William R. Mead, American architect and principal of McKim, Mead & White, writes to the chancellor of New York University regarding the construction of the university’s library

Signed by William R. Mead

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MEAD, WILLIAM R. (1846-1928). American architect and principal of McKim, Mead & White. TLS. (“Wm. R. Mead”). 2pp. 4to. New York, August 7, 1895. On McKim, Mead & White letterhead. To HENRY MACCRACKEN (1840-1918), chancellor of New York University.

I am in receipt of yours of August 5th containing instructions in regard to procedure on the plans for the proposed University Library.

My first step has been to ask Mr. Brush to come to the office, as before we are able to determine the thickness required for the retaining terrace wall, we must know accurately its height at the different points. I was unable to find Mr. Brush’s office address and the letter was sent to his house, #113 West 69th St. He has not made his appearance, and I am to-night sending a messenger to his house to see if he is in the city. I have hesitated to employ our usual surveyor because Mr. Brush must be in possession of much useful data in connection with the work. We shall proceed as far as we can on the general lay-out of this wall without this survey, but shall be hampered until we obtain it. If we can get it soon we shall be able to send you the plans you ask for by August 15th, but if there is any considerable delay this will be impossible. We shall also proceed with the general working drawings of the Library proper, and when we get them far enough advanced shall obtain the preliminary estimates in the order you desire. We are always hampered at this time of year by the vacations we are obliged to give our men, and unfortunately two of the men I had selected to put upon this work are taking their vacation, but I have made arrangements so that others shall be working upon the plans until they return.

In regard to the photographs of good examples of wall built of native Gneiss stone, Mr. Bacon will go to-morrow morning to see the St. James Church on Jerome Avenue, and if he thinks it a fair example will either procure a photograph or have one taken. Without having seen the Church, I am afraid he will find it is made up of too small stones. As this wall will be, as I understand it, perhaps 30 ft high in some places, it would seem as if at least some part of the way up the stone should be of good size. However, perhaps Mr. Bacon may be able to find other examples in that part of the city and we will endeavor to send you photographs as soon as possible. [in holograph:] Very truly yours…”

William Mead, Charles McKim and Stanford White

A Vermont native and cousin of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Mead formed a partnership with architect Charles Follen McKim in 1872. The pair would later be joined by Stanford White to form McKim, Mead & White, the preeminent architectural firm of the Gilded Age. Known for its restrained classical style, despite the prevailing romanticism then in vogue, the firm designed many prominent New York City landmarks, among them the Century Club, University Club, Boston Public Library, and numerous buildings for New York University’s University Heights campus in the Bronx. Chancellor McCracken established the 40-acre uptown campus in 1894, hoping to create an ideal rural college setting and, to that end, engaged the firm. Secretly funded by Helen Miller Gould, an 1895 New York University law school graduate and daughter of the recently deceased financier Jay Gould, construction began on the Gould Memorial Library in 1895.

With an exterior based on Rome’s Parthenon, the building’s sumptuous Renaissance interior was replete with gilded Corinthian capitals, a glass oculus, stained glass, metalwork, and a gilt-coffered dome (reported by The Times to be based on the reading room of the British Museum), all produced by famed decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Mead’s function in the company was more managerial than design-focused as can be seen in our letter which attends to some of the details of surveys, building materials, estimates, and arranging a photograph of St. James’ Episcopal Church in the Bronx, an example of “native stone” Gothic Revival architecture, which was adorned with a number of windows designed by Tiffany.

From 1886 through 1897, Henry Bacon (1866-1924) was one of McKim, Mead & White’s most prominent architects, co-designing the Rhode Island State House and representing the firm at the 1889 Paris World’s Expo and the important 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He is best known as the designer of the Lincoln Memorial, his final project.

Written on two separate folded sheets and in fine condition. Scarce; we could find no sales records of Mead letters.

William R. Mead, American architect and principal of McKim, Mead & White, writes to the chancellor of New York University regarding the construction of the university’s library

Signed by William R. Mead

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