Purcell and Elmslie, Architects
Firm active: 1907-1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota :: Chicago,
This is a tale, of the honorable architect and the---well, business like client who, by the way, was a banker. The same old story but particularly pertinent because of the distinctive character of the architect's work and the "within the law" complexion of the banker's performance. The architect was not Sullivan, Wright, or Cass Gilbert, but his work has a distinctive character known to laymen as well as the profession. The bank people were just plain businesslike men and as such not in business for their health. The architect was called to a town at some distance to consult with this banker regarding a new building. The banker was vouched for to the architect by a client and mutual friend [note: undoubtedly Carl K. Bennett of Owatonna, Minnesota]. Studies were made, the plan developed and the possibilities discussed as the architect is wont to do when "consulted" by a client whom he supposes to be guided by the same sense of honor, and morality as himself. The architect left his ideas in the form of sketches, etc., and went home. He was soon notified that they had concluded not to employ him. His request that his sketches be returned was complied with after a delay of a number of weeks previous to which time another architect [Ellerbe] had been engaged. Upon completion of the building a delegation from the architect's city, including architects and newspapermen, as well as bankers, were invited to the opening. Here an art critic congratulated the bank people upon the success of the design even to the ornamental terra cotta and the lighting fixtures. On his return he congratulated the architect upon the success of his work, the unmistakable authorship of which he had recognized in the design. A prominent architect also repeated the congratulation. Both were surprised to learn that the designer was not the architect of the bank. Subsequently the fixture and terracotta contractors both apologized for erecting the work saying they were compelled, to get the job, to copy some designs previously worked out in model from the designs of the architect for other buildings. The moral of this special rendering of a too common tale is easily read. "It is any old prospective client can get a good recommendation as to his character." Another is "most clients are legally honest." The architect took chances on a moral code that was based on fair dealing. The bankers took a chance in their object of getting something for nothing. The hold-up man takes the same chance and if his gun is big enough he gets away with it. These bankers would call the hold-up man or burglar dishonest. They held it good business to steal the design of an architect who met them on the level of common probity and decency who trusted to the general understanding of the ethics in vogue between gentlemen to protect his interests. And money is sacred. The ideas of the architect are apparently held to be somewhat like the melon patch of boyhood. No harm to steal the melons is the owner isn't watching the patch.