Architecture has been called “the mirror of life.” Buildings need careful design to stand the test of time and satisfy the need for which they were created. This takes imagination and a careful eye for detail. Arkansas native Edward Stone was one such architect, and his accomplishments include many of the iconic buildings of the twentieth century. His designs also included museums, schools and hospitals around the world. Stone eventually became one of the most famous architects in the United States.
Edward Durell Stone was born in Fayetteville in March 1902. He was the youngest of four children in a prominent family of Fayetteville business owners. His mother had been an English instructor at the University of Arkansas before she married. As a child, he showed a great fascination with drawing, art and design.
In 1920, he enrolled at the University of Arkansas. However, he was bored and uninspired, only excelling in art. He spent the summer after his freshman year in Boston with his brother, Hicks Stone, already an established and respected architect. His older brother showed him the many architectural achievements of the city as well as in Washington, DC, inspiring the younger Stone to become an architect himself. After another year at the University of Arkansas, Stone returned to Massachusetts to study architecture, at both Harvard University and then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He earned a prestigious architectural fellowship in 1927 that allowed him to travel across Europe for two years studying European architecture. Stone returned to New York in 1929 and began working for several important architectural firms. He designed several mansions in upstate New York before being assigned in 1932 to what would become a famous cultural icon, the design of Radio City Music Hall. This was followed up with the design for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where Stone teamed up with noted architect Philip Goodwin in 1937.
He enlisted in the Army Air Force during World War II. He came to head the Planning and Design section, drawing up plans for several air bases during the war.
Stone’s career after the war only accelerated. His career brought him back to Arkansas in 1948 to design the new Fine Arts Center at the University of Arkansas and again in 1950 with his design for the new 600-bed hospital for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. The university honored his efforts further with an honorary doctorate in 1951. This was in addition to a large hospital in Peru in 1951 and the new Stanford University hospital in 1955.
In 1958, Stone designed the new United States Embassy in India. The award-winning design was widely praised and resulted in Stone being featured on the cover of Time magazine. Following up this success, in 1959, Stone was tapped to design the National Cultural Center in Washington, DC. The concert hall on the banks of the Potomac River was renamed for President John F. Kennedy in 1964 and opened to the public in 1971. With all of these designs, he tried to incorporate a modern sense of artistry into his work.
The 1960s saw Stone continue to develop a variety of designs, both large and small. He designed the new North Carolina State Legislative Building in 1960, replacing the old building that had housed the state legislature since 1840. Other designs in the decade included the 50-story General Motors building in New York in 1964 and the Fort Worth City Hall in 1967. He designed Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1966, and the Jefferson County Civic Center in Pine Bluff in 1968. He also served as the architect for multitudes of public libraries, university buildings, corporate headquarters and mansions.
One of his last projects was the new Florida State Capitol building. It was designed to replace the old, domed building completed in 1845. The new building would be 345-feet tall, one of the tallest in the nation, and designed to hold more of the departments for the rapidly growing state as well as the legislature. Stone submitted the design before his retirement, and the building was completed in 1977.
Critics called his work dull or garish. Others saw great artistry in his work and an attempt to break away from older models of the early twentieth century. He won many awards and honors from his fellow architects. Most of his dozens of designs still stand in cities across the globe.
He retired in 1974 as his health declined. He died at a New York hospital in 1978 at age 76. Though he had a career that took him around the globe, his last wish was to be buried in his home town of Fayetteville.
Dr. Ken Bridges is a professor of history and geography at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado and a resident historian for the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society. Bridges can be reached by email at [email protected] southark.edu.