Born in New York City, into a family of no particular wealth but significant social connections, White had no formal training in architecture, yet began his career at the age of eighteen as the principal assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson – the creator of a style recognized today as ‘Richardsonian Romanesque’. After six years, White spent a year and a half in Europe beginning in 1878 and on his return joined Charles Follen McKim and William Rutherford Mead to form McKim, Mead & White. Building in the Beaux-Art style, the firm designed notable projects in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.
Sociable and gregarious, White received the bulk of the residential projects in the firm - designing several New York mansions. A consummate draftsman, his drawings were highly convincing to clients who might not get much visceral understanding from a floorplan. By extending his architectural services to include interior design, dealing with antiques and designing parties, White ended up decorating Fifth Avenue Mansions for the Astor, the Vanderbilt’s, Pulitzers and other high society families. In New York City, he designed the original Madison Square Garden (1890; demolished in 1925), the Washington Square Arch, the Gould Memorial Library on the campus of Bronx Community College (originally for New York University), and the Whitefield Condominiums in Southampton, New York
Elsewhere, White designed the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland (1887), now Lovely Lane United Methodist Church; the Boston Public Library and Boston Hotel Buckminster in Boston, Massachusetts and halls for the University of Virginia among others. White was murdered by the millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw in 1906, in retaliation to White’s sexual assault of Thaw’s wife- Evelyn Nesbit- when she was sixteen. White was buried in St James, New York.