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Cass Gilbert, 1907
|Born||November 29, 1859; Zanesville, Ohio, United States|
|Died||May 17, 1934; United States|
|Significant buildings||Minnesota State Capitol, West Virginia State Capitol, Woolworth Building, U.S. Custom House|
Cass Gilbert (November 29, 1859 – May 17, 1934) was a pioneering American architect. An early proponent of skyscrapers in works like the Woolworth Building, Gilbert was also responsible for numerous museums and libraries (Saint Louis Art Museum), state capitol buildings (the Minnesota and West Virginia State Capitols, for example) as well as public architectural icons like the United States Supreme Court building.
Gilbert was born in Zanesville, Ohio, the middle of three sons, and was named after the statesman Lewis Cass, to whom he was distantly related. Gilbert's father was a surveyor for what was then known as the United States Coast Survey. At the age of nine, Gilbert's family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where he was raised by his mother after his father died. After attending preparatory school in nearby Minneapolis, Gilbert dropped out of Macalester College, before beginning his architectural career at age 17 by joining the Abraham M. Radcliffe office in St. Paul. In 1878 Gilbert enrolled in the architecture program at MIT.
Gilbert later worked for a time with the firm of McKim, Mead, and White before starting a practice in St. Paul with James Knox Taylor. He won a series of house and office-building commissions (the Endicott Building in St. Paul is still regarded as a gem, and many of his noteworthy houses still stand on St. Paul's Summit Avenue) in Minnesota before landing a career-breaking commission designing the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City (now home to the George Gustav Heye Center). His public buildings in the Beaux Arts style reflect the optimistic American sense that the nation was the heir of Greek democracy, Roman law and Renaissance humanism.
Gilbert is considered a skyscraper pioneer; when designing the Woolworth Building he moved into unproven ground -- though he certainly was aware of the ground-breaking work done by Chicago architects on skyscrapers and once discussed merging firms with the legendary Daniel Burnham -- and his technique of cladding a steel frame became the model for decades. Modernists embraced his work: Alfred Stieglitz immortalized the Woolworth Building in a famous series of photographs and John Marin created several paintings of the same; even Frank Lloyd Wright praised the lines of the building, though he decried the ornamentation.
Gilbert was one of the first celebrity architects in America, designing skyscrapers in New York City and Cincinnati, college campuses at Oberlin College and the University of Texas, state capitols in Minnesota and West Virginia, the support towers of the George Washington Bridge, various railroad stations (including the New Haven Union Station), and the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.. His reputation declined among some professionals during the age of Modernism, but he was on the design committee that guided and eventually approved the modernist design of Manhattan's groundbreaking Rockefeller Center: when considering Gilbert's body of works as whole, it is more eclectic than many critics admit.
 Endicott Building