30 December, 2008

Louis Sullivan on the Prairie, We Visit a Jewel Box Bank


It's been a crazy, whirlwind holiday week. We spent Christmas Day at my uncle's up in Racine Wisconsin. I don't think I've been to his place since we closed on our house last winter, so I found myself poking around his addition as if for the first time, seeing how it was constructed. He had added a family room sometime when I was in high school with a half bath and a separate wood-lined sauna. I've been trying to figure out just how we can add a sauna to The Box House, but there's only so much square footage available. Still, I was intrigued with the fact that there is a shower in the sauna as well, allowing the tiny room to do double duty. I neglected to take photos, so maybe next time.

It was kind of funny seeing my cousins--the earliest Christmases I can remember feature us playing with our new toys under the Christmas tree. This time, we sat around the tree talking about building inspectors, home renovation projects, and DIY improvements!

Boxing Day found us on the road for the nine-hour trek to Kansas City to see Ted's family. We got a really, really late start, so the roads were clear of traffic. We did run into some absolutely crazy weather, however. The temperature steadily climbed from 50 to 70, and somewhere in Missouri the emergency broadcast system kicked in on the radio to warn us of tornadoes and torrential rains ahead. Within 15 minutes--I'm not kidding, it was that fast--the temperature dropped from 70 down to 33. We watched in amazement as the thermometer dropped before our eyes. Just outside of Kansas City, the skies opened and we were pummeled with rain. But we did make it to Overland Park in the suburbs safely. I know it's Kansas, but tornado warnings in December seem a bit extreme.

The trip was pleasant, although much too short. All-too-soon we were headed home. This time we took the Iowa route, stopping in Grinnell, just east of Des Moines, to stretch our legs for an hour or so. We knew that there was a Sullivan-designed bank in the downtown area of this college town, but had never seen it before. We do love Sullivan, and mourn the fact that a number of his buildings have been lost, including the Pilgrim Baptist Church, destroyed in a careless fire. So we were kinda excited to see this bank. (Those who are unfamiliar with architect Louis Sullivan, check out the biography on Wikipedia or peruse the books Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture or The Early Louis Sullivan Building Photographs, which features this bank on the cover.)

Sullivan designed a number of what have come to be known as Jewel Box Banks. There were eight of them in all, and all are still standing. Based on the photos I've seen, this is my favorite.

By the time we got to Grinnell, it was already four o'clock, so the winter lighting wasn't great for taking pictures. So here's one from the bank's web site:

And a historical view:

Another recent view:


More details of the ornamentation can be found here. Unfortunately, some moron smashed the eastward-facing winged lion a few years ago:

We saw the pieces in the lobby, and, according to the Poweshiek County blog, bank owner Wells Fargo is looking into options for restoring or replicating the terra cotta figure. There was a guy working on the building's exterior while we were, but he didn't seem to know much about the details of the restoration. And I did kinda want to go, "Arrrgh, what are you doing?" when he propped his ladder against the remaining lion. But he was friendly enough, and seemed very proud of the bank, telling us how the ornamentation he was working on was installed before he was born.


Sullivan always gives me shivers!

We spent about an hour prowling around downtown Grinnell, exploring other historic buildings, and then jumped back into the car to head home. Well, we had to stop at Mom's other house first before we got all the way back home. The new tenants are moving in this weekend, and we still need to clear out a few things. So, after being on the road all day, the last thing I wanted to do was pack up the car with more of our junk, but what can you do?

The new people were there this evening to bring some of their stuff in early and begin setting up. It was the first time in 31 years I had to ring the doorbell to get in--well, with the exception of those times I lost or forgot my keys! What a strange feeling to have someone else answer the door, and even stranger that I'm not really free to wander around wherever and however I want!

Oh well. It's not really our home anymore, anyway.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!


Carson Pirie Scott & Co. building designed by Louis Sullivan. State and Madison, Chicago.

3 comments:

Karen Anne said...

Amazing ornamentation.

That missing building to the left really made Sullivan's entryway look more in proportion. I wonder how a nice building like that got replaced by a small pizza joint, or whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

The original building next door was destroyed by fire in 1954. The owners decided to replace it with a 'modern' 1954 pharmacy/lunch counter/soda fountain.

Jenni said...

Thank you for the Sullivan info. I found it all interesting. And wow @ all the details.

Happy New Year.