Morgan, a powerful businessman, financier, and collector. Designed by Charles McKim of the prestigious firm McKim, Mead, & White, the building consists of a library in the east wing, librarians office in the north, and Mr. Morgan’s study in the west wing, all linked together by a room called the Rotunda (see floor plan below). The structure was completed in 1906, after four years of construction.
The building was inspired by Villa Giulia, an eighteenth-century papal palace in Rome. Specifically, the design drew from the nymphaeum at Villa Giulia. The front façade consists of 12 Doric pilasters framing two Ionic columns arranged in a serliana, a motif commonly associated with Andrea Palladio (see detail below). Subtle projections and recesses on the façade result in what one architect on the audioguide at the Morgan Library called “the gentlest of rhythmns.” Drawing even on Greek methods of construction, the McKim building was constructed using the dry joint method, meaning that the block are fitted together with carved grooves rather than mortar.
Upon entering the building, you find yourself in the Rotunda. The floor is decorated with a geometric patterns made of various luxurious marbles, including porphyry, resulting in a similar floor plane as that of the Pantheon. The ceiling was painted by artist H. Siddons Mowbray and represents three major literary epochs, the ancient world, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. The apse is decorated with blue and white stucco reliefs that were inspired by Raphael’s work at the Villa Madama in Rome.
The east room is where Morgan’s collection is predominantly house, in three tiers of bookshelves inlaid with Renaissance motifs. Two spiral staircases are hidden behind the bookcases by the doorway, which hinge forward. With the ceiling decoration, Morgan sought to bring European traditions to America. Literary figures and allegories for the disciplines are displayed in the roundels and the signs of the zodiac are portrayed within the spandrels, hinting to Morgan’s membership in the Zodiac Club, and exclusive gentleman’s club.
In the west room, Morgan displays his collection of Renaissance paintings in his private study. In this room, architecture is used to show power. The ceiling was taken from a Renaissance palace, and the red silk that adorns the walls contains the insignia of the Chigi family, a wealthy Siennese banking family during the Renaissance. An immense fireplace contributes to the monumentality of the room. The room also contains a vault room where Morgan kept his most precious manuscripts as well as items loaned to him which he was considering acquiring.
The McKim Building at the Morgan Library is a beautiful example of the Beaux-Arts style typical of McKim. Indeed, the building exterior and interior were acknowledged as historical landmarks in 1966. Many additional structures have been added on the site since 1906, including the extensive expansion executed from 2003 to 2006 by pritzker prize winning architect Renzo Piano.
Two men, each handsome and unusually adept at his chosen work, embodied an element of the great dynamic that characterized America’s rush toward the twentieth century. The architect was Daniel Hudson Burnham, the fair’s brilliant director of works and the builder of many of the country’s most important structures, including the Flatiron Building in New York and Union Station in Washington, D.C. The murderer was Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who, in a malign parody of the White City, built his “World’s Fair Hotel” just west of the fairgrounds—a torture palace complete with dissection table, gas chamber, and 3,000-degree crematorium. Burnham overcame tremendous obstacles and tragedies as he organized the talents of Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim, Louis Sullivan, and others to transform swampy Jackson Park into the White City, while Holmes used the attraction of the great fair and his own satanic charms to lure scores of young women to their deaths. What makes the story all the more chilling is that Holmes really lived, walking the grounds of that dream city by the lake.
The Devil in the White City draws the reader into a time of magic and majesty, made all the more appealing by a supporting cast of real-life characters, including Buffalo Bill, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, and others. In this book the smoke, romance, and mystery of the Gilded Age come alive as never before.
Erik Larson’s gifts as a storyteller are magnificently displayed in this rich narrative of the master builder, the killer, and the great fair that obsessed them both.