Friday, November 26, 2010

Iowa I Opener: Grinnell's Louis Sullivan Jewel Box

Two Novembers ago I wrote about my visit to the Louis Sullivan-designed Louis Sullivan's National Farmer's Bank of Owatonna, Minnesota. In that post I presented an overview of the great Chicago architect's career. I don't want to repeat myself too much, but here are the bare essentials of this man: Sullivan, sometimes with partner Dankmar Adler, was the genius behind the Auditorium Building, the Guaranty Building, the Wainwright Building, and the Carson Pirie Scott store.


Sullivan received few large commissions after the completion of the Carson Pirie Scott in 1899. But Sullivan lived another twenty five years--he died broke and forgotten. Frank Lloyd Wright, who once worked for Adler & Sullivan, helped pay for his funeral.

I can't remember when he said it, but in a biography of Sullivan I recall a quip of his about the atavistic architecture of banks with Roman design features. It went something like this: "Then bankers should wear togas and speak Latin." Since we are still suffering from the effects of 21st banker foolishness, perhaps bankers should now dress as clowns and speak in gibberish. 

Click on any image to make it larger.

From 1908 to 1919, Sullivan designed seven small banks, dubbed the Jewel Boxes, across the Midwest. The premise was simple: Construct an attractive structure to catch the eye of potential depositors, ten add more beauty inside. Although not a bank, the Henry Adams Building of Algona, Iowa is sometimes included as one of the Jewel Boxes.

That building was completed in 1913, the following year Grinnell's Merchants' National Bank, which is pictured here, opened its doors. Unlike the Owatonna bank, the Grinnell structure is no longer a financial institution, it's home to the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce. A staffer gave me a tour. Upon learning I was a semi-famous blogger, she insisted that I inform my readers of the many other attractions in Grinnell. Click here to learn about them. I'm a man of my word. Grinnell calls itself "the Jewel of the Prairie."

Next: John Wayne's birthplace

Related post:

Louis Sullivan's National Farmer's Bank of Owatonna

Earlier posts:

Amana Refrigeration
Amana cemeteries
Amana Millrace and the woolen mill
Amana Colonies overview
Anamosa State Penitentiary Cemetery
More about Stone City and Grant Wood
Stone City and Grant Wood
Where North Avenue ends
Field of Dreams
Guttenberg and its pool
A final look at Effigy Mounds National Monument
More Effigy Mounds
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Freedom Rock and Veterans Day
Pikes Peak
Buffalo Bill

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