Random Notes - A Blog


20 September 2006
As the birthplace of the Prairie School, Chicago occupies a special place in American architectural history. The sheer number of buildings, however, challenges documentary efforts such as this one. Currently, Chicago buildings are listed by neighborhoods, which is convenient for the locals, but not the most intuitive for the visitor. Therefore, I’ve decided to assemble additional pages organized by street address and by historic building name. The former is already up, and the latter should be soon.

In addition to the long-overdue attention to Chicago, other behind-the-scenes work has been occurring: the creation of The Unknowns, a new index page for past Random Notes columns, and the incorporation of photos submitted by generous visitors.

15 September 2006

At what price Elmslie? $375, to be exact. Two fragments of ornament from schools in Hammond, Indiana, that George Elmslie designed for William S. Hutton were sold at auction last week. Each brought $375. On a cost-per-pound basis, the successful bidders for these artworks surely did well. (Not so the new owner of a single Jarvie Beta candlestick, whose slight bronze form brought a surprising $4,000.) I attended the auction to bid on some furniture, which was attractively arrayed throughout the John Toomey Gallery in Oak Park. The Elmslie ornament was rather less ceremoniously placed on a storage shelf in the back room with other oddities. The surprise for me, and the reason for its humble display status and my crack about art by the pound, is that these items are big and heavy. I had supposed that Sullivanesque terra cotta ornament was made as tiles. Perhaps some of it was, but not these: they are substantial blocks, maybe six inches thick, weighing dozens of pounds. The larger of the two shown above is 32" wide and 14" tall.

The loss of the Hutton/Elmslie buildings is indicative of a significant increase nationwide in the demolition of old schools, a trend so worrisome that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has launched a special initiative to combat it. Having not seen the Indiana schools, I cannot comment knowledgeably about their now-lost prospects for renewal. It seems unlikely, however, that buildings from this era could not have been rehabilitated.

A fine website about the Thomas Alva Edison Elementary School in Hammond provides many photos, from construction in 1937 through its 1991 demolition. A slender catalogue by Paul Kruty and Ronald E. Schmitt entitled “George G. Elmslie: Architectural Ornament from the Edison and Morton Schools, Hammond, Indiana” was published in conjuction with the exhibition, “George G. Elmslie, Architectural Ornament from the Hammond Schools,” held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in February 1998.



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As always, I welcome your comments about this site or any Prairie School building.

John A. Panning, Lake City, Iowa






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