program last night about Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America's first architect. Check your local listings to see if it is going to be rebroadcast in your area. It is worth watching.
Latrobe was not only America's first architect but in many ways, one of the most influential. Latrobe designed the central part of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC after an earlier design by amateur architect William Thornton proved to be an unbuildable disaster. Latrobe designed and built the waterworks in Philadelphia, the Baltimore Basilica, the Decatur House in Washington, the Washington Navy Yard, the Bank of Pennsylvania, both porticos on the White House, and numerous private homes. He brought neoclassical architecture to the United States when he emigrated here from England in 1795. Latrobe was in the process of designing a new waterworks for New Orleans when he contracted yellow fever and died there in 1820.
That Latrobe really was an accomplished architect can best be seen in the Baltimore Basilica. The Archbishop, John Carroll hired Latrobe and defended Latrobe's designs again and again against naysayers. The result was one of the most beautiful buildings in America.
Maybe the lesson of Latrobe's life is the necessity of strong champions to support a technical genius. How different Washington, DC might look if Latrobe's vision had not been undermined, not only by rivals and short-sighted individuals, but by his own inability to promote his ideas.