Today in History

Today in History: July 27

Cyrus Eidlitz, Architect

New York Times under Construction
New York, N.Y., Times Building Under Construction,
photographic negative, ca. 1903.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

New York Times under Construction
Times Building, Times Square,
Samuel H. Gottscho, photographer,
photographic negative, 1962.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

Architect Cyrus Lazelle Warner Eidlitz was born on July 27, 1853, in New York, New York. His father, Prague-born architect Leopold Eidlitz, was an influential theorist who became a founding member of the American Institute of Architects in 1857. Educated in New York and Europe, the younger Eidlitz is known for designing numerous public buildings, including Chicago's Dearborn Station and the Buffalo Public Library. Cyrus Eidlitz's work, like that of his father, was especially influenced by Gothic and Romanesque revival styles of the second half of the nineteenth century.

In 1904, Cyrus Eidlitz collaborated with Alexander McKenzie on the New York Times Building—a steel-framed skyscraper with Beaux-Arts facade and Gothic accents created for New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs. Located at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway, and 42nd Street, the building filled a triangle at the base of Longacre Square, soon renamed Times Square in honor of the building. At the time of its opening, the Times Building was the second tallest in Manhattan and soon became the cornerstone of a growing Broadway theater district. By the 1930s, dozens of theaters, including the Ziegfeld Theater, competed for audiences in and around Times Square.

Times Square View
New York City views. Times Square, Globe Marquee,
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc.,
color slide, 1940 or 1941.
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955

At the urging of Arthur Ochs, Eidlitz and McKenzie connected the Times Building underground to the 42nd Street subway station. As early as 1904, New Yorkers were riding the subway from City Hall in lower Manhattan to 145th Street in just twenty-six minutes.

Within a decade, the newspaper outgrew the Times Building and moved to larger quarters. After it was sold in 1961, the original ornate facade was replaced by shear walls of concrete and marble. Today, the well-known tower at One Times Square is rarely used by tenants, but instead is covered on three sides in large and elaborate billboards, while a moving band of lights encircle its facade transmitting news. It remains a focal point of Times Square, where since 1907 crowds have gathered every December 31 to watch the lighted ball on its roof drop as they welcome in the new year.

Learn more about the growth of New York City and its place in American Memory:

Gertrude Stein Dies

Portrait of Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer,
January 4, 1935.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964

Portrait of Alice B. Toklas
Alice B. Toklas,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer,
October 8, 1949.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964

On July 27, 1946, American avant-garde writer and art connoisseur Gertrude Stein died in France. Her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas, was at her side. In their last conversation, Stein reportedly questioned Toklas about the meaning of life: "Alice, what is the answer?" When Toklas was unable to reply, Stein queried, "In that case, what was the question?"

Stein was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her family moved when she was three years old—first to Vienna, then to Paris. They returned to the U.S. and settled in Oakland, California, in 1879. ¬†After her parents died, she joined her eldest brother, Michael, in San Francisco in 1891. Next, she moved to Baltimore with her brother, Leo, and sister, Bertha, to live with an aunt. Stein attended the Harvard Annex—the precursor to Radcliffe College, from 1893-97 and then enrolled at Johns Hopkins University Medical School (1897-1901)—but decided not to pursue a medical career. She joined Leo in Paris in 1903.

In Paris, Stein enjoyed a reputation both as a cultural figure and for her circle of friends. She cultivated friendships with Picasso, Henri Matisse, and other experimental painters who frequently gathered for food and conversation at her home.

During the 1920s, Stein's talent for the apt turn-of-phrase and her willingness to mentor others made her Paris salon a gathering place for American expatriates Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carl Van Vechten, Virgil Thomson, and Archibald MacLeish. Watching these young men struggle to come to terms with World War I's devastation, Stein observed to Hemingway, "You are all a lost generation."

Stein's writing—a fragmented, abstract style intended to capture the moment, was influenced by the Cubist school of art. Her first book was the novel Three Lives (1909). Her second book, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (1914), a poetry collection, exemplified the effect that modern painting had on her writing. Her other influential works include The Making of Americans (1925) and How to Write (1931). Her best seller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) tells Stein's life from Toklas' point of view.

The composer Virgil Thomson scored Stein's operas, Four Saints in Three Acts (1933) and The Mother of Us All (1947). Based on the life and career of Susan B. Anthony, the latter is described in its foreword as a "pageant" on the theme of winning rights for women in the United States.

Learn more about the life and times of Gertrude Stein: