Mott Schmidt Biography

Late Works
by Mark Alan Hewitt

Schmidt became financially strained in the late 1940s and was forced to sell Pook's Hill in 1950, moving into a smaller house in Katonah, New York, also of his own design. Tragedy struck in 1954 when his only child, Elena Chandler, died at the age of thirty as a result of childbearing complications. The next year his wife, Elena, died of cancer, and his output slowed for the remainder of the decade. Yet, after a difficult period during the early fifties in which commissions were few, Schmidt's practice experienced a resurgence. A September 1957 article in the New York Times noted his accomplishment as a builder of estates in "the Grand Manner":

Mott B. Schmidt, who has designed town and country houses for Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts and Astors, says that during the last few years he has drawn and ex­ecuted more plans for country homes than at any time since 1921, when he began to specialize in this field of architecture. The plans spread across the drawing boards in his office at 14 East Forty-sixth Street, and the daily round of visitors to his pine-paneled consulting room, furnished with antique French and Italian pieces, confirms the revival of interest in luxurious country living.

This new group of well-to-do clients recognized Schmidt as an architect with the experience and taste to handle traditional houses. As the architect said, "When a person can build without budget worries, he can blend the practical with the esthetic in any way that satisfies him." Thus, in a time governed by frugal, modernistic taste, Schmidt was able to design a series of relatively large houses, costing $250,000 or more, which extended his experiments in the country house to the suburban type. Houses epitomizing luxurious country living were built for Mr. and Mrs. Ralph C. Price, of Greensboro, North Carolina (1953); Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Bronfman, Jr., of Seagram fame, in Purchase, New York (1955) (Figure 42); the presi­dent of Chase Manhattan bank, John McCloy, in Stamford (1956) (Figure 43); and William Clay Ford of Grosse Pointe, Michigan (1959) (Figure 44). As a rule Schmidt relied upon models already developed during the 1930s for these works. Both the Price and Bronfman houses were compact refinements of the 5-part formula and are probably the most successful of the 1950s estates. They had large garages, complex mechanical systems, and a surplus of bathrooms - signs of their gadget-oriented times.

Schmidt may well have been more comfortable with compact and restricted programs. Indeed, some of his best late work was done with rather small houses. His 1957 house in Bedford Hills, New York, for newspaperman and historian Donald Marshall and his wife is carefully massed and detailed and fits its wooded site beautifully (Figure 45). A similar design was made for Murray D. Safanie nearby in Katonah (1958). A larger but still trim colonial saltbox house in Connecticut for oilman John M. Lovejoy (1949) was also well sited and proportioned, if very modest in its articulation. This fertile period culminated when Schmidt remarried in 1958. He and Katharine Temple Lapsley had known each other when she was a girl in her hometown of Bedford, New York. After working with the Office of Strategic Services in Washington and the Voice of America in New York, and having an ended marriage to Melville Stone, she returned to Bedford in 1957, where she and Mott Schmidt were reacquainted. With his second wife he found renewed energy, support for his work, and happiness. He might easily have retired had it not been for one final challenge.

FIGURE 42. Edgar M. Bronfman Jr. House, Purchase, New York, 1955, Entrance and Garden Elevations
FIGURE 43. John J. McCloy House, June Road, Stamford, Connecticut, 1956
Avery Architectural Archives
FIGURE 44. William Clay Ford House, Grosse Pointe shores, Michigan, 1959
FIGURE 45. Donald Marshall House, Bedford Hills, New York, 1957
Mark Alan Hewitt