After the Carson Pirie Scott Department Store, architect Louis Sullivan’s career went into a long decline and he received few commissions. In his early fifties and down on his luck, the remainder of his work consisted primarily of a series of small bank and commercial buildings in obscure, out-of-the-way Midwestern towns. Today these commissions (nine in total) are collectively referred to as Sullivan’s “Jewel Boxes.” The largest is about 4,600 square feet, the smallest well under 1,500 square feet. None cost more than $125,000 to build.

In 1906, Sullivan accepted an offer to design a new headquarters for the National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna, a small farming town 60 miles south of Minneapolis. Banker Carl Bennett wanted more than a prominent new building to house his family’s business. He wanted a work of art. Together their brilliant collaboration of patron and architect produced what many consider the finest small-town bank in America, the first of Sullivan’s “jewel boxes”. The building is bathed in a symphony of color, as Sullivan described it. Green and brown terra cotta panels and blue and gold glass mosaic bands contrast with the reddish brick walls and the red sandstone base that anchors the bank to its site, giving depositors a sense of security. Two arched stained glass windows designed by Louis J. Millet are mirrored on the interior by murals of dairy and harvest scenes by Oskar Gross. The lavish organic decorative elements, including four 18-foot-tall cast iron electroliers and teller window grilles, were designed by chief draftsman George Grant Elmslie and cast by Winslow Brothers Company (owned by William Winslow, for whom Frank Lloyd Wright designed an iconic house). Today this National Historic Landmark is a Wells Fargo Bank.

I once posted some photos of my relatives at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lake Geneva Hotel (1911-1970) in Wisconsin. The prairie style design featured a horizontal 360-foot long building with 90 rooms, terraces, and colorful art glass windows. The top photograph, from a 1967 issue of the Milwaukee Journal, shows the swimming pool that had been added next to the entrance. The rest of the photographs, taken by preservationist Richard Nickel, show the building right before demolition, including the large arched fireplace that was located in the lobby. Notice some of the alterations, including a sign for “The Golden Orchid” restaurant. A 1970s style high-rise condo building currently stands on the hotel’s former site at the lake and lagoon between Broad and Center Streets.

Martin Barbe was a prominent Chicago clothing manufacturer with the wholesale firm Barbe, Benedict & Goldman that specialized in cloaks and capes. Barbe’s residence, located on a large corner lot on South Prairie Avenue, was unique among Adler & Sullivan’s early houses. While other designs conformed to rowhouse prototypes, this was a completely detached modern country villa when it was built in 1884. Set back on its site, the home was defined by high gables, projecting window bays, and arches. The facade was a mix of brick, stone, wood, decorative terra cotta, ornamental sheet metal, and slate. The building was demolished in 1963.

(Top Photo: Aaron Siskind; Bottom Photo: Richard Nickel)

Bringing back an old post in honor of the 100th anniversary of the mass murder at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. One of his servants Julian Carleton set the property on fire and killed seven people, including Wright’s mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney, with an axe on August 15, 1914.

(Source: University of Utah, Marriott Library)

Bringing back an old post in honor of the 100th anniversary of the mass murder at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin. One of his servants Julian Carleton set the property on fire and killed seven people, including Wright’s mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney, with an axe on August 15, 1914.

(Source: University of Utah, Marriott Library)

Burnham and Root’s Monadnock Building; Chicago; ca. 1965.
(Photographer: Richard Nickel)

Burnham and Root’s Monadnock Building; Chicago; ca. 1965.

(Photographer: Richard Nickel)