The Cygnet

I had a short stay at camp with my high school friends this past week, all of us class of 1958, Benjamin Franklin High School, Rochester, New York.  The camaraderie and closeness with the guys and the warmth of us all being around the fire pit, the shifting smoke notwithstanding, made for a strong sense of wellbeing.  We were together from early morning coffee to late night story sessions of times past and memories relived. But the good feeling, which I hoped would last, was overshadowed by a disappointing discovery on my return to New York.  My house is situated on a cove that is home to a longstanding flock of swans that have co-existed with us since the 1970s.  Before I left to go to Maine, I noticed a bevy of young cygnets trailing a mother and father in the water.   Now I found that the entire family had dwindled down to one lone cygnet survivor.  Sadly, the female swan was found floating in the water and there was no trace of the others, aside from the last offspring swimming alone in Jones Cove, fluttering about among the phragmites, looking for its family.  Coming off a trip with my oldest and dearest friends from upstate, the missing swans seemed a metaphor somehow, to those longstanding relationships we have, to illness and aging and the inevitable loss we face. The surviving cygnet represents our own children and the future. 

At camp, we focused on the past and its impact on our respective lives.  After a meal of comfort food and several glasses of Sancerre, the stories flowed like the wonderful wines my friends brought to camp.  A predominant theme was the importance of our mothers on our lives growing up.  Our fathers were the vegetable broker, the electrician, the garment worker and in my case the parking lot manager.  We all survived like my lone cove swan to create our legacies for the future.  As the swan matures, the brown cygnet colors dissolve into white and it will, like some of us humans, find a mate for life and reproduce.  Unlike the cove swans, whose domain is our pond, my friends and I have “cygnets” of our own, who are well into maturity with established families and careers. They include entrepreneurs, a travel consultant, a teacher of autistic children, an attorney, and a museum director. My daughter Kara is a jewelry designer and my daughter Brooke an interior decorator.  Our children have “spread their wings and flown” and we are proud of them. The sole cygnet will, hopefully, fly out of the cove to thrive with a new flock on the pond.  

To my buddies, Harv, Arnie, Jer and Bobbie and their beautiful gals, thank you for coming together at camp this past week.  Enjoy the upcoming season as if it were that last break after graduation, before we started our new lives in the fall of 1958.   

A Conversation with Sam White

April 2022

A lifelong career in land use law has afforded me opportunities over the years to learn, explore and even profess some knowledge of local historical architecture. Recently I appeared before the local zoning board to see the restoration of a magnificent home designed by Albro & Undeberg circa 1914 in East Hampton Village. Advocating on behalf of the owners of beautiful, architecturally significant properties allows me the additional benefit of associating with the people who specialize in their restoration. In the course of my work on a new project, a home built in 1926 by Roger Bullard, designer of the renowned Maidstone Club, I made the acquaintance of Sam White, a great grandson of Stanford White. Stanford White was a partner in the firm of McKim, Mead & White and was arguably the most famous architect of his day, during America’s Gilded Age. His legacy survives in the many buildings he designed and built including the spectacular “Seven Sisters” shingle-style houses on the cliffs of Montauk at the easternmost tip of Long Island.

In my meeting with Sam, I asked what it meant to him, as the descendant of such a famous architect, how it had impacted him personally. His response: “It is a privilege that I did not earn” –a modest response from an unassuming man who has staked out an impressive career of his own in architecture. In addition, he has written, together with his wife, some four books on Stanford White and lectured extensively about his great grandfather and his legacy. Sam explained that he wrote the books to clarify a misunderstanding about his great grandfather. “Too much attention was directed at how he died and not his work.” The circumstances surrounding Stanford White’s death were sensationalized in the press and at the time overshadowed his professional accomplishments. The impact of what he did achieve was felt through the generations, as Sam’s grandfather, Larry White, had thirty-five grandchildren, five of whom became noted architects and one a landscape architect. Sam himself is one of eleven siblings.

My conversation with Sam was via zoom rather than a preferred sit down with him in the original Stanford White home in St. James on Long Island, New York–still owned and inhabited by descendants of White. After Harvard and Vietnam, Sam attended architectural school at Penn. He sought to carve out his own destiny in architecture and embarked on a career restoring historical homes on Long Island. Sam reflected on the state of architecture today. “No one except for perhaps Peter Marino is equal to Stanford White’s capacity with color and texture in his design.” A worthy compliment to a contemporary architect and designer.

It was a wonderful conversation about an architect of generations ago who lives on today in the many homes and commercial buildings he designed in New York, Newport, Montauk and Southampton. A pleasure to meet you, Sam.