Cass Gilbert was the U.S. architect responsible for the traditional style and regal proportions seen in many of the nation's finest public buildings?including the Supreme Court Building, in Washington, D.C. His remarkable body of work included federal, state, municipal, educational, and religious structures as well as facilities designed for commercial, industrial, and private use. Gilbert believed strongly that architecture
should serve the established political and social order; much of his work continues to serve its public purpose decades after its conception and completion.
Gilbert was born November 24, 1859, in Zanesville, Ohio, where his grandfather, Charles Champion Gilbert, was the first mayor. He attended school in Zanesville until the death of his father, Samuel Augustus Gilbert, in 1868. At that time, his mother, Elizabeth Fulton Wheeler, apprenticed him to an architectural firm in St. Paul, Minnesota. There, he completed his education and trained as a surveyor. In 1878, Gilbert enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture for one year.
Income from occasional surveying work allowed Gilbert to embark, in 1879, on the customary grand tour of Europe, undertaken by many young men of his social standing and economic means. He traveled in England, France, and Italy and was exposed to many of the classic architectural styles that would later dominate his work.
Upon his return to the United States, Gilbert was employed as a draftsman by the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White, where he was influenced by name partner and noted architect Stanford White. His association with this firm gave him an opportunity to hone his skills and to learn the business side of running an architectural enterprise. Seeing his promise, the firm sent him to St. Paul in 1881 to oversee a building project.
By December 1882, Gilbert had severed ties with McKim, Mead and formed a partnership with St. Paul architect James Knox Taylor. Together, Gilbert and Taylor pursued both institutional and residential work, but they were unable to succeed financially. The business partnership dissolved. Well organized and efficient, Gilbert found that he preferred to work alone; he did not form another professional partnership during his career. His architectural work from this period included the Dayton Avenue Church, St. Paul (1888); St. Martin's by the Lake, Minneapolis (1888); and the Lightner House, St. Paul (1893).
Gilbert did establish a personal partnership, on November 29, 1887, when he married Julia T. Finch. Their growing family?which ultimately included Emily, Elizabeth Wheeler, Julia Swift, and Cass, Jr.?added to the financial burdens of the struggling...