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First Posted: July 25, 2012
Jan 31, 2015

John Merven Carrère

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John Merven Carrè/Architect

...John Merven Carrère was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the son of John Merven Carrère, a Baltimore native and Anna Louisa Maxwell, a Scots/Brazilian native of Rio who was the daughter of Joseph Maxwell, a prosperous coffee trader. The architect's father entered Maxwell's coffee business and later developed other business interests of his own in Brazil. As a boy Carrère was sent to Switzerland for his education until 1880, when he entered the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, where he was in the atelier of Leon Ginian until 1882. He returned to New York where his family had resettled after leaving Brazil and worked as draughtsmen for the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White. He and his Paris acquaintance, Thomas Hastings, worked there together before striking out on their own in 1885. During this period Carrère independently designed several circular panorama buildings in New York and Chicago. After he married Marion Dell in 1886 they lived in Staten Island and had three daughters, one of whom died as an infant. In 1901 they moved to East 65th Street in Manhattan, and built a country house in Harrison, New York.

Carrère was noted for his generous enthusiasm and his unflinching honesty. His organizational skill, artistic judgment, and energy were essential to the establishment and success of the Carrère and Hastings firm. He was most active in the firm's large civic and commercial projects, including the House and Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill, the Manhattan Bridge and its approaches, and the New York Public Library. He was interested in civic affairs in New York, where, with the help of Elihu Root, he was instrumental in establishing the Art Commission of New York City. Later his public service extended to the national arena. In the 1890s he worked with other leaders of the American Institute of Architects to persuade the US Treasury Department to implement the Tarnsey Act, which had been passed by Congress in 1893 to allow the federal government to award architectural commissions for its buildings through open design competitions. During the extended Tarnsey controversy Jeremiah O'Rourke, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department resigned, and Carrère was offered his job, an offer which he very publicly considered, but ultimately declined, writing, "the system, not the man, should be changed."

John Merven Carrère

Carrère was engaged in the development of city planning in the United States. He wrote pamphlets and lectured at universities and to civic groups on the subject. He collaborated with Daniel H. Burnham and Arnold Brunner on the Group Plan for Cleveland, Ohio (1903), and again with Brunner on a plan for Grand Rapids, Michigan (1909). Then, in 1910, he worked Brunner and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. on a plan for a Baltimore civic center (1910). Later, Carrère and Hastings produced a plan for the City of Hartford, Connecticut, which was completed in 1911, just prior to his tragic, early death, which occurred when a streetcar collided with the taxi in which he was riding. He suffered a brain concussion and never regained consciousness.

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