The Dean of American Architecture
Today is the anniversary of the death of Richard Morris Hunt, who was an American architect during the gilded age.
Gardeners know Hunt for his collaborations with the Frederick Law Olmsted. They worked together on the Vanderbilt mausoleum and the Chicago world‘s fair. Their ultimate collaboration occurred in Asheville, North Carolina, where they worked together to design the gardens, house, and manor village for the Biltmore Estate.
Hunt is often recognized as the Dean of American Architecture. He was the first American trained at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Although Hunt and Olmsted had a history, they clashed over Hunt's design for the southern entrance to Central Park.
Hunt had won the competition to design it, but Olmsted and Vaux balked when they saw Hunt's grand plan.
For the main entrance at Fifth Avenue, Hunt had designed what he called the Gate of Peace. It included a circular fountain within a square parterre.
The most magnificent part of his plan was a semi-circular terrace with a 50-foot column featuring a sailor and a Native American holding up the cities arms. At the base of the column was to be a monument to Henry Hudson. It involved a pool of water featuring Neptune in his chariot and Henry Hudson standing on the prowl of a ship. On the backside, there was a memorial to Christopher Columbus.
Thinking the public would embrace his grand vision, Hunt decided to promote his designs for the park all on his own.
But Hunt did not appreciate Vaux's is power. Although privately, Vaux said that Hunt's plans were "splendid and striking,"; publicly, he told a friend they were, "what the country had been fighting against... Napoleon III in disguise all over. Vaux summarized that Hunt's designs were "not American, but the park was."
Ironically, in 1898, a memorial was erected in Central Park to honor Richard Morris Hunt.
The memorial is located on the eastern perimeter of the park, and it was created by the same man who created the monument to Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial: Daniel Chester French.
When he was alive, Hunt wanted to elevate the public taste in design and the arts, but he was also flexible enough to meet them where they were. It was Richard Maurice Hunter who said,
"The first thing you've got to remember is that it's your clients' money you're spending. Your goal is to achieve the best results by following their wishes. If they want you to build a house upside down standing on its chimney, it's up to you to do it."