Friday, July 16, 2010

Form Ever Follows Function

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As a native Chicagoan, I had always heard about the great Chicago architectural firms from the late 1800's through the early 20th century. The firm of Adler & Sullivan was the one that made the biggest impression on me.

Sullivan 1

I recently went to the Chicago Cultural Center for their new "Louis Sullivan's Idea" exhibit. It features fragments of the magnificent ornamentation salvaged from buildings designed by Sullivan. The exhibit walks the visitor through the life of this famous architect, from his arrival in Chicago in 1873, to his death in 1924.

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Louis H. Sullivan 1899
Louis H. Sullivan in 1899

Louis H. Sullivan came to Chicago from Boston. He partnered with Dankmar Adler in 1879. That partnership lasted until 1895. Both the Adler & Sullivan team, then Sullivan alone, created some of the most influential buildings in American history.

Cornice Detail-Wainwright Building, St. Louis, MO-1890-91

Wainwright Building, St. Louis, MO, 1890-91

I walked in awe among the fragments of terra cotta and ironwork, toughing each as I came upon them.

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Pilgrim Baptist Church- 1891-destroyed by fire 2006

Pilgrim Baptist Church, Chicago, 1891. Destroyed by fire in 2006.

The exhibit is enhanced by enlarged photographs, some reaching 24 feet tall. The fragments were put into their proper context by finding their placement in the photos.

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Auditorium Theatre-1889
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, 1889

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Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, 1889

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part of a door in the Auditorium Hotel

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Walking the streets of downtown Chicago, it's hard to look up or to get a close look of what remains of Louis Sullivan's work, or most any of the late 19th and early 20th century buildings. There are so many more modern, much taller structures looming over everything.

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This exhibit brings all the details down to eye-level, like you'd never see it on the actual buildings. The fact that the curators allow you to touch the pieces makes the experience even more special.

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Schiller Building wall stencil, Chicago 1890-92.

Louis Sullivan was a believer in bringing natural, organic forms to the tall, otherwise impersonal skyscrapers that he and his contemporaries were designing. I thought the pieces were beautiful. I wish I could have seen these buildings in all their original splendor. Sadly, most have been torn down or modernized beyond recognition.

Entrance to Transportation Building-1893
Transportation Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

Sullivan's Transportation Building at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 was the only building not conforming to the all-white Beaux-Arts style in Daniel Burnham's plan for the White City.

Chicago Stock Exchange Building-1894
Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago, 1894

Chicago Stock Exchange-Entrance 1
Chicago Stock Exchange, entrance salvaged & on display at the Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago Stock Exchange-Entrance 2
detail of Chicago Stock Exchange entrance.

While attending college years ago at the Art Institute of Chicago, I would gaze upon the salvaged Chicago Stock Exchange entrance arch, on display outside the school. When I graduated, the reception was held in the reconstructed Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor.

Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room
Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, reconstructed at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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sculptors working on Sullivan's details

A few of Sullivan's Chicago buildings remain. The old Carson Pirie Scott store (originally the Schlesinger & Mayer store) is being restored. The Auditorium Theatre is restored and is operated by Roosevelt University.

Schlesinger & Mayer store-Lib. of Congress photo
original Schlesinger & Mayer facade, 1899

Schlesinger & Mayer Store 1899
original Schlesinger & Mayer facade, 1899

Whenever I used to meet up with somebody downtown, we would meet at the Carson Pirie Scott corner doorway, under that magnificent ironwork!

Schlesinger & Mayer Store-2
old Carson Pirie Scott store as it looks today

Schlesinger & Mayer Store-1
detail of old Carson Pirie Scott storefront today

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original Schlesinger & Mayer facade piece

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original Schlesinger & Mayer baluster piece

After 1900, the fanciful style that made Sullivan famous was falling out of favor. His high profile commissions went away. He continued to work, however, on smaller buildings in the midwest. Some of his unique banks remain to this day.

Owatanna Minnesota Bank-1908-detail
detail from National Farmers' Bank, Owatanna, MN, 1908

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clock from National Farmers' Bank, Owatanna, MN, 1908

Merchants National Bank, Grinnell, IA-1914
Merchants National Bank, Grinnell, Iowa, 1914

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Louis Sullivan suffered from depression and alchoholism in his later years. He died alone and penniless in a cheap hotel in Chicago in 1924. He was 67 years old.

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If you're planning a trip to Chicago, be sure to stop by the Louis Sullivan exhibit at the Cultural Center. It's free to the public, and runs through November 28, 2010.

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Please visit these great links for more Louis Sullivan info:

Louis H, Sullivan 150 Years. A great Flickr photography set by Atelier Teee

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Blogger Rose ~Victorian Rose ~ said...

OH my heart has almost started beating again....!
Next to Victorian Wicker ....I love Victorian Archecture....if ANYTHING is going to encourage me to go to Chicago would be this exhibit. amazing they could share this much of his work at one time.

How sad about the way he chose to die...such a talent going to total WASTE because of his alcholism.

Thank you for this marvelous share.

July 17, 2010 at 5:29 AM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Rose,

I knew you would like this one, being from Chicago yourself! After I visited the exhibit, I went right over to the Stock Exchange archway and the Carson Pirie Scott store to take some pictures, with a new eye for the work of this great architect.


July 17, 2010 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger The Dusty Victorian said...

Hello Pam,
Magnificent post! Several years ago, we briefly visited Chicago's downtown and also took the boat tour. We were only passing through, but how we wished we could have stayed longer. We left with the impression that Chicago was so sophisticated and glamourous.
Most probably because of Sullivan's talent and the effort to conserve its architectural history. To see his work shows how strong and complex an artist he was, but also how fragile. It must of killed him to see that the world was changing and his work was going out of fashion. To me, beauty is timeless as your post shows so well. Really enjoyed it, thank you.


July 20, 2010 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger The Victorian Parlor said...

Oh my gosh it's all stunning! I have missed all of your wonderful Victorian posts-this one was a great one to come back to:).



July 20, 2010 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger Mrs. D said...

Simply wonderful post! I enjoyed learning about Sullivan. Wow, I was unaware of his elegant work. Thanks for bringing this to us and providing a beautiful photo review.
Mrs. D

July 20, 2010 at 6:52 PM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Anyes-

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Chicago has been a great architectural city ever since the Great Fire of 1871 burnt it to the ground. Great architects came here to leave their mark on the newly destroyed city, and the buildings keep coming to this day. :-)


July 20, 2010 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Kim-

It's great to hear from you! Welcome back to blogland. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing the Louis Sullivan works. :-)


July 20, 2010 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Linda-

I enjoyed learning so much about Sullivan myself! As you can tell, I really enjoyed this exhibit. I like learning new things about my city. :-)


July 20, 2010 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger The Sweetbrier Cottage said...

OMG, the architectural detail is incredible! I'm adding this to my bucket list of places to visit. Thanks for another incredible post!

July 22, 2010 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Sweetbrier-

Chicago is a great city to visit. There are architectural walking tours, bus tours and boat tours. And we have some great museums!


July 23, 2010 at 7:01 AM  
Blogger Terry @ La Bella Vie said...

Well all I can say is wow, wow, wow!
I was in Chicago a few years ago and loved the beauty of the city however I never really had a chance to visit the beautiful buildings etc as it was a very short buisness trip. I have always said I'd love to go back for a longer stay and this is on my list of "to do" while there!
Wanted to leave ypu a link to see the Eastlake DYI project completed. You were amazing and so helpful with info in regards to the Eastlake bed and thought you might enjoy this.

July 26, 2010 at 1:04 AM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...


Your Eastlake bed project is ingenious! Your repurposed bed now looks like a throne! I'm sure your in-laws absolutely loved it. What a talented team you and your husband make! :-)


July 26, 2010 at 7:00 AM  
Blogger La Petite Gallery said...

This is fabulous, I wish I could see Chicago. I never knew it had such wonderful buildings. OH Please save those buildings .. Houston tore down all it's history, Thanks to REDNECKS running the city. Idiot's in positions we vote in.

July 27, 2010 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...


There aren't many Louis Sullivan buildings left in Chicago, and a lot of other great old buildings have been replaced by modern skyscrapers. Yeah, we certainly have our share of corrupt politicians, too!


July 28, 2010 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Sea Witch said...

Fabulous post. Architecture like this I miss the most about not living in the midwest. When I lived in Thomson, IL, I used to love visiting the old Van Allen Department store building for its same look as the ones you showcased. It was a grand old lady. They have now converted it into apartments...I would live in one if I returned there. Sea Witch

July 28, 2010 at 8:27 AM  
Blogger Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Sea Witch-

Do you know if they did a good job on renovating the interior for apartments? I hope they somehow left the great interior details intact. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it had some huge, beautiful pillars inside! Another great piece by Louis Sullivan that still stands!


July 28, 2010 at 6:51 PM  

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