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Male, US, born 1867-04-11, died 1944-12-18

Associated with the firm network

Howells and Stokes, Architects


Professional History

New York Times writer, Christopher Gray, proposed that "In the early 1890s, Stokes determined on a career in architecture. Perhaps he was influenced by his uncle, William Earl Dodge Stokes, who put up the Ansonia Hotel and other West Side buildings." (See Christopher Gray, "A Co-op Built by a Designer With an Unusual Obsession," New York Times, 01/29/2006, p. J8.) The example of his father, too, avidly buying real estate, consulting with architects and contractors and building numerous commercial and private buildings, may have reinforced this choice. Partner, [John Mead] Howells and Stokes, Architects, New York, NY, 1897-1917. On the West Coast, Newton had his greatest influence through his firm Howells and Stokes, which designed the Metropolitan Tract's primary office buildings in Seattle during the 1910s. Howells and Stokes built extensively on the East Coast, designing Saint Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, New York, NY; Woodbridge Hall, Yale University, New Haven, CT; Dudley Memorial Gateway, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Music School, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Baltimore Stock Exchange Building, Baltimore, MD; American Geographical Society Building, New York, NY; 953 5th Avenue Apartment Building, (1925), New York, NY. Manager, Labor Department, Bureau of Industrial Housing and Transportation, Preliminary-Investigations Division, New York, NY, 1918. Principal, I.N. Phelps Stokes, Architect, New York City, 1917-c. 1930.

Both Edith and Newton Phelps Stokes became integrated into New York's liberal upper class, focusing much of their attention on improving housing for the lower classes. According to the Avery Architectural Library at Columbia University: "Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes...was a housing reformer, real estate developer and architect from a prominent and wealthy New York family who trained at Columbia and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Harvard. In partnership with John Mead Howells, it was Stokes who designed St. Paul’s Chapel on the new Columbia campus at Morningside Heights between 1903 and 1907. In 1900, Governor Theodore Roosevelt appointed Newton to serve on the New York State Tenement House Commission, which wrote the ground-breaking New York Tenement House Law of 1901." (See "I.N. Phelps Stokes His Print Collection and the Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909,"Accessed 10/15/2014.) The New York State Tenement House Act of 1901 closed loopholes existing in previous state government acts (namely the Second Tenement Housing Act of 1879 and its 1887 amendment) designed to insure that housing had proper ventilation and exits. The 1901 explicitly required that all tenements have rooms with windows exposed to the exterior for fresh air, a sizable courtyard, modern toilets and ventilation systems, and up-to-date fire prevention measures. This law came as a result of Jacob Riis's muckraking writings and photos, as well as fear of highly communicable diseases that often plagued the poorest tenement neighborhoods. I.N. Phelps Stokes had the social position, political connections and liberal ideals to assist in the actual passage of this landmark legislation. In 1936, Phelps Stokes contributed to the book, Slums and Housing, with Special Reference to New York City; History, Conditions, Policy, by James Ford, Katherine Morrow Ford and George N Thompson; the book was financed by the Phelps-Stokes Fund. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936). Architectural Member, New York City Art Commission, New York, NY, 1911-1913. President, New York Municipal Arts League, New York, NY, c. 1937.

Honorary Doctor of Letters degree, New York University, New York, NY, 06/08/1932; honorary Doctor of Letters degree, Columbia University, New York, NY, 06/01/1937.

Several archives have document collections belonging to Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. Columbia University's Avery Art and Architectural Library contains the "I. N. Phelps Stokes Architectural Drawings and Papers, circa 1900-1933," According to Avery, this collection included "Architectural drawings for projects designed by Howells & Stokes, and by Stokes working independently, particularly, [a] residence for Stokes' father, financier and philanthropist Anson Phelps Stokes (1838-1913) at Collender's Point, Darien, Conn., 1902-1905; a house for himself, "High-Low House," Greenwich, Conn., 1901-1917; house for his wife at Indian Harbor, Greenwich, Conn., 1927, undated; outdoor pulpit for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, 1912-1915 (built in 1916); proposal for an apartment house at 953 Fifth Ave., New York, 1924-1926; competition entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower, undated (the competition, 1922, was won by Raymond Hood); and St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, New York, 1904-1930. Also, miscellaneous designs; competition entries; designs for unidentified buildings; designs for apartment buildings and housing projects; photographs of buildings by Stokes; landscape designs done by the Olmsted Brothers firm for Stokes for an unidentified project or projects. Also included are documents relating to the planning, construction, and, later, repairs and the addition of memorial tablets to St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, which was designed by Howells & Stokes and built in 1907. Correspondence, with related memoranda, estimates, specifications, accounts, contracts between Howells and Stokes or Stokes with Columbia University officials, and contractors and suppliers date from 1903 to the 1930s." The New York Historical Society was given the "I.N. Phelps Stokes Papers, 1898-1937." The collection included: "Correspondence, letter books, accounts and financial papers, research notes and papers, and transcripts of historical documents, 1898-1937. Material pertains to such matters as Stokes's researches into New York history and his preparation of his 'Iconography of Manhattan Island,' his interests and duties as commissioner and president of the Municipal Art Commission, the Society of Iconophiles, the Lafayette Centenary Exhibition, his trip to Egypt in the 1920s, his interest in Greek coins, membership in numerous historic and cultural institutions, the family firm of Phelps Stokes & Co., personal affairs, etc." (See WorldCat, "Isaac Newton Phelp Stokes Papers," Accessed 10/15/2014.) Phelps Stokes had a wide range of historical interests, both local to New York and abroad, and had the money to indulge his curiosity. The New York Public Library maintains the "I.N. Phelps Stokes papers, 1909-1944," This collection contained: "...correspondence and research notes, drafts and proofs, photographs, and other materials for the Iconography of Manhattan Island."

Education

Saint Paul's Preparatory School, Concord, NH, c. 1887; A.B., Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1891; coursework in housing, Columbia University, 1893-1894; coursework, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France, 1894-1897.

Personal

Anson Stokes, Sr., built several houses during his lifetime, properties that stayed in the family and were used at various times by family members; he accumulated a portfolio of real estate, including extensive acreage in the Adirondacks, Berkshires and a residence in Scotland. As noted on a US Passport Application of 1921, Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes was born at 229 Madison Avenue in New York, NY. In 1870, Anson and Helen Stokes lived in New York's 21st Ward, District 19, a neighborhood inhabited by wealthy young merchants. They lived near William A. Dodge (born c. 1831 in NY) a wealthy cousin who also worked in the same metals trading business. The family maintained its main residence in New York City, primarily on Madison Avenue, at both 229 and 230; 229 was bought and sold by the family twice, and finally sold to financier J.P. Morgan in 1904. An enthusiastic builder, Anson, Sr., erected "Bay Villa" on Staten Island (c. 1880), "Shadowbrook" (built in 1893) at Lenox, MA, in the Berkshires, (a huge estate bought by Andrew Carnegie in 1917), and a "primitive" Adirondack camp on Birch Island in Upper Saint Regis Lake (purchased in 1877 and greatly expanded after 1900). Summers were spent at Birch Island or in the Berkshires with occasional trips to Newport, RI, Bar Harbor, ME, and other destinations favored by high society of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In 1902, Anson Stokes bought acreage at Collender's Point, Darien, CT, where Newton designed for him "Brick House" (1902-1905). Newton himself bought 177 acres at Khakum Wood near Greenwich, CT, and erected his own country estate, "High-Low House" between 1901-1917. This house was notable for a 1912 addition, an authentic reconstruction of a Thwaite, England, Tudor manor built first in 1597. Newton bought it, had it packaged in 688 crates and shipped to CT. He added timbers from a wrecked English schooner for additional framing members and directed English craftsman rebuild the mixture. Newton and Edith lived at 118 East 22nd Street in New York in 1910; they had three Irish-born servants in the house. In 1920, Isaac, Edith and Helen lived with her mother, Sarah Susannah Minturn, in an apartment house at 109 East 21st Street, New York. The Stock Market crash necessitated retrenchment for Newton and Edith, forcing them to sell some assets and to downsize their principal residences. The New York Times recorded in 1930: "I.N. Phelps Stokes has resold to Charles F. Street, president of the Somerset Investment Company, an apartment of eight rooms and three baths in the cooperative at 655 Park Avenue." (See "Real Estate Notes," New York Times, 03/08/1930, p. 34.) Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes died in their residence at 953 5th Avenue, a building Newton designed, on 06/12/1937. The couple occupied an apartment on the seventh and eighth floors of the 14-story building. Having given much of his money away to charities, he was forced to move from 953 5th Avenue, spending his last years in a three-room apartment at 70th Street and Madison Avenue. He passed away in the home of Ransom S. Hooker, his brother-in-law and sister's residence in Charleston, SC.

His father, Anson Phelps Stokes, Sr., (1838-1913), born in New York, NY, came from an established, wealthy family that owned a bank, Phelps, Stokes and Company, and the metals importing and mining firm, Phelps, Dodge and Company (founded in 1834). He married Helen Louisa Phelps on 10/17/1865, with whom he had nine children, five daughters and four sons, the eldest being I.N. In the later years of his life, contemporaries in New York thought that Anson Phelps Stokes, Sr., possessed a net worth of $25 million, although, after his death, his will actually distributed to family and charities only about $750,000. Of Norman stock, the Phelps Stokes Family had long been prosperous, even dating back to pre-immigration days in England. Thomas Stokes (1765-1832), the family's founder in America, came from the merchant class, and emigrated from England in 1798 with significant property. Thomas set a formative example for his descendants, excelling at business and, at the same time, championing a variety of charitable causes including the American Bible Society, the New York Peace Society, and the American Tract Society. Never having had to build new fortunes, Thomas's eldest son, James (1804-1881), and grandson, Anson, enjoyed high standards of living, but didn't became complacent about the responsibilities accompanying wealth. They generally maintained liberal social views, emphasizing charitable causes and community service. An abolitionist, philanthropist and first President of New York's Reform Club, Anson Phelps Stokes, Sr., passed these traits on to his children. Newton belonged to many of the same clubs and cultural groups as his father, and became an arts philanthropist and mass housing advocate; his brother, Anson, Jr., became an Episcopal clergyman and educator at Yale University, who supervised the Phelps Stokes Fund (founded 1911), a philanthropy that sought to improve living conditions for African-Americans. James Graham Phelps Stokes (1872-1960) became immersed in the socialist movement and a supporter of pacifism. A sister, Ethel Valentine Phelps Stokes (1876-1952) wed a noted philanthropist, John Sherman Hoyt (1880-1954), in 1895. Newton, by about 1915, became less interested than his partner, John Mead Howells (1868-1959), in commercial skyscraper design, and turned much of his focus to public housing issues. The onset of World War I provided him the opportunity to dissolve his partnership, thereafter undertaking occasional solo commissions, and pursuing community service and historical research.

Referred to as "Newton" by family and friends, he married Edith Minturn (born 06/20/1867 in New York, NY-died 06/12/1937) in 1895 at Pointe-au-Pic, QC. Edith was one of seven children, five daughters and two sons, of Sarah Susannah Shaw (b. 1839 in Boston, MA–d. 1926) of Boston, the daughter of the well-off Unitarian philanthropists and intellectuals, Francis George and Sarah Blake (Sturgis) Shaw, and Robert Bowne Minturn, Jr., (1836-1889), who inherited his father's lucrative shipping company, Grinnell, Minturn and Company; R.B. Minturn, Jr., also had interests in railroads, and served as Vice-President of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. In addition to being a transportation magnate, Robert was an author (he published his travel diary, From New York to Delhi, By way of Rio de Janeiro, Australia and China, [New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1858], a significant philanthropist (he donated some of the land that composed Central Park) and a devout abolitionist. Influenced by both sides of her family, Edith developed her sense of noblesse oblige and preference for liberal idealism. Due to their combined wealth and status, I.N. and Edith could socialize with some of the best-known academic artists of the time, including the sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), who employed her as a model for his allegorical sculpture, "Statue of the Republic," which stood at one end of the tidal basin at Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. At the time of her marriage, the New York Times said of Edith: "The bride is widely known for her beauty, and her poses in tableaux for charitable objects have attracted the attention of artists. She posed in the Court of Honor at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago as the 'Statue of the Republic.' A photograph of this pose took first prize at the last exhibition by the Society of Photographers." (See "Marriage of Miss Edith Minturn," New York Times, 08/22/1895, p. 5.) Renowned artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) also painted a portrait of Edith and Isaac in 1897. Edith also engaged in public service efforts, serving as President of the New York Kindergarten Association, a group seeking to improve public education for the underprivileged by starting schooling earlier.

Newton and Edith adopted a daughter, Helen Phelps Stokes, was born 10/28/1905 in India. At the time of her mother's death in 1937, she was known as Mrs. Edwin K. Merrill. She died as Helen Bush in Bedford Hills, NY, on 08/10/2004.

Phelps Stokes met John Mead Howells at Harvard University, where they studied in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Member, Harvard Club, New York, NY, c. 1891; Member, Knickerbocker Club, New York, NY, c. 1891; Member, Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club, Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY, c. 1891; Member, Reform Club of New York, New York, NY, c. 1891. President, Municipal Art Commission, New York; Vice-President/Co-Founder, Community Service Society, New York, NY 1939-c.1940. A US passport application of 09/28/1892 described the architect as 6 feet 3 inches tall, with an oval face with a prominent nose, receding chin, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. He traveled to Britain, France and Germany between 1890-1891 and resided in France (attending the École des Beaux-Arts) between 1895-1898. He planned a three-month tour of France and the British Isles between 07-09/04/1921. He returned to New York from a vacation in Bermuda on 03/05/1931. Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes became involved in liberal causes over the years, and was a supporter of Democratic Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947). In the 1930s, he worked in Roosevelt's WPA administering New York City's public murals program. He and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) came from similar backgrounds, the sons of long-established New York families, who felt a sense of noblesse oblige to assist in public service projects and politics. Phelps Stokes also became an important collector of early American prints depicting cities; along with Daniel C Haskell he published the book, American Historical Prints: Early Views of American Cities, etc. from the Phelps Stokes and Other Collections, (New York : New York Public Library, 1933). As an historian of New York, he published the exhaustive, six-volume study, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, (New York: R.H. Dodd, 1915-1928). The book was published along with F.C. Wieder, Victor Hugo Paltsits and Sidney Lawton Smith.



Associated Locations

  • New York, NY (Architect's Birth)
    New York, NY

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  • Charleston, SC (Architect's Death)
    Charleston, SC

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PCAD id: 2231


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