Gilbert, Cass

GILBERT, Cass (1859-1934), a leading New York City architect who possessed a remarkable ability to adapt the Gothic and Renaissance styles to reflect the power and wealth of the early 20th C. American city. Born in Ohio, he studied in Boston at M.I.T. and trained in New York with the firm of McKim, Mead & White. Gilbert opened his own office in St. Paul, Minn. in 1882, and was later in partnership with James Knox Taylor from 1884 to 1892. His outstanding works in the United States include the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St. Paul, Minn. (1896), the United States Custom House in Lower Manhattan (1901-07), the St. Louis Art Museum (1902-04), the Woolworth Building, New York (1911-13), and the New York Life Insurance Building, New York City (1925-28).

In Canada, only one commission by Gilbert was actually completed, that for the U.S. Legation Building in Ottawa (1931-32), a refined Renaissance Revival landmark clad in Indiana limestone. Commissioned by the U.S. State Department, the building was strategically positioned on the south side of Wellington Street, across the street from Parliament Hill. Designed in 1928, construction work on the project was delayed until 1931, and finally completed in 1932. The building still stands today, although the U.S. Embassy has now moved to a new facility near the Byward Market.

In addition, Gilbert was also a participant in an important Canadian architectural competition in 1908. He was one of seven architects from Canada and the United States invited to submit a design for the new Provincial Legislative Building in Regina, Sask. The chief jurors for this competition were the leading American architect Bertram Goodhue, and the young Montreal architect Percy E. Nobbs. Gilbert submitted a remarkably sophisticated Collegiate Gothic scheme dominated by a 130 ft. high clock tower placed in the centre of this bold axial composition, but his striking design was passed over in favour of the winning scheme submitted by Edward & W.S. Maxwell of Montreal.

Gilbert died in Ridgefield, Conn. on 17 May 1934 (obit. New York Times, 18 May 1934, 23; biog. National Cyclopedia of American Biography, xxvi, 1937, 20-1, with port.; biog. H. Withey, Biographical Dictionary of American Architects, 1956, 233-35; MacMillan Encyclopedia of Architects, 1982, Vol. ii, 202-04). A detailed appraisal of the work of Gilbert was published after his death in Pencil Points [New York], xv, Nov. 1934, 541-56, illus. Three monographs on the career and work of Gilbert have recently been published including:

Cass Gilbert, Architect: Modern Traditionalist, by Sharon Irish, 1999;
Inventing the Skyline: The Architecture of Cass Gilbert, by Margaret Heilbrun, 2000;
Cass Gilbert: Life and Work, edit Barbara Christen & Steven Flanders, 2001

REGINA, SASK., competition entry for the Legislative Buildings, 1908 (Const., I, March 1908, 38-43, 47, illus. & descrip.; American Competitions, ii, 1908, Plates 100 to 106, illus.; The Builder [London], cii, 12 Jan. 1912, 38 and full page illus. plate showing elevation and site plan)
OTTAWA, ONT., United States Legation Building, Wellington Street, designed 1928; built 1931-32 (Ottawa Journal, 9 July 1928, 3; C.R., xlii, 27 June 1928, 62; xlv, 11 March 1931, 123, t.c.; 14 Oct. 1931, 54, t.c.; xlvi, 3 Feb. 1932, 47; 30 Nov. 1932, 1347; R.A.I.C. Journal, ix, Feb. 1932, 32, illus.; Architects’ Journal [London], lxxv, 11 May 1932, 620, illus.; Pencil Points [New York], xv, Nov. 1934, 552, illus.; Andrew Waldron, Exploring the Capital: An Architectural Guide to the Ottawa-Gatineau Region, 2017, 10-11, illus. & descrip.; orig. perspective drawing at the CCA, Montreal, DR: 1983:802)