Random Notes - January 2006

  

29 January 2006
Purcell & Elmslie’s commissions from Alexander Brothers, also known as International Leather and Belting Corporation, have a rather nebulous existence in my mind. The P&E complete commissions list includes no fewer than 24 job numbers for the Alexanders, and Purcell even joined the firm as advertising director during the war years. The only new building actually built, one unit of a proposed factory complex in Chicago, was published by H. Allen Brooks, but he gave no address and didn’t mention whether the building was in existence at the time of his book. Unbuilt designs include a house for a company executive and a YMCA building in China. P&E remodeled the company offices and a factory building in Philadelphia, but until this weekend I had no idea of their location or existence.

Because I’m working in Philadelphia at the moment, the address of those offices is of some immediate interest. Google and careful reading of the fine print fill the gaps. An annotation on a photograph on the University of Minnesota’s site reveals the address. I took the afternoon to walk to 414 North Third Street, but as expected, there is no longer a building there. As for the Chicago factory published in Brooks, its address appears in a P&E ad. However, Mapquest shows it to be right next to the Stevenson Expressway, making its existence today somewhat unlikely. I would be delighted to have my hunch proved wrong—do you have any further information?

25 January 2006
The Prairie School: a Midwestern phenomenon? Hardly. Recent tidbits that have come to hand concern PS buildings in Utah, Oregon, South Carolina and Florida. Granted, the far-flung buildings are rarely iconic (buildings like the Bradley “Bungalow” at Woods Hole, Massachusetts are the exceptions that prove the rule), but if this site demonstrates anything, it’s that the Prairie spirit was alive beyond Oak Park and Minneapolis. Unfortunately, documentation of many of the architects in these places is rare. Taylor Woolley, who assisted Wright in the preparation of the Wasmuth portfolio in Fiesole, Italy, later settled in Salt Lake City, where he designed a number of buildings in the Prairie mode. Other Utah practitioners include Cannon & Fetzer, and Ware & Treganza. Likewise, Henry John Klutho designed a number of Prairie buildings in Jacksonville, Florida, of all places. Visitors to this site who have any information about these architects and their work are invited to share!

13 January 2006
Michael Houser sends another interesting selection of PS houses in Washington State, which throws some light on Andrew Willatzen and Barry Byrne. In partnership from about 1908–13, Byrne went on to international attention, while Willatzen (who later replaced the “z” in his surname with an “s”) seemingly faded into obscurity. There seems to be little about him in print or on the web. Google discloses a poignant story about the demolition of a Seattle residence Willatzen designed in 1914. The only photo I find of this house seems to combine Maheresque repose with Purcell-like details.

12 January 2006
I was surprised and pleased to receive the first contribution from a visitor today, a collection of photos of PS houses in Washington State. Michael Houser, Architectural Historian with Washington’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, has single-handedly contributed photos for every site I had listed thus far in his state. Admittedly, there were only three, but a little research this morning has revealed a fourth, and Michael says he’ll send more. So we look with anticipation to see how the Prairie School was expressed in the Pacific Northwest.

10 January 2006
I was delighted to receive a note of encouragement from Wilbert Hasbrouck today, saying in part, “John Panning’s ambitious plan to list Prairie School buildings in the USA, and perhaps elsewhere, deserves support.” As many will know, Mr. Hasbrouck is one of the most important figures in the present-day appreciation of Prairie School architecture. A practicing architect, he has been involved in the restoration of a number of landmark buildings by Sullivan, Burnham & Root, and Wright. From 1964 to 1981, he and his wife Marilyn published The Prairie School Review, and they continue to operate Prairie Avenue Books, the largest architectural bookshop in the world. Mr. Hasbrouck has recently completed a massive and important book, “The Chicago Architectural Club: Prelude to the Modern,” which is available from his shop. I recently learned from an excellent interview that Bill is a native of Mapleton, Iowa, only 65 miles west from this correspondent’s home on Iowa Hwy. 175.

7 January 2006
Most of the Wisconsin pages are composed...now if only there were photographs. Contributions are welcome!


Photo from the Historic American Building Survery

News of the loss of another PS house, only 35 years after the fact. Long ago, I saw mention of the Sedgwick S. Brinsmaid House in H. Allen Brooks’ seminal The Prairie Style: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries. It was designed by Arthur Heun, a somewhat obscure member of the Prairie School and one of the Steinway Hall “Eighteen”. Brooks cited the street but no house number; after a couple of futile trips up and down Grand Avenue, I gave up. Google to the rescue: a search for other information on Heun turns up a story in the Des Moines Register, which says that the house was demolished in 1971. Google further reveals that some decorative art from the Brinsmaid House is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
     By all accounts, the house was a landmark that ought to have been preserved. According to Michael FitzSimmons, George Mann Niedecken’s first major commission was a decorative mural in the Brinsmaid House. Niedecken returned in 1909 to design a suite of furniture. Art glass was furnished by Orlando Giannini of Giannini & Hilgart, who also supplied windows for Wright’s Martin House in Buffalo and many other PS buildings.

  

Old Notes

  

As always, I welcome your comments about this site or any Prairie School building.

John A. Panning, Lake City, Iowa

   

  

 

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