Mott Schmidt Biography

Late Works
by Mark Alan Hewitt

As early European modernism seemed to supplant all other architectural idioms in the United States during the late 1930s and 1940s, many of Schmidt's colleagues passed away or retired from practice. But what the architectural historian William Jordy has called "the domestication of Modern" did not supplant or even seriously challenge the traditional country house among most con­servative, wealthy clients. Schmidt continued to attract devoted clientele during the 1950s and '60s, even among more progressive thinkers, as the Rockefeller family illustrates. In 1937 John D. Rockefeller, Jr., retained him to design a lavish two-floor apartment at 740 Park Avenue as a showplace for a large part of his collection of European, Oriental, and American art and antiquities (Figure 39). The following year Schmidt was asked to design a first home for Abby, John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s daughter, and her husband, David Milton. Located on the Rockefeller compound in Pocantico, New York, Hudson Pines (Figure 40) was a larger variation on the formula developed at Pook's Hill and perfected in the Dillon house (Figure 41). His working relationship with the Rockefellers continued for several decades. When the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., added to or altered the large Pocantico estate house, Kykuit, in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s they often called upon Schmidt, who gave them the same refined traditional look which graced the other buildings.

The group of New York's elite who, like the Rockefellers, chose tradition running back to their ancestors over the "shock of the new;" would come to Mott Schmidt as one of the last competent eclectic architects still practicing after World War II. He was referred by longstanding clients as well as by fellow professionals. In 1958, Dorothy Dillon Spivak, who wanted a French style house built around a set of 17th and 18th century rooms from a Parisian hotel, was given Schmidt's name by four of the leading architecture schools on the East Coast as the best man for the job.

FIGURE 39. John D. Rockefeller Jr. Apartment, 740 Park Avenue, Stair Hall
Bob Wands, Courtesy of Rockefeller Archives
FIGURE 40. Hudson Pines, Mrs David (Abby Rockefeller) Milton House, Pocantico, New York, 1938, Entrance Front
Avery Architectural Archives
FIGURE 41. C. Douglas Dillon House, Far Hills, New Jersey, 1936, Rear Elevation
Dillon Family Photo