Saturday, January 5, 2013

Peoples Savings Bank (1909–11), Cedar Rapids, Iowa—Louis H. Sullivan and Parker Noble Berry, architects (1)

Peoples Savings Bank (1909–11) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Louis H. Sullivan (1856–1924) and Parker Noble Berry (1888–1918), architects (1)
photograph by versluis 2012

After a marvelous restoration project that was completed in 1991 the Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa now occupies its corner lot across the street from the bridge over the Cedar River rather sadly. The structure received heavy interior damage from the historic flood waters of 2008. Now the building, much like its architect Louis H. Sullivan, seems to reflect the loneliness Sullivan experienced in 1924, at the end of his life, very sick, under-appreciated, and living in a single room in Chicago.

Pictured above is one of the building’s repetitive identity motifs, which are located on the street level just above the water table. This terra cotta insignia is replicated on each of the “corner stones”. The crest carries the Bank’s initials, P.S.B., simulating an applied interlaced typographic design suggesting a Chicago Arts and Crafts style. Additionally, the impact of this monogram suggests inspiration based on Celtic designs.

North facade
photograph by versluis 2012

Peoples Savings Bank construction drawing, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
North and South Elevations, 1909–11
Black and red ink on linen
From the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of William Gray Purcell, 1988.410.5

West facade
photograph by versluis 2012

Peoples Savings Bank construction drawings, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
Longitudinal Section Looking East, 1909–11
Black and red ink on linen
From the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of William Gray Purcell, 1988.410.7

Other Sullivanesque bank symbols include the griffin (guardian) and in this project they ceremoniously occupy the top of structural columns (pedestals) visible on the second level and initially at the entry and missing. The formal entryway, now boarded-up, is deep but modest and contributes to and reinforces the perfectly balanced symmetry and geometric program of the building.

Interestingly, Sullivan’s design seems very 20th century modern and minimal (without Sullivan’s quintessential ornament), yet classical as well. The structure seems to reiterate what Sullivan did with some of his tomb designs (vaults) for prominent Chicagoans where the second level protrudes up from a substantial ground level base.

The current condition of the building is a reminder, in another context, of a passage from Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats as referenced from an endnote in Jeffery Plank’s wonderful book, Aaron Siskind and Louis Sullivan: The Institute of Design Photo Section Project:

For Sullivan’s “organic architecture,” the birth and death of architectural forms and functions, and, by implication, of particular buildings, is an ongoing process: “And decay proceeds as inevitably as growth: Functions decline, structures disintegrate, differentiations blur, the fabric dissolves, life disappears, death appears, time engulfs–the eternal night falls. Out of oblivion into oblivion, so goes the drama of created things–and of such is the history of an “organism” (Kindergarten Chats, p. 48; this passage was omitted in the 1947 reprint. … In 1901, when he first published the Kindergarten Chats essays, however, Sullivan was interested in the “hey-day [sic],” the “NEW ARCHITECTURE” that would replace the decayed forms and functions of “contemporaneous American architecture” (pp. 48-49). (2)
Perhaps from a more objective perspective regarding Sullivan’s late period work here’s a passage from art historian James F. O’Gorman, who writes:
The best of the banks [Sullivan’s so-called “jewel boxes”] is the National Farmers’ in Owatonna, [Minnesota] (1906–08), a work which, like the People’s Savings and Loan in Sidney, [Ohio], of a decade later….

The awkward People’s Savings Bank of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1911), on the other hand, seems a squat, trabeated variation on the earlier synagogue [Kehilath Anshe Ma´ariv (K.A.M.) Synagogue, Chicago, 1889–91]. Although these small, out-of-the-way buildings do contain some of Sullivan’s most characteristic and breathtakingly beautiful ornament, they in fact represent the afterglow of a career whose sunset had occurred near the turn of the century. (3)
  1. Wilson, Richard Guy. “Prairie School Works in the Department of Architecture at The Art Institute of Chicago.” The Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest 21.2 (1995): 107-09. Print.
  2. Plank, Jeffery. Aaron Siskind and Louis Sullivan: The Institute of Design Photo Section Project. San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2008. 77. Print.
  3. O’Gorman, James F. Three American Architects: Richardson, Sullivan, and Wright, 1865–1915. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991. 111. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the editor has approved them.