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Exterior perspective view
Bill and Michele Failing, in their oasis
William Gray Purcell residence
aka "Georgian Place"
Purcell and Elmslie
Portland, Oregon  1920
All Georgian Place photos courtesy the Failings.

Happy New Year.
Herewith, a goodly, perhaps even "double" issue of the Grind. There are so many links that I hope everyone is using a tabbed browser!

West elevation
The gifts of a departing year and those of one newly arrived bear witness to our entry into the centennial of the founding of Purcell & Feick, Architects. A selection of images reflecting the current appearance of the William Gray Purcell residence in Portland, Oregon, known among true cognoscenti as "Georgian Place" after the street name, has been generously contributed by the current owners of the house, Bill and Michele Failing. These have been mounted as an album page. This house is the final flowering of the poetic spirit that moved through P&E residences, no less poignant for the hard times, financially and emotionally, that the Purcell family would endure within its walls. A shout out of thanks to the Failings for sharing their treasure with the Organica community.

Breakfast nook
Of great interest in Georgian Place is the pristine breakfast nook. One of the things Purcell claimed as a "first" for P&E was the installation of breakfast nooks in their houses. The welcoming embrace of these intimate eating places provided a happy alternative to trekking with food out to the formality of the dining room or standing up at the kitchen counter. Not all of them survived the advent of TV trays and the installation of dishwashers, either. One very early nook in the Charles T. Backus residence in Minneapolis, no longer sits in place, although I was told the pieces exist in the hands of collector. This quintessential expression of culinary communion occupied Purcell's thoughts for many years. He published several iterations of an article extolling the virtues of the arrangement from 1920 to 1941, not always called nooks per se but "a breakfast area in the 'Pullman' style," and illustrated with the one he had put in Georgian Place.

A personal moment: The finest compliment ever given me by an editor passed from the lips of Linda Mack, currently the architecture critic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, when I put my own revival of Purcell's breakfast nook pieces forward in Architecture Minnesota. She confessed that she had forgotten she was editing when she read my draft. Because of that encouragement, I knew right then and there I could make it as a writer. Even if she hadn't been so flattering I'd still think she is one of the most sublimely intelligent people in Minnesota, and I was very glad she came to Taliesin West to see me while I was there.  Of course, the half bottle of vintage Chateau d'Yquem she brought was a lovely bookend to the one we had once had after a dinner on her terrace overlooking Lake of the Isles, an indulgent result of her husband Warren letting me loose in his wine cellar.
I have an endless admiration for her gracefulness.

"Nils the Gooseboy" figure
[Version 2]
Richard Bock, sculptor
William Gray Purcell residence
Portland, Oregon  1919
Faun in Lake Place, circa 1913,  where "Nils the Gooseboy" [version 1] was eventually placed. Same figure at right, in color.
Richard Bock, sculptor
Source: The Richard Bock Museum

Another key element in Georgian Place is the plaster figure of "Nils the Gooseboy" (technically titled "Nils and His Goose") by Richard Bock that touches down on a small shelf parapet in the height of the chimney mass. How wonderful the thing is still in place! This is the third version of this work done by the sculptor. Purcell had seen some Bock work in a window display in Chicago and this prompted him to correspond with the artist to get something done for Lake Place in the 1910s. Bock wanted to render a "Nils" group, based on the fairy tale by Selma Lagerlf, and actually did two, keeping one for exhibition. The piece for Purcell took some time to be made, so Bock lent a smaller work, a faun, as a placeholder. The faun is what appears in The Western Architect plates and a number of the early archival photographs.

During the infamous train wreck of 1920, when the household goods belonging to Purcell were rudely cast off the tracks partway to Portland, the "Nils" figure (version 1) was shattered. Bock obligingly made another, slightly different copy, and this is what remains in Georgian Place today (version 2). The "Nils" statue currently in Lake Place was lent by the The Richard Bock Museum at Greenville College, and this survival is the one that Bock made for exhibition.

Just for fun, though, let's consider whether we will ever know if "Nils and His Goose" sitting in Lake Place had anything to do with the idea of the eagle on the eighth floor ledge of the Woodbury County Court House. Look familiar? Only a thought...before we get to the Spectacular Bad News Department, below.

Eagle detail
Alphonso Ianelli, sculptor

Woodbury County Court House
William L. Steele, architect
Purcell and Elmslie, associated architects
Sioux City, Iowa  1915/1916
Source: Woodbury County Court House web site
Purcell's many problems during the Portland era, recounted in earlier Grinds, make his achievements during this period all the more impressive. One of the most glaring potholes in these pages was my omission heretofore of a page for the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, built in 1925. This building was his last large commission, one made especially ironic because his adherence to Christian Science would do nothing to deter his increasing debilitation from as-yet undiagnosed tuberculosis. It also had the unfortunate commission number of "666." My one visit to the building in 1984 was on a dim, cloudy day and the doors were locked. There is no web presence for this church, either.

However, the building represents a triumph for Purcell. Edna Summy Purcell had brought influential Christian Science contacts to the table when they married in 1908. For nearly a decade, P&E made unproductive efforts to realize work in this arena: Third Church of Christ, Scientist, project (Minneapolis, Minnesota 1914); and "consultations" with the Fourteenth and Tenth Christian Science Churches (both Chicago, Illinois 1915) and the Third Church of Christ, Scientist (Riverside, Illinois 1916). Purcell finally pulled it off.

Interestingly, Purcell's success came in the same year that his old friend Henrik P. Berlage would also complete the First Church of Christ, Scientist in The Hague. Leonard Eaton has described the relationship of Berlage's form to the earlier Sullivan design for the St. Paul's Episcopal Church (Cedar Rapids, Iowa 1910), the one that Elmslie salvaged anonymously from the desecrations of another architect brought in by a cost-nervous congregation. Purcell's version in Portland harkens in some degree to the alternative P&E Saint Paul's Episcopal Church project, a perhaps serendipitous bit of historical symmetry.

Exterior perspective view
Third Church of Christ, Scientist
William Gray Purcell, architect
Portland, Oregon  1925

Also, Purcell became involved in propagating small houses in several ways during the Portland decade. Fresh into town, he joined with Charles H. Purcell, his engineer cousin who would later design the Oakland Bay Bridge, in an association called the Pacific States Engineering Corporation (PSEC). While there were one or two larger projects intended for development under this name, all of the built work consisted of a series of small speculative houses erected between 1920 and 1922.

These little houses were much more conventional in form than the earlier open plan P&E houses, though Purcell noted he was much concerned with providing a response to the constantly rainy weather in his porch designs. One of these dwellings for which I have a photograph available was sold for $9000, and another was purchased by Charles H. Purcell for his own residence. To the best of my knowledge, no one has yet tracked all these down. If there are any volunteers out there, send me an email and I'll provide all the addresses that I have (which are the ones Purcell haphazardly left, so there may be variations in accuracy).

Another major Portland commission previously missing any illustration here was the Sidney Bell residence, and the presentation drawing has now been mounted. Unfortunately, I had all of two days in Portland when I was there twenty plus years ago, so I never got to see this house--I didn't get inside Georgian Place, either. Maybe it had something to do with the November weather, which was unusually miserable. When the plane landed, the pilot said over the intercom, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Nome." The hard, thick, icy snow that covered everything and the brutally cold temperature was mild enough to me with my adaptation to Minnesota still active, but sadly the natives seemed much discomfited. The situation on the crusty roads made getting around Portland all that much more difficult. One day I had to content myself with a trip to the public library and the still-active Oregon Society of Artists, which Purcell had co-founded in the 1920s. After that I headed off to the best salmon dinner I ever had ($10!), a positive slab of charcoal cooked fish. So good, in fact, that I had the exactly same meal the next night. I flew off the following morning, just as the sun came out.

Speculative house
Pacific States Engineering Corporation

Portland, Oregon

Presentation rendering
Sidney Bell residence
William Gray Purcell, architect
Portland, Oregon 1927

Purcell was in his forties while living in Portland. At such a point in life many people look back to earlier times for understanding and encouragement. His decision to move himself and his family to the Pacific Northwest was an effort to have a fresh beginning, and he was naturally drawn to the forest atmosphere there from his experiences as a child at Island Lake Camp. Even though he would design some fine buildings and occupy himself with speculative investments, the practice of architecture left him with time on his hands. His mind began turning toward becoming the writer whose endeavors characterized the remainder of his life. The conscious spur in this shift was indisputably the remembered example of his grandfather, W. C. Gray. A note card of this era dated July 26, 1928, sums up:

"When I go, very very little of what happened at Island Lake from 1886 to 1901 will remain in the world except as my grandfather's spirit perfumed the world of men he touched--and their children.

It seems to me that I am the one to keep that bright small house glowing. To do so men to come--children not yet born must read the words and learn to love the spirit of what is set forth in Camp Fire Musings. The book must be circulated freely, be set before people in a form that would make them desire to read it before anything else to be done.

So I propose to set myself to this task along with putting his spirit into my Architecture and into my contacts with men and women."

There is a post script:

"And this evening some 27 years after Grandfather goes, I sit at dinner with blessed Grandmother -- and she so bright, smiling, chatty and youthful!! Wonderful."

Perhaps they had salmon.

Logo for the ASHSB
Designed by John Jager
Many of the more than fifty articles that appeared between 1940 and 1955 in Northwest Architect featured windows into the Island Lake experience as Purcell fulfilled his pledge. The roots of that cascade began in the Portland period. Being a communicative sort of man with an eye always on the potential for business, Purcell began to write in various publications. Of particular note were thirteen pieces that appeared nationally in The Christian Science Monitor from 1923 to 1927. He also contributed articles and a series of small advisory pieces to The Small Home, a monthly magazine published by the Architect's Small House Service Bureau (ASHSB). This national organization was supported during the 1920s by the US Department of Commerce and the American Institute of Architects as a means to provide ready-made professional working drawings to people who might not otherwise be able to afford or have access to the services of an architect. Purcell was an ASHSB member and some of his house plans were sold via catalog.
Cover for The Spectator
It could be just the same as Island Lake.
Purcell also spent more and more time sharpening his artistic edge. In addition to photography, which was ever present in his life from 1888 forward, he turned his hand to many forms of art.  With long-time artist friends Charles S. Chapman and Douglas Donaldson, he spent days in the forest or climbing Mt. Hood to find a spot for his easel, brushes, and oil paints. While he never considered himself talented in watercolors, he did countless of those, too. He hung out with local artists like C. S. Price and Clyde Leon Keller, and he was involved, as mentioned above, with establishing the Oregon Society of Artists. Walking around Portland, his pocket always contained a "Memindex" holder with 3 x 5 cards on which he sketched numerous casual portraits or made notes for his various columns in arts magazines like The Spectator.

The more you learn about Purcell during this time, the more you know his psychology toward life was fundamentally positive. Despite his increasing health problems, financial humiliations, family disintegration, and seeming defeat of the progressive architectural philosophy that was his fundamental cause, William Gray Purcell took these lemons and made lemonade. Art was the sweetener and writing a spoon with which he stirred. His explorations were not mere distraction from suffering, but a meaningful response. As he had done in the P&E years, through these occupations he sought to make life better for everyone. Fortunately, that group also included himself.

Front perspective view
Carl O. Jorgenson residence
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Bismarck, North Dakota  1911
Photograph courtesy Richard Kronick

Dining room
Carl O. Jorgenson residence
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Bismarck, North Dakota  1911
Photograph courtesy Richard Kronick

In the Spectacular Good News Department. This just in (and thanks to Larry and Nancy for letting it be so!): Richard Kronick, someone in the Caravan who will leave a useful legacy, travels somewhat frequently for his writing work. Recently he contacted me asking for addresses of P&E buildings in Bismarck, North Dakota, as he was going there and offered to contribute some current photographs. What an underestimation of his achievement! "Bring-'em-back-alive" Kronick has remedied an eighty year old typographical error and rectified misfiling of archival photographs of the house in the Purcell Papers. Huzzah! Turns out that two images of the dwelling appear in Images digital database are misattributed to another Bismarck residence for E. M. Thompson, which means they are misplaced in the wrong job file. A real two-fer, so congratulations, Dick!

The original P&E commission list, typed in the 1910s, describes job number 120 as the Carlo Jorgenson house. As Dick pointed out, the name inclines the mind to a mongrel image that is part Italian and part Scandinavian. While that unlikely combination might have happened in New York City, perhaps even Chicago, it just seemed wrong for the plains of North Dakota in 1911. So it was. With door knocked and the way opened, we are informed that the builder of the house was "C. O. Jorgenson," which we can take to be Carl O. Jorgenson. (Dick ventures "Oscar" for the "O."). He writes thus we can attribute our windfall:

"It was while Larry Brown (current owner with wife Nancy) was renovating -- knocking out some bad plaster -- that he discovered the following hand-written note on the inside of the opposite wall:

'Built for C. O. Jorgenson
by J. L. Day contractor'."

And so we have another set of hands to add to our list of P&E Team members. Welcome, Mr. Day and crew. Gertrude Phillips, the P&E Team secretary, is likely who made a boo-boo, one now forever enshrined by the University of Delaware Press in my Minnesota 1900 essay. Still, these moments are to be savored. There are no working drawings for this house, not even the slightest of sketches for this project in the Purcell Papers, but Purcell did have this to say in the Parabiographies:

"This was a nice little two-story cottage, the details conscientiously worked out by Marion Parker. The building was of no particular significance, but for an enthusiastic and appreciative man who was about to be married. Those about to be married always made the most perfect and tractable clients. They were overflowing with good feelings toward all the world and were too preoccupied to give attention to disturbing irrelevancies."

In addition, Dick Kronick also sent along current photographs of the P. E. Byrne residence, where a sleeping porch is still a sleeping porch, and these will be up next time around.

Commercial Building for James G. Wallace
Purcell and Elmslie
Minneapolis, Minnesota 1917

Commercial Building for F. N. Hegg
Purcell & Elmslie
Minneapolis, Minnesota 1915

A few other commissions that were missing documentation also now have new pages. The Commercial Building for James G. Wallace (Minneapolis, Minnesota 1917) shows the two photographs available from the University of Minnesota Images digital database, and there are five images for the Commercial Building for F. N. Hegg (Minneapolis, Minnesota 1915). A couple of portraits of Hegg now appear on his Team page. Some graphic designs for the Alexander Brothers, Charlotte Leather Belting Company, advertising (Charlotte, North Carolina 1918) are also freshly up. I processed one negative image into a positive, which revealed a surprising touch of delicate color.  A small biographical manuscript has been added concerning Marion Alice Parker, the P&E drafter become "lady architect" who died on her way to visit Purcell in 1935.

Advertising plate
Charlotte Leather & Belting Company

Alexander Brothers  1918

Office Building for Joseph, George, and Newhall
also known as "Keystone Building"
George Grant Elmslie, architect
Aurora, Illinois  circa 1920s
Another totally new discovery for me that came up was a photograph of the Office Building for Joseph, George, and Newhall (Aurora, Illinois  circa 1920s). This had always been listed as a project, which means unbuilt, for Elmslie, but lo, there the building is. This turned out to be called by Elmslie "Island Avenue Shops and Offices" and was shown as such on his commission list when I compiled that from the available records in the 1980s. The structure is placed on an island and is wedge-shaped (115 feet at one end and 25 at the other). Maybe that's from where came the "Keystone" name. Looks like one from the air, or maybe there was a hint of the economic push the building was meant to give to the island commercial district. In any event the building is still there, now on the National Register of Historical Places. The entire island comprises a historic district, which contains Elmslie's 1925 William H. Graham Building that is also on the Register.

In the Spectacular Bad News Department.
Notice is now taken on the individual commission pages for those P&E, Purcell, and Elmslie buildings that appear on the National Register of Historical Places. Of course, that is a good thing. However, the process of this work caused me to see a page at the National Historic Landmarks Program web site concerning the Woodbury County Court House that left me stunned. The condition of this unparalleled monument to democracy is officially listed as "threatened."

"Load-bearing walls in the basement and the building foundation have been substantially weakened and may collapse. Water runs behind the walls of the courthouse and there is standing water in the basement. Water infiltration from an unknown source has deteriorated the walls on the north and west sides of the courthouse. Structural beams that support the basement also extend under the adjacent sidewalks outside the building and they are in danger of failing. Rebar has become seriously weakened and concrete is spalling. Pedestrians are not at risk, but the use of heavy construction equipment on the weakened sidewalks poses a very real threat of collapse. Immediate structural rehabilitation of the basement area is necessary. The situation is very delicate. Stewards will rebuild interior walls and will insert a rubber membrane to stop the infusion of moisture. The existing sidewalk should be removed, and replaced with a new slab and rubber membrane.

A structural inspection of the threatened areas and development of plans and specifications for corrective actions were completed June 30, 2006. Financing and funding for the project still need to be identified."

The court house web site doesn't seem to mention this, but someone has been busy and their collection of photographs has been increased with some panoramas and decorative elements.

Postcard, circa 1920s

All told, this update brings several dozen new pages with more than a hundred links. With that, my heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to Organica, and Organicus, in the past year. Correspondence with many of you has brought valuable information, vide above, and it is heartwarming when those who find themselves in LA make a point of visiting personally. May all of us have happy and fulfilling times in 2007.



Presentation rendering (original is colored pencil on art board)
Third Church of Christ, Scientist, project
Purcell and Elmslie
Minneapolis, Minnesota   1914

New Thoughts for Old This will be brief, something of a side car.

Don't worry about where we start out this time, for in quick order we are delivered to William Gray Purcell. Maybe I am the only one surprised. Every once in a while something happens where, after all my time in the Caravan under the tutelage of so many fine people, I marvel that my ignorance could be even more than usually is the case. One such instance is a recent discovery concerning the DVD movie The Secret (or the book version or audio CD) of the same name that is currently all the rage, at least here in LA, among metaphysically sensitive people. A good friend, kindly disposed toward seeing me have heretofore elusive financial security, gave me a copy. I took to the information like the proverbial duck to water, never mind what runs off my back.

Naturally, being me and looking for freebies, I started to research the various teachers who appear in the film and who make contributions to the book, as well as others in the pond who were not featured in the program but who are players in what is a burgeoning pool of self-improvement instructions called collectively the "Law of Attraction."  Turns out this whole thing has roots that go back to the "New Thought" movement that started up in the late nineteenth century. All this was news to me but not, apparently, to Purcell.

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby
Source: Wikipedia (public domain)
What came to be called "New Thought" trickled, and sometimes gushed, down from intellections rendered by a Maine Yankee named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-1866). A mesmerist healer "neither an allopathic physician or a medium," he had patients to impress with his beliefs. One of these was Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910). Although there are nits to pick about the degree of influence, Eddy iterated experiences absorbed through her exposure to Quimby in founding the Christian Science Church. Eventually, Eddy considered Christian Science not to be "New Thought," per se, however much the connection with Quimby throws a shadow. Still, whatever disputes historians may have about Eddy or Quimby being first to own a wagon, there was historical involvement between them on a personal basis and they both sold milk from the same dairy, so to speak.

Mary Baker Eddy
Source: Wikipedia (public domain)
This connection forms the first but not the only link of relevance to Purcell. Despite having the traditional Christian background of his influential Presbyterian grandfather, W. C. Gray (1830-1901), Purcell entered the Christian Science realm through marriage to his first wife, Edna Summy Purcell (as noted in the previous Grind). He remained involved with the organization until the 1930s, pursuing architectural commissions for these assemblies as well as writing for The Christian Science Monitor and jousting in correspondence with the paper's editor, Willis J. Abbott, in a thinly veiled effort to use the publication as a forum for the flagging organic cause.

Just as organic philosophy descended from the Sullivan teapot through multiple spouts (principally, of course, with Frank Lloyd Wright and George Grant Elmslie, though there were others) so did "New Thought" pour out in divergent directions after being steeped with a variety of flavorings. Basically, and I simplify here to move briskly along, the "New Thought" perspective posited the nature of the universe as such that, at least for human beings, you receive into your life experience what you ask by your thoughts. After that the subtleties begin, but for the present purpose please suffer these broad strokes as background for a point about P&E.

What eventually became the movement called "New Thought" proceeded through other students of Quimby's and expanded from the 1900s through the 1920s to a large herd of adherents prolific with their pens. Along the way, the spiritually tasty writings of the Transcendentalists, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson (we'll be back in a moment), and Eastern spices from Hinduism and Buddhism were infiltrated within a scope of modern rumination that also absorbed the latest scientific developments of subatomic particle physics, a subject we know was also on Elmslie's bedside table.

Books proliferated, all dedicated to the notion that the application of empirically proven principles of thought would produce the same results of wealth, health, and prosperity for anyone willing to make the effort. The functions of scientific method and democratic egalitarianism were applied conceptually together as a hinge of opportunity on which every person could turn open the door to a better life. One of the best of the books devoted to creating material prosperity, The Science of Getting Rich authored by Wallace Wattles in 1910, succinctly crystallized the approach:

"There is a thinking stuff from which all things are made, and which, in its original state, permeates, penetrates, and fills the interspaces of the universe.

A thought, in this substance, produces the thing that is imaged by the thought.

Man can form things in his thought, and, by impressing his thought upon formless substance, can cause the thing he thinks about to be created."

[end of Chapter 4. The electronic copy I have lacks pagination]

Welcome to the quantum field. There is much to be found in the P&E design message that matches the "New Thought" writings, just from first glance. Self-empowerment is the key to success in life, and that arises through a neatly democratic expression of integrity rooted in the present moment. And, to return to the Transcendentalist influence that plays heavily throughout, Purcell also wrote a Northwest Architect piece on Emerson, being a literary colloquy on Beauty (January-February, 1942). Of course there are those quotes from the Transcendentalist that appeared in "The Statics and Dynamics of Architecture," the principal design statement for P&E published in The Western Architect in 1913.

If you are longing for the Buddhist/Hindu son et lumiere, there's now additional content to the Theosophical backdrop. Contributor Richard Kronick sends note of an important article on Claude Bragdon appearing in the December 2006 (volume 65, Number 4) issue of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. The piece is titled "Organic Architecture and Direct Democracy: Claude Bragdon's Festivals of Song and Light," by Jonathan Massey of Syracuse University. We won't hold academia against him. Seems my access as an independent scholar to the Getty Research Institute has been renewed at a critical moment, as their excellent library collections can now be used to open an entirely new front of study unto mine eyes. First, I think I need to stop in more often in the magazines area!

Aside from Christian Science, we know that Purcell was familiar with this stream of literature for another reason. One of the more famous "New Thought" texts is Acres of Diamonds, by Russell Conwell. Purcell actually devoted a whole piece to the message of this book in a Northwest Architect article published in the September-October, 1941 issue, tuning the ideas toward the salesmanship of the architect. I'll bet there is more to be uncovered, and I am on the trail. How nice that the side effect is to make me more effective in my own prosperity. In the works, see next.

Tiny Something Department. Since my hobby in life has turned out to be information architecture, I read widely on the net. Sometimes links show up from nowhere that lead somewhere. The illustration to the left is a result of a such a sideclick in response the obvious question, "How much is my blog worth?" This is a little applet that uses some research datasets to weight readership. I leave it to the fair readers of this blog to determine what value is received for time spent. This, and the fact that after being asked to put up a donation button it still has the same total as the blog, keeps me honest in a labor of love, I guess. However.

Loyal correspondents have learned by now that, in order to stabilize my life after nearly eighteen months of uneasiness and uncertainty following my little reminder of mortality in August, 2005, I have resumed working for an architecture firm in order to avoid another eviction notice and the regular threat of utility cutoff. I have also started serious work on my retirement fund--er, first novel. Add to that my geeky pastime of transitioning the HyperFind code base into the .NET architecture. This past Grind has generated more fan mail than any other, and I note that it took the better part of two holiday weeks to get up.

There is an issue here of quality over quantity. I do add materials to the site, fix links, etc., often during the week, and the Grinds used to consist of an account of just that in the very beginning. But no one has sent email saying how much they enjoyed reading about keystrokes. I have found that the Grinds work best on a regular schedule. The question is how often can I produce something worthwhile.

Even though a crowd of twelve people have voted in one or another of the P&E polls, I decided to create one to determine the content and frequency of the Grinds. So, for those who care, here are the options. Voting will be held open until the first of February. If you are reading this, please click through and let me know what's your pleasure. The server logs show there are two hundred monthly readers of the Grind. Let's see how many vote.

Next update planned for 1 February 2007, when the poll gets decided.

research courtesy mark hammons