Art: More Than Modern

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Stone landed on his feet, with a $100-a-week job designing interiors for the new Waldorf, including the romantic trellised ceiling of the Starlight Roof. Within two years he had moved over to the new Rockefeller Center, where in the presence of "the prophets," Architects Raymond Hood and Harvey Corbett of the Rockefeller Center team that included fast-rising young architect Wallace Harrison, Stone was put in charge of the working designs for Radio City Music Hall, then as now the world's largest movie palace (6,200 seats).

Head of the Class. From that time on, Ed Stone was recognized as the young designer who had come closest to mastering the modern vocabulary. Stone needed all his talent just to survive the long winter of architecture during the Depression. One after another. Stone's contemporaries closed shop. Those who survived often rushed from office to office to hover over a friend's drafting boards, giving prospective clients the impression of an office packed with busy draftsmen.

Stone himself turned out advertising layouts and designed lighting fixtures. In the Richard H. Mandel house at Mt. Kisco, N.Y., he produced in 1935 the first modern house in the International Style (as contrasted with Frank Lloyd Wright's indigenous style) to be designed by a U.S.-born architect. In the bachelor's retreat he built for A. Conger Goodyear at Old Westbury, on Long Island, he deftly applied modern principles to an intimate, luxurious small house. His collection of medals and awards grew through the years. Two Architectural League Gold Medal winners are now rated as architectural landmarks:

¶ Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, designed in 1937-38 (completed in 1939) with the late Philip L. Goodwin, one of the earliest U.S. buildings constructed in the International Style. Conceived as a luminous rectangle, incorporating vast, flexible loft space for exhibitions, and an inviting, open ground floor, it is fronted by a wall of insulated glass to give the interior an alabaster glow. Stone calls it "a simple, vivid, workable building."

¶ El Panama Hotel, which Stone designed in 1946 (it was completed in 1951) after a three-year hitch as a captain and major in the U.S. Army Air Forces in charge of designing air-base facilities. Faced with the commission for a hotel in the tropics. Stone chose the hilltop site two miles northeast of Panama City, decided to let the rooms air-condition themselves by making each one an open breezeway with its own cantilevered balcony. When Stone told Frank Lloyd Wright he was building a hotel without corridors, without windows and without doors, the shrewd old man opined: "Ed, sounds like you've got something there." Wright was right. El Panama (now the El Panama Hilton) has set a style for resort hotels from Hawaii to Istanbul.

The Tie That Breaks. Despite his considerable professional success, these were difficult years for Ed Stone. His marriage to Orlean Vandiver of Montgomery, Ala., whom he had met in Venice during his student days, was drifting onto the rocks. Increasingly, Stone's life centered over his drafting board. With his fellow architects he would rehash architectural problems over martini-laced lunches that often rolled until dinner, sometimes ended only when mid-Manhattan restaurants closed.

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