Charles Adams Platt (1861-1933)


This collection contains materials related to New York City architect Charles Platt’s personal and professional lives, the bulk originating from Platt’s office in the form of drawings, photographs, and records documenting architectural projects from 1901-1933, with some earlier and later projects also represented. The archive also contains transcriptions of correspondence from Platt’s travels to Europe in 1879 and from 1882-1886, as well as transcribed letters to his second wife, Eleanor Hardy Bunker Platt, and a diary kept during his brief engagement as a member of the Food Administration in Italy after World War I. Additional papers include limited personal and professional correspondence. Lastly, the collection contains original glass plate negatives of photographs of Italian Renaissance gardens taken by Platt and/or his brother William Platt in the spring of 1892. Platt incorporated some of these images in his influential book Italian Gardens, published by Harper & Brothers in 1894.

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Charles Adams Platt, the son of John Henry Platt and Mary Elizabeth Cheney Platt, was born in 1861 in Manhattan. Although best remembered today for his landscape and country house designs, he was also nationally known for his etchings, landscape paintings, commercial architecture, and institutional projects. He was largely self-taught in each of these disciplines, building his success on his ability to reconceive the classical tradition in architecture for the needs and desires of his wealthy, powerful clients.

Born into a wealthy family with several artist relatives, Platt developed an early interest in art by enrolling in classes at the National Academy of Design in 1878 and joining the Art Students League in 1879. To advance his growing interest with painting, Platt traveled to Europe from 1882-1886, studying in the atelier of Jules Joseph Lefebvre in Paris from 1884-1885 and often working independently within a circle of friends. Platt met his first wife, Annie Corbin Hoe, in Europe and they married in the spring of 1886.

After the death of his father in 1886 and Annie in 1887, Platt recovered slowly, returning to his work in earnest in the summer of 1889 when living at the Cornish Arts Colony in New Hampshire, where he had been invited by Henry Oliver Walker. The following year, Platt received a commission for a house and garden from his Cornish neighbor, Annie Lazarus. Platt sought initial assistance from his friend, prominent New York architect Stanford White, and designed for Lazarus a residence patterned after an Italian villa and sited to frame views of Mount Ascutney. Platt further explored his ideas on villa architecture during an 1892 trip with his brother, William Platt, to photograph Renaissance gardens in Italy, the results of which he published in Italian Gardens in 1894.

Charles A. Platt, photographer. Villa Lante, Fountain of the Moors and garden. Bagnaia (near Viterbo), Italy. Published in Italian Gardens, page 21 (1894) Charles A. Platt, photographer. Villa Lante, Fountain of the Moors and garden.<br>Bagnaia (near Viterbo), Italy. Published in Italian Gardens, page 21 (1894)

After returning from Italy, Platt received house and garden commissions from several neighbors in Cornish, and began to attract commissions beyond Cornish, first for gardens and then for entire country estates. Increasingly, Platt's work was also the subject of national publication. Platt continued to design country houses throughout his career, but he devoted much of his time to important urban and institutional commissions after 1920. Many of these commissions came from the Vincent Astor estate office, which employed Platt from 1906 through 1932, and also from residential clients with institutional interests. Previous patron Charles Lang Freer commissioned Platt to design the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1913, the first of Platt’s nine museum commissions. Platt also completed or consulted on several large-scale campus planning projects, most notably for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and for Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

Throughout his life, Platt maintained his house and garden in Cornish, New Hampshire, and an office and residence in Manhattan. With his second wife, Eleanor Hardy Bunker, whom Platt married in 1893, Platt had five children. Among the children were William (1897-1984) and Geoffrey (1905-1985), who followed in their father's footsteps and practiced architecture in New York City; the Department of Drawings & Archives also holds the William & Geoffrey Platt archive. Charles Platt died in Cornish in 1933.

Charles A. Platt, architect. L. C. Ledyard, Jr., Residence, detail of north elevation. Syosset, Long Island, N.Y., 1914. Charles A. Platt, architect. L. C. Ledyard, Jr., Residence, detail of north elevation.<br />Syosset, Long Island, N.Y., 1914.