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Gorham Phillips Stevens


Centurion, 1912–1963

Born 14 August 1876 in New York (Staten Island), New York

Died 15 March 1963 in Athens, Greece

Buried Athens New Protestant Cemetery, Athens, Attica, Greece

Proposed by James R. Wheeler and William Mitchell Kendall

Elected 4 May 1912 at age thirty-five

Century Memorial

A writer and teacher of architecture, Gorham Stevens was especially devoted to classical studies. When he was in Athens during the Second World War, the Germans had such respect for his reputation that they left him alone to do his important work there. Part of it was a model of the entire Acropolis done in great detail. He had learned Greek history, mythology, and traditions until they became a part of him, and colleagues who were with him in Greece and walked with him among the monuments believed that he felt himself not surrounded by any present world but wholly by the ancient splendor. Temples and statues which his friends saw as relics, he reconstructed in his mind and saw as they were in the midst of the people of their day. Even on sites on which no relic remained he would see the vanished glory of a monument as he once saw the statue of Athena, though its location had been forgotten.

Sympathetic reminiscences of Stevens were given to your Historian by a close Centurion colleague—architect himself and a classical student.

“To be guided by Stevens,” this friend wrote, “through Agara and up through the Propylaea on to the top was an experience never to be forgotten. . . . I remember too on a visit some years ago, while we were sitting on the level of Areopagus, musing about St. Paul, one of my friends, a great student of St. Paul was with us, and Stevens asked permission to tell a story. . . .

“It had to do with St. Paul coming up from the marketplace where he had been threatened with execution unless he left Athens before sundown. As he came by the Areopagus on his way, some of the wise elders interrupted him and had a long pleasant talk with him. They seemed to like in general all of his thoughts and persuaded him to stay on in Athens—not to be concerned with the mob. Then he said something about the resurrection. Suddenly everything was altered—the elders took him to the top of the hill, pointed toward Corinth and said, ‘You better get out quick and go over there to Corinth. Those people are so dumb, they would believe anything.’”

Like many Centurions, his first architectural work was in the offices of McKim, Mead and White. He became director of the American Academy in Rome and held this post for many years. He was also director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. In his will he left the Academy in Rome a bequest of $100,000.

Stevens was a skillful archeologist and had great mechanical ingenuity. He spent hours scaling the slopes of the Acropolis, studying every fallen stone, and especially the bronze clamps that had held the stones together. He was able to report mistakes that had been made by other archeologists, and his findings caused a stir all over Europe.

Centurions will remember him by the Christmas cards he sent to the Club with pictures of classical architecture.

Roger Burlingame
1964 Century Association Yearbook