Archive for the ‘jewel box’ Tag

National Farmers’ Bank, Owatonna, MN

Wow! The last Jewel Box covered on this tour, this was Louis Sullivan’s first bank structure, and the grandest of them all. Located about 45 minutes south of Minneapolis in what is now transitioning towards a suburb, the bank is immediately recognizable by the massive arches on two sides of the building. A prominent, assertive cornice, and a base of ashlar gives this building real presence and solidity from the outside. The exterior is also marked by boldly colored mosaic, in a thin line around the perimeter of the decorative elements.

Not just another building in downtown Owatonna!

Cartouche and cornice, south elevation

Inside is a dazzling composition, covered by a skylight that insures natural light all day long, a rich set of murals, large intricate lamps, and large panels of stained glass. It’s great inside and out, extravagant and rich with decoration (courtesy George Grant Elmslie), yet proportioned to fit in the small Midwest townscape. The building was completed in 1908, after his last skyscrapers in Chicago, and came during a period of declining fortunes and finances that would culminate in one of his darkest years, 1909, with the auction of most of his personal possessions, a sale that fell far short of what he expected, and his subsequent divorce. No doubt Sullivan had pissed off members of the architectural establishment and was reluctant to take on more lucrative residential commissions, and his individual style fell out of fashion, all of which contributed to his professional and personal tribulations. He didn’t want to design banks, but reluctantly accepted these commissions to earn much-needed cash. Whatever he felt about doing these commissions, Sullivan was able to just as successfully design these banks as he did with his skyscrapers during the previous phase of his career, in the last 15 years of the 19th century.

Lighting and murals, interior

Stained glass, arch, and mosaic detail

It’s safe to say that no bank building will ever be built like this again.

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Peoples’ Savings and Loan Association Bank, Sidney, OH

100 miles west of Newark is Louis Sullivan’s other Jewel Box bank in Ohio, the Peoples’ Savings and Loan Association Bank, facing the main square in downtown Sidney, OH. The building remains occupied by the bank that commissioned Sullivan to build the structure back in 1917, no small feat in these times. And unlike the Newark structure, this one is in fantastic condition, lovingly maintained inside and out. It was also one of Sullivan’s larger bank commissions, on a scale similar to his earliest bank in Owatonna, MN.

Front facade

This structure has a brick exterior, with terra cotta decorative elements, and unusual for a Sullivan building, has extensive use of mosaic on the main and side facades. The mosaics utilize a more restrained, controlled palette than in Newark, green on the side, and blue on the front. The front facade has a prominent ‘THRIFT’ spelled out in mosaic. The side facade follows that of Sullivan’s banks, with a row of stained glass windows that let in ample light. The decoration on the side facade is rich, in contrast to his Grinnell bank and lower-budget structures in Algona and West Lafayette.

Side facade

The interior is a successful integration of functional and decorative elements, most notably the air circulation and cooling system that is cleverly disguised in the corner metal and wood planters, as noted by Twombly and Mariscal in their book Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture. And like in Columbus, WI, the drinking fountain is a real work of art.

Detail, front entrance mosaic

Decoration, front entrance

The building is located on a prominent corner across from the courthouse / main square in Sidney, contrasting with the predominant Second Empire styled courthouse. These banks were not only places of business transactions, but they served as forums and meeting places for the citizenry, in contrast to the bank’s more transient role in a much larger city such as Chicago, and Sullivan certainly had this in mind when he designed the banks. He also consciously democratized the interior, emphasizing transparency and access. The safe is clearly visible and a balancing, symmetrical element, and offices for the bank president and other officers were easily accessible. Some of the banks even had waiting rooms where customers and citizens could interact (not in Sidney).

Last stop, Owatonna, MN.

Purdue State Bank, West Lafayette, IN

In the sleepy college town of West Lafayette, Indiana, is the Purdue State Bank building (now Chase). Completed in 1914, this is another of Sullivan’s Jewel Boxes, fit into a gently sloping, irregularly shaped block along the main east-west thoroughfare. Like his structure in Algona, Iowa, the Purdue State Bank was completed on a low budget, and is among the smallest of the banks. They’re similar in their composition, colors, size, and budget.

The Purdue State Bank, now Chase, rather defaced by an ATM in front

Unfortunately, the building has been altered, especially the once-front entrance, which has been replaced with an ATM kiosk. The signs that had hung over the entrance have now been replaced with a smaller sign, and it appears that the terra cotta has been nicely restored. As for his decoration, it’s restrained overall, restricted to green terra cotta framing the side windows and textured brick patterns along the facades. Despite the budget, it is amazing how Sullivan works his magic in these buildings. It also looks like aside from the ATM, the building is in good condition even after nearly 100 years. The interior, which I did not have the chance to see, seems to be office and storage space for the bank, and probably could use some restoration.

Decoration detail, side facade

Next stops, Sidney, OH, and Owatonna, MN.

Farmers and Merchants Union Bank, Columbus, WI

Located 30 miles northeast of Madison is Louis Sullivan’s last completed building (he designed one last facade in Chicago in 1922), his last Jewel Box bank, and one of two structures in Wisconsin.

Farmers and Merchants Bank

The building remains occupied by the bank that commissioned the work, no small feat in today’s difficult economic times. The building has been very well-kept, and although it has been expanded, the additions have respected the spirit of the original building.

A new animal makes an appearance in this final bank, two eagles sitting atop the front and rear elevations, with the Wisconsin state motto, “Forward”. The bank name is on the marble lintel, along with the architect’s name, and the initials are carved in several places in the decorative front, and the gryphons make yet another appearance, holding shields with the F & M logo.

Detail, front

Eagle with “Forward”, rear facade.

Sullivan’s sketches for the bank survive. The overall plan changed several times, mostly on the front facade. The front facade went from three arches, to a single arch with a centered entrance, before finally settling on the built design. The side elevation, along Broadway (now Dickason Blvd.), was originally seven arches with decorative elements along the brick walls, but Sullivan reduced this to five arches and decoration in terra cotta above the arches. He settled on the final design by the end of March 1919, and the building was opened in June 1920.

Stained glass windows along Broadway elevation

The inside is similar in plan to his other banks, although with an upstairs mezzanine level holding a small museum of materials and photographs. John Szarkowski’s photos of the bank are displayed throughout, as is a Tiffany lamp donated by Sullivan after the bank opened. One nifty, overlooked item is the drinking fountain (bubbler for you Wisconsinites), yes, designed by Sullivan himself. He never neglected the human element of his buildings, his sketches of the facades include people, and the decoration is at all levels of the structure, eye level to keep the passerby interested, and up high to help unify the building.

Louis Sullivan’s Henry Adams Building, Algona, IA

The building was constructed in 1913-14 for $15000, on a low budget, but Sullivan designed a small gem. The economics and the siting dictated a small structure, in a small town in northern Iowa.

Also known as the Algona Land and Loan Office, it’s a one-story structure now housing the Chamber of Commerce. The decorative palette is limited, with a cornice line of alternating recessed brick, punctuated by green / white decorative tile. The side elevation is similar to many of the other Jewel Box banks, with a row of windows and tiled columns. The entire building rests on a base of green glazed tile, giving the appearance of the building literally growing out of the ground. The main facade borrows a page from Wright’s Unity Temple, with the main entrance accessed by stepping into a ‘picture frame’, and then behind a head-high planter. So the building surrounds the visitor before entering the front door.

Front elevation

And the beautifully restored planter. . .

Much of what is seen today is the result of a major renovation, as the building was in poor shape up until around 2000, and has since been restored to its current appearance. As in Newark, the building went through a series of tenants, including an insurance agency and a men’s clothing store. The insurance agency tacked on a tasteless addition to the back in the 1950s, and the clothing store owners badly disfigured the entrance and hacked out the stained glass windows. The planters were removed in the 1970s, the stained glass windows were sold in the 1980s, became basement decoration in Minneapolis, before ending up in Chicago. The panes were located and returned to Algona, and the planters have since been recast. The brick is apparently new. A small hint of the old structure is located in the rear of the building, with what appear to be the old brickwork remaining.

Algona Land and Loan, now the Chamber of Commerce. Note the green tilework at the base.

So the building is now looking good, while it’s one of Sullivan’s more modest structures, it bears all his hallmarks of scale, style, and dignity. The restoration, BTW, was an effort between concerned citizens of Algona and a number of Chicago firms (VOA, John Vinci).

Merchants’ National Bank, Grinnell, IA

The Louis Sullivan tour continues! Ninety minutes west of Cedar Rapids, just off of I-80, is the small college town of Grinnell, Iowa, with the archetypical Midwestern Main Street of mom-and-pop shops, a theater, restaurants, and a park housing a number of civic structures. Facing the park is the Merchants’ National Bank (1914), probably Sullivan’s most photographed structure, and easily one of his signature works. The large cartouche, lavishly decorated, stands in contrast to the rest of the building, a simple brick backdrop for the outburst of the main facade.

Cartouche, absolutely glorious.

The building is a box made of tapestry brick that lends it a rich dark hue. The side facade is lined with a series of stained glass windows, like many of his other bank structures, and the roofline is a repeating motif that gives a Gothic-like variety to the top of the structure. Other than that, there is little in the way of decoration. There is no colored mosaic tile, which was used sparingly in Owatonna, and would not be used again until the construction of his two later banks in Sidney and Newark,Ohio. Something overlooked in the structure is the horizontal element, achieved by a layer of bricks laid crosswise (along the short dimension) every sixth layer, which gives it a subtle rhythm to the otherwise plain surface. His use of tapestry brick was also partially symbolic in addition to being aesthetic, the color variety producing a rich pattern, and could also be seen as a symbol of unity in variety (like “E pluribus unum”) or even as an architectural expression of democracy.

East elevation, note the subtle horizontal lines

It’s well-known that Sullivan was in a middle of a quarter-century long, unrelenting decline, but his powers of design and architecture were brilliant as ever, and a true American original. I can’t really characterize the style of his buildings, Sullivan simply falls into his own category.

The sketches for the structure are informative about the state of his architectural practice. Sketches of his Auditorium Building from the 1880s were presented on fancy, scripted Adler and Sullivan letterhead, while Sullivan’s designs for the Grinnell structure were executed on both sides of paper borrowed from a nearby pharmacy. While 1914 would be one of his more productive years after the end of his partnership with Adler, he would complete an average of less than one project per year during the last phase of his career, roughly 1908-1924. He was to be forced out of his tower offices in his Auditorium Building a couple years later, and had great difficulty landing commissions, despite his fame. The influence of his bank structures lives on next door in the extension building to the original bank, a reductionist version of the large arch of his bank in Owatonna, MN.

View from the southeast, with the extension structure echoing his Owatonna bank

Grinnell obviously loves this building, road signs along US 6 point to the “Jewel Box”, the street corners are decorated in the motif of the cartouche, and it’s now occupied by the Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately both times I’ve visited Grinnell, I’ve arrived too late to have a look inside, so that will have to wait until next time.

Peoples Savings Bank, Cedar Rapids, IA

I revisited this structure recently, and described it in an earlier blog entry on Louis Sullivan’s buildings in Iowa. Completed in 1912, this is the most subtle of Sullivan’s Jewel Boxes, and his least exuberant, with a rather sober brick facade and a minimum of decoration. It lies across the river from downtown Cedar Rapids, and the building sustained major damage in the flood of 2008. As of today, it remains vacant, although it is still owned by Wells Fargo and there appears to be some effort to fix things up. The building is currently threatened, not only from the flood damage, but also from plans to beef up the levees to prevent a repeat of the 2008 flood.

Decorative elements and stained glass up top

The shape is unusual, not a box like his other banks, but a more complex double box form with a wide base and a smaller, central second story, and satellite light fixtures also designed by Sullivan. Above the main entry is a space for the sign, delineated by a very gently curving layer of brick. Along the sides are motifs spelling PSB, the initials of the bank, and on the top Sullivan introduces the gryphon that populates many of his bank buildings.

Main facade, note the horizontal brickwork above the main entrance

PSB logo, one of Sullivan’s few pieces of decoration on the building

 

Louis Sullivan’s Home Building Association, Newark, Ohio

The so-called Jewel Boxes are all late works of Louis Sullivan, who struggled to get commissions after the end of his partnership with Dankmar Adler in 1895. Between 1908 and 1919, he received eight commissions for small bank buildings, scattered over five states in the Midwest. All of them remain today, in varying states of repair. I had the chance to tour all of them recently, and will try to put together a few blog posts on the buildings.

His Home Association Building in Newark, Ohio, known as ” The Old Home”, was built between 1914-1915, and occupies a narrow, though prominent corner site opposite the town square and county courthouse. The building stands out as being quite unlike the other seven Jewel Box bank structures. Sullivan’s choice of materials was unusual, clad in gray terra-cotta, with liberal use of mosaic, in contrast to the red brick of his other designs. The pattern of decoration, however, is signature Sullivan, with his characteristic plant forms and blooming ornament, and the presence of the gryphon creatures that look over some of his other Jewel Boxes. The structure has been significantly modified over the years, with signs covering the two mosaics on the long south facade and on the smaller east facade, and a great deal of damage was done in the 1940s when a corner entrance was carved out of the south facade, destroying the symmetry of the south facade.

South facade, note the corner entrance.

East facade

The building has gone through its life as a bank, butcher shop, jewelry shop, ice cream parlor, and now is apparently a residence on the top floor and vacant at ground level. I went by it in July 2012 and noticed that the lights were on upstairs, though the ground floor windows were covered up. The mosaics are again visible, but there is noticeable damage to certain areas where signs had been once mounted. The mosaics have a color scheme that is almost psychedelic, integrated with Sullivan’s acanthus leaf motifs. The terra cotta panels are falling apart in places, and some of the steel is exposed and rusting. The stained glass windows on the second floor appear to be in good condition. I was not able to tour the interior, but old photographs show that it was a marble-clad banking hall with intricate stenciling and rich decoration.

East facade mosaic

Mosaic detail, note Sullivan’s name in there.

It’s a jewel in the rough; let’s hope the current owner is able to bring back some of its former glory before the building deteriorates further.

Louis Sullivan in Iowa

Three of the architect’s structures lie just a few miles off of I-80, so I paid them a visit on my drive west from Chicago to Omaha. These were all built late in his career, during one of the darkest periods of his life. Despite his difficult personal and financial circumstances at the time, Sullivan’s creativity remained undimmed, and these buildings are hallmarks of one of America’s most original architects.

I crossed the Mississippi River into Clinton, Iowa, a sleepy Midwestern town barricaded behind a levee. Sullivan’s building, the former Van Allen Department Store, the most prominent structure in the city, is located at the main crossroads of the town. It is reminiscent of the Gage Group in Chicago, with a nice balance of horizontal elements in the large Chicago windows, and these ‘vines’ that rise between the windows and blossom at the top.

 

Van Allen Building, Clinton, Iowa

 

 

Van Allen Building, detail

 

The next stop was Cedar Rapids, to visit the now closed, still heavily damaged People’s Savings Bank, located on the bank of the Cedar River opposite downtown. The great flood of 2008 partially submerged the structure, and it’s still boarded up, so it’s in desperate need of restoration. It’s a very understated building, with no multicolor decoration or organic motifs, but with subtle shades of brick red and smaller decorative elements that require a up close look.

 

People's Savings Bank, now Wells Fargo, still boarded up after the flood

 

 

Entrance detail

 

My final stop was the Merchants National Bank in Grinnell, IA. This is a building marked by a rather plain brick facade offset by a very exuberant cartouche above the main entrance. It’s the largest building on the block, sited at a corner, with a solid, but not out-of-scale presence. Sullivan was quite sensitive to the scale of the building and its surroundings, so one gets the impression that this is the dominant structure, while being harmonious with the other buildings nearby.

Merchants National Bank, Grinnell

Cartouche, detail

View in the context of the street

He has an additional building in northern Iowa, in Algona, which I did not have the chance to visit.