Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Enigma of C.P.H. Gilbert

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert was a contemporary of Horace Trumbauer, the architect of Lynnewood Hall and Whitemarsh Hall (which was razed years ago) in Pennsylvania.  Trumbauer was perhaps the most prolific architect of neoclassical architecture, although his long list of clients requested homes in various different styles.

The next chapter I am researching and writing of my forthcoming book, Architects of the American Neoclassical Period, 1880-1935, will be devoted to C.P.H. Gilbert.  Unlike Richard Morris Hunt, who left a vast collection of drawings, papers, journals, account books, letters and other vital documents regarding his architectural practice (and to a lesser extent, Horace Trumbauer), Gilbert mysteriously did not.  There is no “Gilbert Archive” at Columbia University where he first studied, or at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris where he continued his architectural studies.

While Gilbert designed residences in various different styles, many of which fortunately are still standing and in use today in various capacities, his most rewarding and impressive homes are in the neoclassical style.  Outstanding Manhattan examples are the Morton F. Plant House on the corner of 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue occupied today by Cartier, and the Otto H. Kahn House also on Fifth Avenue at 91st Street and today is the home of the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

Gilbert started his architectural practice in the late 1880s and became a member of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1887.  For many years he had his architectural offices in the Townsend Building located on the corner of 25th Street and Broadway.  He, his wife and two children lived in residences on Riverside Drive and at 300 Park Avenue.  In May of 1920, he announced the relocation of his offices to the Metropolitan Tower at One Madison Avenue.

Gilbert closed his practice in the late 1920s and he retired to Pelham Manor, New York.  What happened to all the drawings, ledgers, and other documentation when he closed his office is a question mark.  Months of searching on my part has turned up very little.  The archivist at the AIA informed me they had fewer than a dozen letters and his brief obituary published in The New York Times when he died in 1952 at the age of 92.

How such a prolific and prominent architect could leave virtually nothing behind other than his magnificent buildings is, indeed, an enigma.  Perhaps he did not see the historical significance of donating it all to a museum, and he destroyed all his drawings and files.  However, I am hopeful that something will surface as I continue my research.