Well-respected and well-connected, the architectural partnership of John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings birthed some of the most impressive examples of Beaux-Arts-style turn-of-the-century architecture in the country, including the landmark main branch of the New York Library. While they came from very different background—born in Rio de Janeiro, Carrère was the son of a wealthy Brazilian coffee trader, while Hastings came from a family of Presbyterian ministers—the duo shared a similar architectural education, and most importantly, vision.
Both studied at the renowned École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris before apprenticing at the firm of McKim, Mead, and White in New York, then the starchitects of their day. By the time they set out on their own in 1885, they had absorbed the cutting-edge of architectural practice in Manhattan and overseas, and fueled with the ambition of young designers hungry for recognition, would create an amalgam of classical style and American innovations (including structural steel and electrical lighting) that would make them internationally known.
While grounded in the energy and scale of a rapidly growing metropolis like turn-of-the-century New York, they also incorporated the lessons of the City Beautiful movement, a philosophical flexibility that allowed them to expand into numerous fields, from hotels and hospitality to lush country estates and urban planning. Their design for the entrance and colonnade to the Manhattan Bridge seems to synthesize many of their interests, a beautiful public monument fused into an urban setting. Though Carrère tragically passed away in a streetcar accident in 1911, Hastings continued with the firm until his passing in 1929. Here are just some of the highlights of their immense body of work, which comprises more than 300 projects.
Ponce de Leon Hotel (St. Augustine, Florida: 1887)
Developed by Standard Oil Magnate Henry Flagler, this palatial waterfront escape was part of a chain of hotels the millionaire built to help lure wealthy Northerners to the Florida coast, a newly opened development frontier thanks to the rail line he built. While the Spanish Renaissance stylings utilized by Carrère & Hastings harken back to a more classical design, the hotel was cutting edge at the time, built out of poured-in-place concrete and wired for power with the help of inventor Thomas Edison and a series of brand-new, on-site DC power generators. The opulent structure did its best to lure the moneyed set with extravagant interiors, featuring the work of Louis Tiffany and murals by George Maynard. While the hotel got off to a rough start, contending with yellow fever and a deep freeze in its early years of operations, it did became a landmark for the region, and a big influence on Florida architecture for years to come. Most importantly for the architects, this early work, which they got through the church connections of Hastings's father, helped the upstarts establish a reputation and bring in additional work. They would go on to design Whitehall, Flagler's palatial estate in Palm Beach.
New York Public Library Main Branch (New York City, New York: 1911)
From the grand entrance stairs, with the twin lion statues nicknamed Patience and Fortitude, to the grandiose Rose Reading Room, a stylish study hall with 52-foot-high ceilings, this Midtown icon has become a city favorite. The Beaux-Arts beauty, built upon the former site of the Croton Reservoir, was an imposing and impressive feat of construction, containing 75-plus miles of shelving for its vast collection of books and eventually costing $9 million dollars. Carrère & Hastings were selected during an open competition among the city’s architects, including established figures such as their mentors, McKim, Mead & White, and won with a classical scheme that would result in the largest marble structure in the country at the time. Their concept, a three-story building anchored around a central circulation core, was deemed the most practical and beautiful. Under construction for more than a decade—removing the reservoir itself took two years—the building finally opened in 1911, a timely symbol arriving right as New York began to take its place on the world stage as a truly international city. Henry Hope Reed declared the structure "a people's palace of triumphant glory." The dup would go on to designs dozens of additional branches for the city's public library system.
26 Broadway New York, the Standard Oil Building (New York City, New York: 1928)
A massive, muscular granite structure that rides the curve of Broadway, this early 20th century tower became an icon upon opening. Topped with a granite pyramid modeled after the Grecian Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and an aluminum casing that riffs off the idea of a oil-burning lamp, the epic tower presents a fitting visual symbol for the massive conglomerate for whom it was originally built. Designed by Hastings a decade after oil magnate John D. Rockefeller saw his business split apart by a trust-busting 1911 Supreme Court decision, this colossal headquarters shows the tycoon still had the sway to build a commanding seat of power. It was certainly eye-catching; the interior designs recalled the grandiosity of a cathedral, while the tower, set in line with the other nearby buildings, was the tallest in Lower Manhattan, and initially served as a beacon for ships in the harbor. Sold by a descendant of the Standard Oil Trust in 1956, it’s since been declared a city landmark.
Memorial Auditorium (Louisville, Kentucky: 1927)
Built to honor those who perished during what was then known as the Great War (WWI), this temple-like building has become a civic landmark, and originally held a massive Pilcher organ boasting more than 5,000 pipes. The stately front, laid out with a series of 10 doric columns, bought then in vogue Beaux-Arts style to a district mostly decorated in commercial and Renaissance revival facades.
Vernon Court (Newport, Rhode Island: 1901)
Considered one of the most beautiful mansions of its time, this Gilded Age mansion has a very fitting backstory. Built as a summer cottage for Anna Van Nest Gambrill, widow of a New York lawyer and inheritor of a railroad fortune, this Newport estate was modeled after a 17th century French chateau, all the better to keep up with neighboring summer escapes. The building now serves as the home for the American Museum of Illustration, a fitting frame for a treasure trove of artwork.
Henry Clay Frick House (New York City, New York: 1914)
Now a museum, this three-story home was formerly the private residence of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Daniel Burnham was initially offered the commission, but his plans for an Italian palazzo-style structure didn’t gel with Frick, who reached out to Thomas Hastings for a Beaux-Arts-style residence. Hastings's straightforward designs for the exterior, including deep-set windows and a beautiful balustrade, made the entire home feel like it was plucked out of the country and deposited in the Upper East Side, while elegant touches, such as the marble-lined entrance hall, made it clear this was the home of one of the city’s richest men. It’s since become a well-respected art gallery, as per the will of Frick, a generous patron of the arts.
Cairnwood Mansion (Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania: 1895)
An L-shaped country estate built for a prominent Pennsylvania captain of industry, John Pitcairn, this commission established Carrère & Hastings’s reputation for designing country homes. Set amid a rolling landscape itself designed by the Olmsted Brothers, the 28-room, three-story limestone-and-brick structure offered a rustic yet stylish retreat often used to host large social gatherings.
Cunard Building (New York City, New York: 1921)
Located across from the Standard Oil Building and built for the Cunard Shipping line, the building’s 22-story classical limestone facade contains one the city’s most treasured interiors. Once inside, visitors can gape at a 60-foot-tall great hall, decorated by the marine-themed murals created of artist Ezra Winter, a fitting decor choice that celebrated the success of the ocean line (then unchallenged by air freight). Ablaze in a rich mosaic of colors and images, the ticketing hall stands as one of the most inspiring interiors in the city outside of religious structures. While Carrère & Hastings only served as consultants for this project—Benjamin Wistar Morris served as lead architect—playing a role in such a gorgeous structure is certainly noteworthy.
Jefferson Hotel (Richmond, Virginia: 1895)
This Spanish Baroque-style hotel, built at the behest of tobacco baron Lewis Ginter, has so many stories and urban legends attached to its illustrious history that it nearly overshadows the delicate architecture and grand interior (which includes a life-sized Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson). Gone With The Wind author Margaret Mitchell was supposedly inspired by the grand staircase inside, actor David Nevin spotted alligators swimming in a pool near the reception desk, and dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson supposedly was discovered while working as a bellhop at the Jefferson. A blend of numerous styles and influences, the grand, 300-room hotel became a national sensation and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Central Congregational Church (Providence, Rhode Island: 1893)
The congregation’s second location (the original is now part of RISD), this stunning Spanish Renaissance-style house of worship contains an elaborate dome by Rafael Guastavino and stunning stained glass. An early project by the duo inspired by a church they designed in St. Augustine, Florida, the building offers a unique fusion for New England, Spanish design and Arts and Craft style.