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Gilbert Stanley Underwood

Gilbert Stanley Underwood, Architect [1890-1961]

Gilbert Stanley Underwood [†] was born in 1890 in Oneida, New York. He moved to Los Angeles around 1910 and worked for several years as a draftsman in the office of Arthur B. Benton, a prominent Southern California architect. Around 1913, Underwood returned to the East Coast and subsequently received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Yale University in 1920 and a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University in 1923. Underwood was a recipient of the medal of the Societe des Architectes Diplomes par le Gouvernement in 1920, and co-winner of the Avery prize of the Architectural League of New York in 1923. The former prize suggests that he may have studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Underwood returned to Los Angeles after graduation from Harvard and established the firm of Gilbert Stanley Underwood & Co., Architects and Engineers. In 1934, he moved to Washington, D.C. and served as a consulting architect for the Office of the Supervising Architect. Underwood continued to work on Federal projects until after World War II, when he was appointed Chief Architect of the General Services Administration (GSA) after the agency's formation in 1949. He retired from active practice in 1954 and died in 1961.

Today, G. Stanley Underwood is best known for his large Depression-era public buildings. Prior to 1930, while he was still in private practice, Underwood designed many buildings in the western United States for the Union Pacific Railroad. Between 1924 and 1929, he designed nearly twenty railroad stations for the Union Pacific. He also designed rustic resorts and lodges for the railroad's hospitality department. Underwood soon parlayed this experience into commissions for lodges and hotels in western National Parks, including Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. After becoming consulting architect to the Treasury Department in the 1930s, Underwood designed a number of public buildings, including over two-dozen post offices, several courthouses and the United States Mint in San Francisco. Departing from the severe Moderne aesthetic he played such a prominent role in developing, Underwood continued to design rustic park lodges, such as Timberline Lodge in Oregon and Sun Valley Lodge in Wyoming. After World War II, he designed several Federal office buildings in Washington, D.C.

Underwood's architecture is distinguished by a masterful sense of purpose as well as sensitivity to materials in both natural and urban settings. The Ahwahnee Hotel (1926-27) in Yosemite, and Timberline Lodge (1935- 37) on Mount Hood, are both superbly suited to their sites. Their robust scale and generous use of natural materials, coupled with sophisticated planning, make them masterpieces of their type. In urban buildings like the Omaha Union Terminal (1929-30), the United States Mint (1935-37) in San Francisco and the Rincon Annex Post Office (1939-40), also in San Francisco, Underwood produced works of monumental urbanity. The Omaha Union Terminal is a flamboyant Art Deco structure, appropriate to its site and function. The United States Mint in San Francisco is an austere fortress-like pile, richly finished in granite on the exterior and marble in the public lobby. The Rincon Annex Post Office combines austere massing and rich ornament. Both the Mint and the Rincon Annex Post Office convey a sumptuous dignity rare in American civic architecture.

† Chris VerPlanck (Senior Associate/Architectural Historian) and Richard Sucre (Architectural Historian), Page & Turnbull, U.S. Court House and Post Office, Los Angeles County, California, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.