Born 3 March 1870 in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Died 18 February 1943 in New York (Manhattan), New York
Buried Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York
Elected 6 December 1919 at age forty-nine
A new member’s first meeting with Egerton Swartwout in the Century dining room gave the impression of a painfully shy old gentleman with an almost inaudible voice who looked like a wig-maker’s idea of David Lloyd George. Subsequent encounters brought out the fact that this was a charming, accomplished architect, strong in his loves and hates, with stubborn opinions on the ethics of his profession, and talented in fluent but not wasteful invective.
In 1891, “Swarty” (to his intimates) graduated from Yale and entered the offices of McKim, Mead & White, who were then leading the vigorous American movement to adapt classic architectural design to modern needs and materials. While in that famous nursery of architects Swartwout designed, under McKim, the domed Columbia College [Low Memorial] Library. Afterwards he hung out his own shingle and designed more than 100 buildings throughout the United States—his own favorites being the Mary Baker Eddy Memorial in Boston, the Elks Memorial in Chicago, and the State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Swartwout never became reconciled to the modern or modernistic style for large buildings. While serving on the National Commission of Fine Arts in the thirties, he disapproved sculptures and mural paintings submitted by artists obviously untrained in the artistic disciplines he believed to be fundamental. “I have never seen anyone,” writes a Centurion familiar with Swartwout’s work on the Commission, “more impatient with careless workmanship. He had no time for those who tried to escape the long, hard road of preparation which he himself had taken in reaching his high position among the architects of his time.”
As an influential member of the American Institute of Architects, he labored for the encouragement of the unknown architect of talent. He was an ardent believer in rigidly secret competitions, where rewards could not go by favor or reputation. Opposed to “architectural factories,” where full credit and profit are withheld from the real creator of the design, he maintained that “the smaller the office the better the work.” His own one-man office at No. 10 East Fortieth Street was for many years open house for any younger member of his profession who sought his advice.
1943 Century Memorials