Schmidt (1889–1977) was the masterly designer of stately homes for the boldface names of mid-twentieth-century American society—Vanderbilts, Morgans, Astors, Rockefellers. And, in late 1964, at the age of 75, he was tapped to create an addition—the Susan B. Wagner Wing—to the New York City mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion. But Schmidt eschewed the spotlight so assiduously that even among architects he is not well known. In fact, in his introduction to Mark Alan Hewitt’s scholarly volume The Architecture of Mott B. Schmidt (Rizzoli, 1991), Stern himself acknowledged that when he was a fledgling professional in New York City he had not even heard of Schmidt. (He ended that preface with the laudatory passage quoted above.)
From the time he was 9, Schmidt boasted that he would become an architect, Hewitt’s book notes. He graduated with a certificate in architecture from the Pratt Institute of Technology at 17, in 1906; toured Europe; worked for a few years in an architectural firm; and in 1912 struck out on his own. As luck would have it, one of his early commissions was the renovation of a home belonging to a prominently social (as in Social Register) attorney, Grenville T. Emmet, whose wife, Pauline, belonged to the prestigious Colony Club, the preeminent ladies’ social organization of its time. Pauline Emmet may well have been instrumental in connecting Schmidt with a member of the group, the legendary Elsie de Wolfe (in her pre–Lady Mendl days).