Louis Sullivan celebration (Chicago)

Reply Sat 5 Aug, 2006 01:39 pm
In September, there'll be a celebration of 150 years of Louis Sullivan -
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Reply Wed 6 Sep, 2006 03:00 pm
Interesting (to me) article on Louis Sullivan in today's Chicago Sun Times.


I'll copy a bit of it here -

The tragic tale of Louis Sullivan

September 3, 2006

BY KEVIN NANCE Architecture Critic

Society has a nasty way of turning its back on some of its greatest artists at the zenith of their powers: Mozart buried in a pauper's grave at the age of 35, Oscar Wilde sent to prison just as his plays were dominating the West End. To these must be added the tragic tale of Louis Sullivan, the Chicago architect who was born 150 years ago today. This week, as Chicago prepares to mark the occasion with a six-week celebration culminating with a symposium at the Chicago History Museum, it's worth remembering not just how Sullivan lived but how he died: bitter, lonely and destitute in a dreary South Side hotel.

Although the architectural press continued to hail his creative genius throughout his final two decades, the man who gave Chicago the Auditorium and Carson Pirie Scott buildings, the Charnley-Persky House and Pilgrim Baptist Church increasingly found himself shunned. By Sullivan's death in 1924, he had been evicted from his office in the Auditorium tower and forced to sell virtually all his possessions. At the end he was a depressed, hard-drinking recluse, relying on handouts from a few friends -- notably his protege, Frank Lloyd Wright -- to pay for food and shelter; he died owing several weeks of back rent.

The question is why. Tradition has it that Sullivan was caught in the vise of the national depression of the mid-1890s, and that he never recovered from his 1896 split with longtime partner Dankmar Adler, who anchored Sullivan's aesthetic gifts with top-notch engineering and business skills. Sullivan himself blamed the resurgence of neoclassical architecture, along with a more virulent commercialism, in the wake of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition masterminded in 1893 by his great rival, Daniel Burnham.

But these factors, while significant, don't fully explain Sullivan's long march to the poorhouse. How could America's greatest architect, as he was sometimes declared in the years before Wright grabbed the title for himself, end up in such dire straits? Burnham died rich. Wright struggled to pay his bills but lived like a king, shuttling between vast estates in Wisconsin and Arizona and an opulent suite in New York's Plaza Hotel.

A complete examination of Sullivan's fall must take into account factors that go beyond economics. With a lash for a tongue that stung more painfully with every passing year, Sullivan may have been his own worst enemy, indulging in private and public spats with colleagues and clients. But even with the political skills of a Burnham or the sheer chutzpah of a Wright, Sullivan might still have watched his career wither away due to the public's evolving attitude toward ornament, the core of his art.

'Living in hell'

The sharp edges of Sullivan's personality surfaced at the World's Fair, when he and Adler at first declined Burnham's proffered commissions on the grounds that they weren't important enough. When the pair finally accepted Burnham's offer to design the Transportation Building, Sullivan set it apart from the rest of the major structures, whose neoclassical style he disdained as a bankrupt recycling of elements from ancient Greece and Rome.

Next to the original Ferris wheel, the building's Golden Doorway was the fair's singular sensation, its radiating arches vaguely Gothic rather than classical, its spectrum of rich reds and golds a slap in the face of the otherwise monochromatic White City. It was a declaration of architectural independence from what Sullivan saw as the "appalling calamity" of the fair's influence on the nation's cities. In his Autobiography of an Idea, he lambasted the fair's dominant style as "charlatanry," a "contagion" that set back American architecture a half-century by glorifying the "bogus antique."

Sullivan was particularly incensed at the success of the fair's organizer, whom he came to see as embodying the architectural profession at its most bloated and mercantile. "The only architect in Chicago to catch the significance of this movement was Daniel Burnham," he wrote, "for in its tendency toward bigness, organization and intense commercialism, he sensed the reciprocal workings of his own mind."

Sullivan developed a knack for falling out even with his friends. During the fair, Sullivan broke with Wright, his chief draftsman, apparently over the younger man's moonlighting. In some versions of the story, Wright, who idolized Sullivan and modeled his grand persona after that of his lieber meister, left on his own; in others, Sullivan fired him. In any case, the two men hardly spoke for most of the next 20 years. When they finally re-established close contact, it was almost too late.

Then there was Adler's 1896 withdrawal from the firm, which Sullivan regarded as unforgivably disloyal. In retaliation, he struck Adler's name from some references to the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, N.Y., a masterpiece they'd designed together. When Adler returned to architecture after six months, he tried to reconcile with his old friend, who would have nothing to do with him.

Following Sullivan's triumph with the design for the Schlesinger & Mayer department store (later bought by Carson Pirie Scott) in 1898-99, he began burning his bridges in earnest. As detailed in Robert Twombly's excellent 1986 biography Louis Sullivan: His Life and Work, he accused a Cleveland firm of "common thievery" and "degeneracy of moral tone," among other sins, and waged ideological war against the American Institute of Architects, calling a speech by its president "a plain public nuisance" and "stupid."

More and more, Sullivan found himself isolated from his peers. Adler & Sullivan's former clients now called upon other architects to design projects. One of the worst blows to Sullivan's ego came in 1905 when Carson Pirie Scott chose not to hire him for an expansion. The assignment went instead to Daniel Burnham.

Sullivan's career kept tumbling downward. He failed to land the design for Chicago's Orchestra Hall, again losing out to Burnham; in some years there was no work at all. "With the future blank," he wrote Wright, "I am surely living in hell."

end/quote, and this note on events was added -


Chicago's celebration of the 150th anniversary of Louis Sullivan's birth kicks off Thursday with a 10 a.m. ceremony at the Charnley-Persky House, 1365 N. Astor, and concludes Oct. 13-15 with a symposium on the architect's life and work at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark. To register ($90, or $45 for one day), visit www.chicagohistory.orgor call (312) 799-2004.

For more information, including a full schedule of events, visit www.sullivan150.org.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 6 Sep, 2006 03:12 pm
Just adding the only photo from the print version of above quoted report (on page 9D):

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Walter Hinteler
Reply Wed 6 Sep, 2006 03:40 pm
Related, from the Chicago Tribune:


Flag of change on State
Building owner's past, plan for future keep faith with Sullivan

By Blair Kamin
Tribune architecture critic

August 26, 2006

There is typically fear and loathing whenever a building by the great Chicago architect Louis Sullivan changes hands or is converted to a new use. Memories of the 1972 destruction of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building, a masterful turn-of-the-century office building by Sullivan and his partner Dankmar Adler, run deep.

But this time around, after Carson Pirie Scott & Co.'s parent company announced Friday that Carsons would abandon the 1 S. State St. store it has occupied for more than a century, there appears to be reason for guarded optimism about the future of the building, an official city landmark and a landmark of modern architecture.

Earlier this year, the building's owner, Wheeling-based developer Joseph Freed and Associates, completed a top-of-the-line restoration of the building's top, bringing back the lid-like cornice and other intricate details that had been removed around 1948. The Freed company bought the 12-story building a few years ago and leases space back to Carsons.

The Freed company signaled its intention to continue to again do right by Sullivan on Friday when company executives said they would transform the first and second floors of the store into a new retail use while floors 3-7 will most likely be converted into office space.

Those were the right words, both for the urban vitality of State Street, which needs ground-level storefronts to boost activity along the sidewalk, and for the architectural integrity of Carsons, which has always been a store, though Carsons has not always occupied it. The building was originally constructed for the retail firm of Schlesinger & Mayer.

The store is an essential part of the ritual of window shopping on State Street, with its swirling, nature-inspired ornament wrapping around merchandise like an Old Master painting.

To pass from the store's curving corner tower, which marks the intersection of State and Madison Streets like a spike in the ground, through its mahogany-lined vestibule and into its open selling floors and their forest of ornament-topped columns is to experience the full three-dimensional impact of architecture.

Any redevelopment proposal that would have compromised that sequence would have irredeemably damaged Sullivan's masterpiece. But with the Freed company signaling that it wants a retail tenant for the first two floors, such a nightmare seems unlikely to occur.

Still, historic preservationists remain wary. "It's anybody's guess what a new owner might want," said David Bahlman, president of Landmarks Illinois, a non-profit advocacy group.

Designed by Sullivan after he had broken from Adler--the building was done in two stages, one finished in 1899 and the other in 1903--Carsons was one of the first large department stores built entirely with fireproofed steel-frame construction. It lyrically expresses that identity, with the white honeycomb of its exterior sweeping horizontally down State Street, playing off the verticality of the corner.

The store marked a dramatic departure from traditional department stores, such as Marshall Field's & Co., which relied heavily on European precedents.

One indication of the store's stature is that it was one of the first buildings in Chicago to be made an official city landmark. Significantly, the 1970 designation covered both the building's exterior and interior. Today, only a building's exterior is typically protected, along, perhaps, with selected interior features.

As a result, city officials should have a strong hand in regulating possible changes to Carsons.

On the store's first floor, for example, they disfavor dropped ceilings, though they leave room for exceptions. "The volume of space is important so you can see there's a forest of columns and the ceiling heights," said Brian Goeken, deputy commissioner of the Landmarks Division of the Department of Planning and Development.

In general, he added, he wants to strike a balance between "reuse potential and preserving the fabric and character."

It's possible that redevelopment could add additional luster to the building. Along some of its upper selling floors, Goeken said, Carsons has placed merchandise displays and stockroom areas, effectively turning windows into blank walls. If the walls for those warrens were to be torn down and wide-open office floors were to replace them, the building's original transparency could be restored.

Whatever the outcome, this is simply the latest drama involving Sullivan and his architecture in this year, when Sept. 3 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.

In January, the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville, which Sullivan co-designed with Adler, suffered a devastating fire.

This summer, there was concern over the future of an Adler & Sullivan house in Lakeview before its owner backed off from the possibility of tearing the house down and replacing it with a multi-unit condominium complex.

It is a measure of Sullivan's greatness that his buildings keep making the news. The measure of our capacity for stewardship is how we transform them to new uses while maintaining the architectural vision of the man who coined the phase "form follows function."
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