September 23, 2018

Louis Sullivan, architectural visionary

In the musical I co-wrote with June Finfer, “Burham’s Dream,” Louis Sullivan is Daniel Burnham’s biggest stylistic adversary. In a cruel turn of architectural fate, Sullivan’s building style was eclipsed by the renewed interest in Neo-classical designs after the 1893 fair.

Chicago architecture buffs are aware of the many lauded buildings of Louis Sullivan (The Auditorium Theater, Roosevelt University, Carson Pirie Scott facade on State Street, the Charnley House on Astor Street), but they may not know about the tragic turn his life took in his last two decades.

Sullivan’s Bayard Building in NYC’s Greenwich Village

The teens and twenties in the 20th century brought the once-revered man into penury, alcoholism and rented rooms. Two of his former students came to his aid in life and death. The Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue was not a commission for Sullivan, but for his former apprentice, William Presto who hired his old mentor to design the facade. The little jewel-box of a building currently houses Studio V Design. (4611 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625)

Sullivan Transportation Building’s Golden Arch

Although Sullivan designed memorial structures for the wealthy in Graceland (most notably the Getty tomb), he himself died penniless with a pauper’s grave to be his lot. Protege Frank Lloyd Wright (and possibly some other architects) paid for the lovely monument that marks Sullivan’s final resting place in Graceland.

Not only can we appreciate Sullivan’s distinctively American architectural style, we can also thank him for the famous phrase, “Form follows function.”

Sullivan’s Facade on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago

I will be updating an article I wrote on Graceland this month, with some emphasis on the characters from Burnham’s Dream. This is the perfect time of year to visit this most restful of Chicago venues.

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