Archive for the ‘louis sullivan’ Tag

Louis Sullivan’s Virginia Hall, Tusculum College

This is one of Louis Sullivan’s lesser-known buildings, located in Tusculum, Tennessee, about 90 minutes driving east of Knoxville. Here he created a stately, minimalist building, pretty much devoid of the ornament he was known for. In fact, despite being completed in 1901, around the same time as his lavishly decorated Schlesinger and Mayer department store (better known as the Carson Pirie Scott building), and before the first of his Jewel Box banks, it’s an anomaly among Sullivan’s structures. The building is more reminiscent of his very early work with Adler, like his houses in Lincoln Park.

The overall plan is very simple, notable for the roofline, where the nearly blank facade flares out at the very top, perhaps in a nod to his skyscrapers which ‘grow’ out of the ground. But the spare materials suggest that Sullivan had a small budget to work with, and was starting to face his well-documented financial and personal ruin.

Facade, Virginia Hall

Facade, Virginia Hall

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Roof detail, Virginia Hall

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Wainwright Tomb, St. Louis

Louis Sullivan designed three tombs, two in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago (and one of his designs went into his own tombstone in Chicago). The third, the Wainwright Tomb, is in historic Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, an oasis of calm in the city’s rather rough north side.

Commissioned on the occasion of Ellis Wainwright’s wife’s untimely death, and completed in 1892, the overall plan is a severely simple design, with a small terrace, and the tomb itself, capped with an un-ornamented dome. The ornamentation is some of Sullivan’s best. The interior is full of spectacular mosaics and very colorful, but I didn’t get to go inside, as it’s opened only on rare occasions. The materials and ornamentation are similar to the Getty Tomb in Chicago, although quite different in overall plan and shape.

Wainwright Tomb, front facade

Wainwright Tomb, front facade

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Ornamentation detail

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Terrace, door, and dome

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Door, detail

Outside of Chicago, St. Louis has three designs by Sullivan, with the landmark Wainwright Building downtown, the heavily modified 705 Olive St. Building, and the Wainwright Tomb.

Adler and Sullivan, the Chicago residences

A number of these are Chicago landmarks, as they should be. By and large, these are early structures of Adler and Sullivan, all except the Charnley House completed by 1886, intended mostly for their middle- and upper middle-class clientele. They are simpler structures than their larger commissions, and much of the detail is in the interiors, with beautifully decorated stairways, stencilwork, balustrades, newel posts, and the like. From the exterior, the majority come across as being conservative, even severe. These days, they’re quite rare, with only a handful remaining in Chicago. Up until the mid-20th century, a large number of them stood in and around Bronzeville, before much of the area was razed in the name of urban renewal. Here’s a tour of the structures, four of them on the North Side and two on the South Side.

Mannheimer house (1884): This one is whimsical, distinguished mostly by the semicircular, textured front.

Leon Mannheimer House (1884)

Leon Mannheimer House (1884)

Around the corner is the Halsted House (1883): This freestanding house is on a spacious lot, and is severe and simple in character. The top begins to have a bit of fun, though, with experimentation around the chimney and the dormers.

Ann Halsted House (1883)

Ann Halsted House (1883)

Row houses for Ann Halsted (1884-1885): These are the only row houses designed by Adler and Sullivan, just as Sullivan was honing his architectural and decorative skills.

Row houses for Ann Halsted (1884-1885)

Row houses for Ann Halsted (1884-1885)

Charnley House (1892): This is probably mostly the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The exterior bears the hallmarks of Wright, with the long Roman brick and emphasis on horizontality. Given that by the early 1890s Adler and Sullivan were busy with their skyscraper commissions, and that Sullivan had little desire to do residences, most of the work was probably left to Wright.

Two houses remain on the South Side, one in Oakland, and one in Bronzeville. Both managed to escape the obliteration of entire blocks and neighborhoods in the mid-20th century. Richard Nickel’s extensive documentation of the neighborhood reveal a vital community, but badly decayed buildings and clear neglect. The Sullivan buildings all stood out for their architecture, but were clearly on their last legs as the neighborhood was being obliterated around them. They had also been extensively modified, many were missing their cornices, painted in appalling colors, and had not been properly maintained.

Eliel House (1886): Officially a Chicago landmark, probably because of its status as a rare Sullivan house in a neighborhood that was nearly torn down. This is one of Adler and Sullivan’s simpler structures, and heavily modified with siding on the bay window.

Gustav Eliel house (1886)

Gustav Eliel House (1886)

Deimel House (1886):  Again, the Deimel house is restrained, and most of the architectural detail is inside. The outside is notable for the entryway. And it’s for sale! Down the street are Wright’s Roloson row houses, which have Sullivanesque decorative panels.

Joseph Deimel house (1886)

Joseph Deimel House (1886)

I believe that the sole remaining Sullivan single-family house outside of Chicago is in Madison, WI, now a University of Wisconsin fraternity. There is also Sullivan’s little-known Tusculum College structure in Tennessee, and his badly damaged vacation house complex in Biloxi, MS. I have not visited either of them yet.

Columbus, Indiana

Columbus, Indiana, is one of America’s supreme built environments, in a rather unlikely place, located 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, Indiana. Over the past 70 years, there have been a string of distinguished buildings from the leading architects of the day, starting with the First Christian Church of Eliel Saarinen. In this small town of 44,000 is a treasure trove of civic and religious structures, many of them built in an agreement with the Miller family and their Cummins Foundation, who would pay the architects’ fees in exchange for a commission from their list of architects.

The town overall exudes Midwestern conservatism, no doubt a defining feature of Indiana, especially the southern part of the state. I perceived a bit of a Southern flavor as well, given that it’s south of the I-70, and within about an hour of Louisville, Kentucky, and two hours of Cincinnati, Ohio. And it was difficult to find a cup of coffee downtown.

I dropped by in mid-summer 2012, complete with oppressive heat and humidity, and crunchy brown lawns. The best of the buildings are the churches, I visited the three ‘historic’ ones, by Saarinen senior, Saarinen junior, and Harry Weese. Each of them is in a different style, and rendered even more amazing by the more recent McHouses nearby, typical of American suburbia. The Saarinens couldn’t be more different in style, and Weese puts a human scale to Brutalist architecture, and is a very underrated architect. Weese loves concrete and brick, and he did wonders with the First Baptist Church (1965), just as he did with his more recognized works in the DC Metro and Chicago. The outside is reductionist, almost windowless, with the clear elements of a church. The interior is a surprisingly warm space, with wood ceilings, and still plenty of natural light filtering into the sanctuaries. Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church (1942) is very large, occupying an entire city block, a sprawling complex with his signature brickwork and Craftsman-like woodwork. The building must have caused a stir when it opened, as it was unlike anything in the town at the time, and still dominates the area as the tallest structure downtown. Saarinen junior’s North Christian Church (1964) soars tall, with a 200 foot spire topping an asymmetric floor plan. The interior is subdued, with this filtered oculus that didn’t quite work the way it was intended, but still hovers high above the space in a thrilling way.

First Christian Church (1942)

Door detail, First Christian Church

North Christian Church (1964)

Oculus, North Christian Church

Downtown has stuff that one would never imagine today, for example the post office (Kevin Roche, 1970). This is no ordinary post office, it’s a rugged, brawny structure reminiscent of the Daley Center in Chicago. The main newspaper office (The Republic) is a clean, glassy block. Eero Saarinen’s 1954 bank building (Irwin Union Bank and Trust) is accompanied by the skylit addition (Kevin Roche, 1973) that could have been mistaken for 2003. The Saarinen building was probably the most distinguished bank structure since Louis Sullivan’s banks. And there’s a whole lot more, including buildings by Pei, Pelli, Stern, Meier, Venturi, Birkerts, distinguished public art, and all sorts of creative designs for schools, bridges, fire houses, and other civic structures. There’s also Saarinen’s Miller House, which is hidden away (but I think I’ve figured out where it is) and is open for tours, though they were sold out the day I visited.

Irwin Union Bank and Trust, with the 1973 extension on the left, and the original in the background

First Baptist Church (1965)

Interior, First Baptist Church

Still, given all the wonderful buildings in town, it’s hard to say how much this enhances the daily lives of its residents and workers.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Getty and Ryerson Tombs, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

These are two tombs designed in very different styles by Louis Sullivan at the turn of the 1890s, located about 500 feet apart in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.

The Ryerson Tomb (1889) borrows from ancient Egypt, and unlike Sullivan’s buildings, is a polished dark gray granite structure that portrays a sense of timelessness, by reflecting its surroundings. Sullivan’s famed decoration is minimal here, limited to the entryway, and even that is quite restrained. It’s pure Sullivan, however, and while the structure itself is Egyptian-inspired, the decoration isn’t. It’s probably best appreciated towards sunset, when the sun reflects off of the main entrance and the granite mirrors the immediate surroundings.

Ryerson Tomb, detail

Ryerson Tomb at sunset

The Getty Tomb (1890) couldn’t be more different, it’s made of intricately carved sandstone, with bronze doors that have acquired a rich turquoise patina over the years, and is one of Sullivan’s greatest decorative efforts. Less visible is the main door to the tomb, which is a bit difficult to photograph, but is extraordinarily richly decorated. The structure also marks the beginning of Sullivan’s mature decoration, his previous structures being relatively restrained (maybe also because they were generally lower budget residential and small commercial commissions). The structure is contemporary with the Auditorium Building and other large Adler and Sullivan commissions, like the Stock Exchange, Wainwright, and Schiller buildings. The Getty Tomb is freed from the constraints of commercial and residential design, and it was remarked that Sullivan planned the work in full-scale drawings. Even the perennially picky Frank Lloyd Wright was particularly fond of this structure: ” Fine sculpture. . . A great poem. . . Outside of the realm of music what finer requiem.

Getty Tomb, front elevation

Getty Tomb, side elevation

Front gates, detail, note decoration on the main door behind

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.

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).