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!