Louis Sullivan


Architecture and Art and Chicago and Logan Square and Loop and Louis Sullivan and The Hidden10 Jul 2014 06:03 pm

When not committing crimes against humanity, Hitler committed smaller ones against aesthetics. But while we owe him thanks for rendering toothbrush mustaches eternally unsavory, the man was a semiotic son of a bitch for taking the innocent swastika—a millennia-old symbol associated with power, energy, luck, divinity, and the life-giving sun—and turning it into a symbol of unfathomable evil. Argue all you want by citing which way the arms spin, Native American handicraft, and disconcerting/hilarious vintage photos, when most people see that crippled cross, their heads will fill with visions of jackboots and death camps. Naturally, that makes it all the more startling when the symbol turns up in our local architecture.

Until Hitler and his thugs reversed and dubbed it the Hakenkreuz (“hooked cross”) the swastika was a perfectly nice symbol. Historically and worldwide, it pops up in every culture. Deriving its name from the Sanskrit svastika—meaning “well-being” per Merriam-Webster—while modern folks immediately picture a cross with four branches bent at 90° angles, “turning” rightwards, the swastika comes in assorted shapes and sizes. You’ll find it in Buddhist and Hindu rites and temples; British heraldry; ancient Greek, Trojan, and Roman buildings and mosaics; native American arts and crafts (where it’s known as the “whirling log” among the Navajo); and, in its allegedly oldest incarnation, a 10,000 year old carving on a Ukrainian mammoth tusk. Sometime between the 1890s and 1920s, the symbol began to appear in company logos, clothing, medals, and elsewhere across North America. Architecture did not go unstamped.

There’s no hard and fast reason why the swastika became so popular back then. Contemporary archaeological digs may have had a hand in it, as 1890s and 1900s discoveries spurred revivals in decoration and forms. Explorations of the Pharaohs’ tombs in 1920s Egypt inspired Chicago’s Graceland and Rosehill Cemeteries’ obelisks, pyramids, and sphinx-attended mausoleums and tombs, and more eye-poppingly at the Reebie Storage Warehouse on North Clark Street. Swastikas were likewise carried over with the day’s humdrum obsession with neoclassicism/Italian renaissance revivalism. Rich folks requested their own (fingers crossed!) eternally standing Egyptian, Roman, and Greek edifices, so architects of the day carried over the conceits of the aforementioned styles. Others probably supported the symbol’s status as a good luck symbol—but why we don’t see horseshoes, four leaf clovers, and rabbit feet around town is unclear. Perhaps the swastika, like egg and dart patterns and dentils, was a simple yet striking way to decorate borders, friezes, and cornices. It may well be that people just thought the swastika looked awesome—though not in the way today’s racists do.

Tastes shifted. Sometime in the 20s, European nationalist groups adopted the symbol. Among these was the National Socialist Party, regrettably headed by a leader with art school background. Imagine the dismay of the world’s designers, companies, and architects, who’d placed swastikas every which way before Hitler came to power (though some showed feisty adherence to their brands). During the build-up to the war, materials with swastikas on them were often destroyed in shows of patriotism, while post-WWII the stigmatized swastika was obliterated or redesigned on many public and private buildings. Not everywhere. Cost, tradition, and a lack of angry protesters and the desire to deface public structures saved some swastikas—and it probably helped if they were the “good” left-rotating kind. Detroit’s Penobscot Building, for example, features a Native American tribute motif with legitimate, left-rotating swastikas.

In Chicago there aren’t many swastikas adorning public structures, but they’re there if you look for them. And you HAVE to look—usually up and out of the way.

Tessellating friezes are the most common way for the swastika to hide in plain sight in the Windy City. The proper term is the meander or Greek key design. Most often meanders appear in structures from the 10s and 20s, usually running the building’s perimeter a floor or three up amidst less memorable ornamentation. The middle building in the Gage Group (24 S. Michigan Ave.) features one, which most people probably miss while gazing at Louis Sullivan’s facade next door at 18 S. Michigan Ave. Evidence of Chicago architectural firm Holabird and Roche’s National Socialist sympathies? Not in the 1890s when they were built.

 

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Columbia College’s Congress-Wabash Building (33 E. Congress Building), designed by Alfred S. Alschuler (who turns up later in this article), not only has a stylized swastika pattern but a set of terra-cotta Roman fasces for good measure.

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Metropolitan Tower (formerly the Straus Building when constructed in 1924 by the firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White) at 310 S. Michigan Ave. features another Greek key border, though these are broken up by squarish flower ornaments. The Tower is a swirl of symbology that would keep any conspiracy theorist awake at night. Aside from the swastikas, the building is capped by a pyramid topped by four bison statues holding a 20-foot glass ornament in the shape of a beehive on their backs. The “beehive, “symbolizing industry, is actually a multifaceted light fixture containing six 1,000 watt bulbs. Unless you have binoculars, none of this is viewable from the ground, but the beacon’s glow continues to burn blue each night.

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Meanwhile, in an opposite corner of the Loop, the Builder’s Building (222 N. LaSalle) bears markings similar to the Metropolitan Tower’s. Not surprising, since they shared a firm in Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. Perhaps they bought in bulk.

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Elsewhere, at Navy Pier, Bubba Gump shrimp-seeking tourists may double-take at the meandering swastikas decorating the towers of the Charles Sumner Frost designed building (1914). Only a few are visible, the rest of the frieze covered by a shield ornament.

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Arguably, Greek key/meanders are swastika-inspired, perhaps, but not swastikas proper. Some meanders go without the distinctive broken cross shape (see the Marquette Building’s second floor for an alternate pattern).

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Those seeking singular swastikas, however, must crane their necks to see them. The Baha’i House of Worship up in Wilmette is one place. It features swastikas (closer to fylfots than Hakenkreuz) toward the tops of its nine pillars, representing both Buddhism and Hinduism and sharing each pillar with a Christian cross, Hebrew Star of David, Muslim star and crescent, and the Baha’i nine pointed star.

Back downtown, the Bank of America Building’s (230 S. Clark St.) meanders periodically turn into left-spinning swastikas, with two set off at each corner. Once again, another 20s building (1924) built by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.

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At the northeast edge of the Loop, we find an even more surprising swastika-decorated structure. Fans of Perfect Strangers—may God forgive you—will recognize Balki and Cousin Larry’s workplace the “Chicago Chronicle,” in Alfred S. Alschuler’s London Guarantee Building (360 N. Michigan Ave). Credit sequence footage and cutaway shots likely never showed the men gaping up with shock at the very distinct swastikas in the meander running across the building’s Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue sides. At the time of writing, most of the swastikas are covered by trellises, but if you stand beneath them on the Wacker Drive side you can see a few. Alshuler, interestingly, was a student of Dankmar Adler’s, and also designed several Chicago synagogues (among other buildings), including the sanctuary for Hyde Park’s ‪KAM Isaiah Israel‬ synagogue.

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If there’s a category for “lost” swastikas, Huehl and Schmidt’s 1912 Medinah Temple (600 N. Wabash Ave.) would head it. The Shriner clubhouse’s floors once featured good luck swastikas inlaid in the floor tiles before being carpeted over at some point. I recall visiting and seeing them in the late 80s. Photographic evidence has yet to turn up, but the swastikas have been noted elsewhere. I have no idea if Bloomingdale’s preserved them under the current flooring, and I doubt a phone call would garner further information.

Leaving downtown (and aside from the Baha’i House of Worship mentioned above) swastikas are scarce. Who’s to say how many were demolished, painted, or bricked over before and after the war? However, two surprising examples stand out in Logan Square. One house that likely continues to startle passers- and drivers-by is 2711 N. Kimball. A cheerful little red-bricked building with a charming peaked facade and not one but eight chipper little swastikas skipping above the lower cornice. The house was built in 1906, and while I’m no expert, owing to Logan Square’s formerly large Scandinavian population, I’d say it was designed by some jolly burgher to emulate architecture from the old country.

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A similar house turns up a few blocks away on Central Park Ave. Built in 1916 or 1920 (sources vary), it’s basically the same design, though it lacks 2711 N. Kimball’s panache. The peaked facade is absent, the bricks a duller shade, and the swastika in the southeast corner is weirdly muddled. A failed attempt to eliminate the symbol’s stigma? Not the first, and probably not the last, attempt to do so in this town or elsewhere.

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Architecture and Chicago and Lincoln Park and Louis Sullivan and Preservation10 Mar 2013 05:28 pm

I drove over to Wells Street to take pictures of the former location of the Ripley’s Believe It…or Not! Museum for an upcoming post. On the way back I stopped by several Adler and Sullivan buildings I’d yet to visit. If you didn’t know already, the best time to visit buildings and snap pictures is early Sunday morning. Even the busiest streets have plenty of parking and no sidewalk traffic.

Here are several still standing structures erected by A&S in the early days of their partnership. Most are located in Lincoln Park. Wish the weather had cooperated a bit. I’ll return another, brighter day.

1826–34 N. Lincoln Park West, Row Houses for Ann Halsted

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440 W. Belden, Ann Halsted House

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2147 N. Cleveland Ave., Leon Mannheimer House

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2310-12 N. Lincoln Ave., Ferdinand Kaufmann Store & Building

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Chicago and History and Loop and Louis Sullivan and Old Photos and Preservation and The Hidden07 Mar 2013 05:56 am

Here’s an ad cribbed from a badly battered copy of the Chicago Daily News Almanac and Yearbook for 1908 I recovered from a friend’s trash. I’ll be running a few other interesting scans from the book in the coming week.

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E.W. Blatchford Co., for a very long time, made lead shot at the Clinton address. The building once had a distinctive shot tower that can be seen on this package. It was, apparently, quite the eye-catching landmark back in the day.

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Obviously, it was not a giant rook, despite what their logo would have you believe.

Of special note, after the factory suffered a fire in 1889, the firm of Adler and Sullivan was commissioned to redesign the interior. Today it’s a condo. See what it looks like today and learn more about this and other Adler and Sullivan fragments at my site.

By the way, the E.W. stood for the amazing first and second name of Eliphalet Wickes.

Architecture and Chicago and Louis Sullivan and Outside Chicago and Parker Noble Berry and Preservation08 Oct 2012 01:48 am

One of the few structures extant by Sullivan’s last draftsman/protege Parker Noble Berry. Berry worked with Sullivan in the tower of the Auditorium Building before striking out on his own. He designed two banks (one in Manlius, IL, and the other in the neighborhood of Hegewisch [since demolished]), an “old ladies home” in Princeton, IL, and the below apartment building. It appears to be in need of better upkeep, with buckled and broken plaster, peeling paint, and general dinginess. Though I did enjoy the unseen presence of a practicing oboe player on the first floor, lending a bit of musical melancholy to my visit.

Architecture and Art and George Grant Elmslie and Louis Sullivan and Outside Chicago and Preservation07 Oct 2012 10:40 pm
Architecture and Chicago and Churches and Disaster and Louis Sullivan and Outside Chicago and Preservation07 Oct 2012 10:08 pm

During the Iowa Flood of 2008, Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings Bank was hit hard. The interior appears utterly ruined, though I can only base that on peeking in a few windows (a string of trouble lights, all on, was hanging inside, which seemed odd). It’s understandable that the bank’s insides will require much TLC, but the exterior, in my opinion has been shamefully and needlessly neglected, The brickwork appears to still be covered with flood grime, and the windows are draped with cobwebs. Would it kill anyone to stop by with a broom and dust rag?

Conversely, the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is in good shape, and is a remarkable piece of work. Practically space-age in its design.

Architecture and Chicago and Louis Sullivan and Outside Chicago and Preservation07 Oct 2012 09:29 pm

Located in Clinton, IA, an example of Sullivan’s work during his last years. Very reminiscent of Chicago’s Gage group and the Carson Pirie Scott Building in parts.

Architecture and Chicago and Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan04 Oct 2012 06:34 pm

I finally got around to seeing Tim Samuelson’s “Wright’s Roots” exhibit, currently set up at Expo 72. I won’t try to reconstruct the displays here for you —it’s an enjoyable little demitasse of an exhibit, giving a delicious, bracing jolt of history about Frank Lloyd Wright’s early years, his tutelage under Sullivan, and the development of his own inimitable style. perfect for a lunchtime visit. See it before it closes next week. I snapped a few pictures. Enjoy.

Architecture and Art and Chicago and George Grant Elmslie and Hegewisch and History and Louis Sullivan and The Hidden19 Mar 2012 07:06 pm

Hegewisch has the distinction of being Chicago’s southeastern terminus. Once you reach the neighborhood, that’s it. You’ve run out of Chicago.

Words fail when describing Hegewisch itself. It feels like a quintessential Chicago working-class neighborhood, with a hint of small-town America. Then again, it’s neither. Pinning down any sort of local character is refreshingly impossible.

If their site is any indication, the people seem to like living there. Founded in 1883, the area was intended to be a company town (ala the Pullman District) for Mr. Adolph Hegewisch’s United States Rolling Stock Company, builders of railroad cars. Pullman eventually blew Mr. Hegewisch out of the water, and by the 1910s US Rolling Stock Co. became the Western Steel Car & Foundry. In 1889 Chicago annexed the town, and the Hegewischians became Chicagoans.

No offense to the residents, but at first glance Hegewisch doesn’t have much to recommend for the casual visitor. However, it earns points for two things. First, its snazzy signs, which are more visually interesting than the average neighborhood lamppost banner. Secondly, it was once home to a interesting slice of architectural history.

Occasionally, I use the “The Hidden” tag in my posts. I’m not referring to the 80s Kyle Maclachlan scifi/thriller (enjoyable cinematic cheese, by the way). Rather I mean those little bits of history and ornamentation that linger in the city’s blind spots. Few people have probably made the northwestern trek to view the memorial to the Old Treaty Elm, for example. I never would have noticed it if I hadn’t made a wrong turn in Sauganash.

A variation on the Hidden involves the appropriation of ornamentation from demolished buildings for use in others. I wouldn’t call it cannibalism—more like headhunting—though it would be pleasant to imagine a demolition expert with a heart of gold deciding, “You know, that part is just too pretty to bust up. Let’s recycle it instead.” Whether it’s more moral to pry off a piece of ornament and stick it on another building (Pro: it remains on public display; Con: it’s viewed out of context and is subject to everyday wear and tear) versus displaying it on a museum wall (Pro: public display and protection; Con: still out of context, perpetuating the idea that decoration can represent a lost building in its gestalt), I leave to the comments section.

Travel to 13310 Baltimore Ave. in Hegewisch, stand across the street, and look up. You’ll see a familiar hand in the building’s ornamentation. Sullivanesque? Very nearly.


The address is the former location of architect Parker Noble Berry’s Interstate National Bank, and the ornament is all that remains of that edifice. Even if you’ve never heard of Mr. Berry, you likely know his boss. Louis Henri Sullivan hired Berry as a draftsman from 1909 to 1918. While not as seasoned as Sullivan’s former chief draftsman George Grant Elmslie, Berry was a bright, talented young man—one of those individuals presumably destined for greatness.

And such promise he showed. Mr. Berry assisted Sullivan with projects like the Henry C. Adams building in Algona, IA, one of Sullivan’s famed “jewel box” banks. Interestingly, Mr. Berry may have had a greater hand in designing that particular structure, if Berry’s 1915 First State Bank building in Manlius, IL, (still standing and currently being restored by the Manlius Historical Society after being used as a storage space for many years) is any indication. Side note: the First State Bank of Manlius, IL, was built by Berry’s father, a Princeton, IL, contractor.

In 1917, Berry was approached by Lawrence Cox, president of Hegewisch’s Interstate National Bank, and asked to create a new building on Baltimore Ave. Contemporary photos show a smart-looking structure that built on the ideas of the First State Bank and Henry C. Adams building. Shots of the interior show a simple elegance, and all the ways Berry communicated and mused upon his former mentor’s philosophy. Sadly, the bank failed and was torn down in the 30s. For better or worse, the facade’s ornamentation was chipped off and slapped onto the front of the store taking its place.

Previously printed in The Prairie School Review

Sullivan, already struggling during his final decade, couldn’t pay Berry enough, and so the young architect supplemented his income with jobs in Manlius and his hometown of Princeton, IL. Years before, Sullivan had sacked another former employee, Frank Lloyd Wright, for designing homes on the side, but he apparently looked the other way on Berry’s commissions. At least until Berry built the Adeline Prouty Old Ladies Home (yes, that was the name; it was a more politically incorrect time) in 1917. According to Berry’s brother Roger, that was the last straw. Sullivan let Berry go. Despite various health problems, Berry probably would have done well enough afterward, and perhaps might have made a name for himself. He’d gotten married and was courted by the architectural firm of Purcell and Elmslie for years—though he’d turned them down for the opportunity to learn from Sullivan and advance in the trade. Opening an office down in Hyde Park, he began work on commissions for another bank and a hospital.

But Parker Noble Berry wasn’t long for this world. Already sickly, in December 1918, he traveled from Chicago to Princeton to attend his father-in-law’s funeral. Contracting what he imagined was just a bad cold, he refused medical attention. Soon after, Parker Berry became another young victim of the 1918 flu pandemic (aka: “Spanish Flu”). He suffered for eight days before succumbing on December 16, all of 30 years old.

—Dan Kelly

[Writer's Note: I am currently at work on a long-form essay about Parker Berry. If any relatives of his (or anyone with information to share about him) read this, please contact me at dan [at] mrdankelly [dot] com!]

Architecture and Art and George Grant Elmslie and Irving Park and Louis Sullivan08 Nov 2011 05:04 pm

Last Friday, I took my kids out to visit the park, a church off Western where my great uncle served as assistant pastor, and two buildings connected with Louis Sullivan’s former chief draftsman, George Grant Elmslie. As a father I am slightly unusual, I know.

Mr. Elmslie stuck with Mr. Sullivan through the Lieber Meister’s exceedingly lean final years. Sadly, Sullivan was unable to afford to keep him on staff and had to let him go. Elmslie landed on his feet by partnering with William Purcell, forming the firm of Purcell & Elmslie in 1909. After turning out several lovely Prairie School style buildings across the Midwest  together, personal problems, including his wife’s tragic death at age 31, took their toll on Elmslie. Despite being a full partner, he chose to move back to Chicago to live with his sisters, while Purcell ran the firm from Minneapolis. Steeped in misery, Elmslie nonetheless pressed on, producing several more works—including his masterpiece, the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, IA—before financial matters eventually caused the firm to dissolve.

If his work seems “Sullivanesque,” it’s because Elmslie is responsible for much of Sullivan’s fancier ornamentation. He’s probably best known for  his designs on such large scale structures as the Carson Pirie Scott facade and the National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna, MN. Luckily for the city, Elmslie created smaller structures as well, lending a bit of Sullivanesque charm to our neighborhoods. My favorite would have to be the Peoples Gas Irving Park Neighborhood Store at 4839 W. Irving Park Road. Peoples Gas Stores were actual stores selling only products employing the full benefits of that exciting new energy source, natural gas. Check out the 1920s ads below.

If you ever drive or walk by the building (which appears to be a church or similar religious institution now) be sure to look up, otherwise you’ll miss its delightful decorations and windows. Wish I could have had either a clearer day for taking photographs or direct sunlight. I’ll go back and try again some day.

Looks like one of the ads features the addresses of every store in Chicago. There’s a field trip for you!

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