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Richard Morris Hunt (1827 - 1895)

Photo of Grey Towers architect Richard Morris HuntThe forth of five children, Richard Morris Hunt, the designer of Grey Towers, was born into a family of wealth and prominence on October 31, 1827, in Brattleboro, Vermont. And even though he grew into the nation’s most revered architect by the latter part of the nineteenth century, he is today largely forgotten.

Most of the buildings Hunt designed in New York City have been destroyed, including the magnificent Fifth Avenue mansions. Only the central section of the front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art remains of the many works he built along that thoroughfare. In 1898, when a memorial to Hunt was erected on the eastern edge of New York’s Central Park, it purposely faced the Lenox Library, which, according to one art critic, represented the finest of Hunt’s designs. A few years later, the library was demolished.

A good friend of James and Mary Pinchot's, perhaps his most famous work, at least presently, is the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Another is the expansive Biltmore house near Asheville, North Carolina.

As often happens, a somewhat snobbish arrogance leaked into the later writings of many twentieth-century historians on American architecture of the Gilded Age who looked negatively upon Hunt’s work. To them, he was the architect of the Vanderbilts, a chateau builder, creating structures alien to the American experience. The mansions he designed for the rich provided striking symbols of wealth and power. One referred to his work as disastrous to the progress of architecture, a rather ironic analysis since contemporary architecture often tends to wallow in the pit of artistic mediocrity. Recently, however, Hunt’s work has found a more sympathetic arena.

Photo of 1898 monument to Richard Morris Hunt located in Central Park, New York CityHighly successful by age forty, Hunt produced buildings for private, commercial and public purposes. His designs for several monuments and memorials contributed to unifying the country following the Civil War. He wished to elevate public taste in the arts, yet possessed the ability to adapt his ideas to the needs of his clients. Rooted in the upper class, Hunt nevertheless prided his attention to hard work, reliability and seriousness.

Today, the elegant memorial to Hunt at Central Park probably collects more graffiti than passing glances. While sad to see, perhaps it symbolizes in some dark way the continual struggle artistic expression must endure to survive in the pounding sea of society.

USDA Forest Service - Grey Towers National Historic Site
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:05 CST

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