White House Historian to Reveal the Role of “America’s First Architect” Benjamin Henry Latrobe in the Reconstruction of War of 1812 White House

Latrobe also Built The Baltimore Basilica

Baltimore, Maryland (January 19, 2012) – The Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) will explore the work of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, his relationship with the James Madison family and his involvement in the furnishing of the Madison White House as well as its restoration after its burning during the War of 1812. The original furniture of the Madison White House was constructed by Baltimore cabinetmakers John and Hugh Finlay. Latrobe is widely considered the “Father of American Architecture” designing the post War of 1812 U.S. Capitol and the Baltimore Basilica. Leslie Jones, White House Historical Association Collections Manager, will speak on the topic along with a selection of images on February 2nd, 6 pm at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. Tickets are $40 with a reception following the talk. For more information, contact (410)-685-3750 or mdhs.org.

Latrobe’s son John H. B. Latrobe, was an architect as well, who designed the entrance to Druid Hill Park and was one of the founders of the Maryland Historical Society. He donated many of his father’s papers to MdHS.

Leslie Jones, of the White House Historical Association, serves as the Collections Manager. She received a B.A. from Miami University, Ohio, in the History of Art & Architecture and Arts Management, and completed her M.A. from the Smithsonian Associates and Corcoran College of Art + Design’s History of Decorative Arts masters program. Jones is also the 2012 curator of the Washington Winter Show’s loan exhibition, “Treasures of the First Families” and will also be curator for the 2013 exhibit.

An English immigrant, Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) was the first trained architect and engineer in America. He became a friend of Thomas Jefferson’s who employed him as architect of the U.S. Capitol Building. In 1805, Latrobe began work on the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the U.S., the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore.

Considered “Baltimore’s greatest work of architecture” by A Guide to Baltimore Architecture, The Basilica remains today a masterpiece of ingenuity and laid the groundwork for Latrobe’s next project as a consultant in the designing of the Madison White House.

Latrobe was hired by Thomas Jefferson to act as the first Surveyor of Public Buildings in Washington, DC. His role was to repair, design and construct the existing and future government buildings of the capitol city. When the Madison’s entered the White House in 1809, Latrobe quickly befriended President James Madison and his wife Dolley. Operating as what we now call an “interior designer” for the Madison White House, Latrobe furnished the unfinished rooms with his own choices of color schemes, furniture, fabrics, flatware, silverware, and even wigs for Mrs. Madison.

The Madison’s were well known for their elaborate and elegant parties. They hosted gatherings and the choice of furnishings they brought into the White House was legendary. Particularly intriguing was a series of seating furniture that graced the elliptic- shaped saloon on the main floor, now known as the Blue Room. Latrobe designed the chairs and settees and had them made by Baltimore cabinetmakers John and Hugh Finlay.

After the Madison White House was burned on August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, only the outside walls and a 1792 Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington were saved. However, some of the original drawings by Latrobe for the Madison White House painted furniture survived through the Latrobe family and will be on display at the Maryland Historical Society for the February 2 lecture.

The Maryland Historical Society was founded in 1844 and is the world’s largest museum and library dedicated to the history of Maryland. Occupying an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore, the society’s mission is to “collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland’s diverse cultural heritage.” The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled “Maryland Historical Magazine.” More information about the Maryland Historical Society can be found online at http://www.mdhs.org.

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