Purcell and Elmslie, Architects
Firm active: 1907-1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota :: Chicago,
Job Date (in Parabiography): 1913
E. S. Hoyt residence, Red Wing, Minnesota
[Note: This is from an early draft of the Parabiographies. These excerpts do not appear in the "formal" tss. generated in the 1950s. Some hand written corrections by Purcell have been entered without further note.]
Twelve years after this home was built, In January, 1925, I left Los Angeles where the family had moved for the winter, and returned to the Minneapolis office, where Mr. Strauel and I spent several months on the working drawings for the Third Christian Science Church, of Portland, Oregon. Into my office one day came Mrs. E. S. Hoyt. "I was just in the building and had to come in and tell you what joy our home has given us these dozen years we've lived in it." (Annotation of draft by WGP: "In 1949, a letter from Mrs. Hoyt still very happy with her house, after thirty six years.
I had always assumed that this Hoyt house, very different from all our others, was essentially Mr. Elmslie's basic concept and design development. It seemed to carry so much of his established feeling and design patterns, but when destroying our surplus correspondence files in 1923, there came to light the letter reported the call of Mr. and Mrs. Hoyt at our Minneapolis office and their commission to produce a dwelling for them. In transmitting all the data he would require, I had made a set of free hand sketches, plans, and elevations, in which the building is fully shown as it was finally built and with a surprising amount of specific detail. Now, my ordinary mental processes in design produce [WGP corrects himself: "move through"] such a mass of trial and error sheets that, rereading this old letter, I was a bit nonplussed to know how I came to put down, with single intent, so completely articulated a solution. But there it is, and it shows how unified had become the mutual thinking and architectural approach between Mr. Elmslie and myself, and how definite a personal approach to architecture and methods we had built up.
During the next two of three years, our Minneapolis office accepted without any considerable question what whatever in working drawings, when I had found a sound solution for this Hoyt house [originally: for a given problem"], he accepted what I did in the same spirit. It was a matter of securing the best result possible for our clients without any egotism of authorship. During this time I was continually studying the fundamentals of building as an art, and did a large amount of special analysis on every work that passed through the office.. But 1912 to 1918 were our busiest years [WGP edits out: "with sometimes eight people working in two offices"] and it was inevitable that the strongest single influence in the appearance and values in our work should come from Mr. Elmslie's long experience in producing every kind of building.
Mr. Hoyt was a wealthy sewer tile manufacturer, a man of genial and kindly disposition to whom we were recommended by Mr. Bullen. He laid down sufficient funds to build and finish this house very beautifully, and it seems a successful dwelling in every way. The grounds were ample. The building sits high but well back from the street. The design of the building would be considered ultra-modern today in any community, but in 1913 it was very much novel for Red Wing. The Hoyts rather enjoyed the new excitement of being pioneers in art, and were delighted with the practical arrangement and convenience of their home. One very amusing incident occurred the summer after its completion.
Mrs. Hoyt was just dropping off to sleep on the south sleeping porch when near the sidewalk she heard little feet pattering along the top of the stone retaining wall. A voice in the dark said, "Johnny, come down off that wall!" The little feet continued to patter. A sharper order, - "Johnny, did you hear me?" The little feet never hesitated - patter, patter, patter long the stone wall. The voice barked a command in finality "Johnny, if you don't come down off that wall, somebody will come out of that Chinese house and eat you alive!"
Mr. Elmslie designed a glass mosaic for the panel over the fireplace, and Mr. Sharretts, of the Mosaic Art Shops, executed it. We used low tone opal glass and porcelain with antique dull gold leaf fired on. There were also some iridescent accents in very low key. Sharretts was a master at making these special glasses and finding others. The whole color scheme was very carefully related to the Oriental brick which we had bought from Brazil, Indiana, for both exterior and interior. The selection similar to that used in the Owatonna bank, and the result was beautiful.
[WGP annotates the draft: "Glass mosaics were a natural development from leaded glass."
There is always some question about using a wire cut brick as rough as this in a room unless it is to be finished and furnished in a very rough and ready style for use with sport clothes. There seems to be a conflict between such exceedingly sharp surfaced material and furniture in fine woods, ladies in delicate costumes, fine hangings and soft rugs, even though the color and pattern adjustment is sensitively handled. Where we used brick for interior walls, we were better pleased with the result when, without in any sense denying their nature, the brick produced a surface in which the area and color of the enclosing surface was emphasized, rather than either the individual bricks or the sense of masonry construction.
[WGP annotates the draft: "Feel asks for the same consideration as sight."]
In this Hoyt house we first took seriously in hand the matter of moving the super heated air out of the attic space in order to keep the upper bedrooms cool. My previous provisions for insulation, ventilation, movement of warm air in heating plants had been sincere but casual because I did not appreciate the difficulties. The failure of the special arrangements in buildings everywhere made us realize that some scientific engineering study had to be put to this problem.
[WGP annotates the draft: "In 1952 this need is still not really solved."]
In the first own home built before I was married and living with my Grandmother Catherine Gray [JN 5, although WGP uses the number 4-1/2] we learned for the first time how slowly air moved through the small ventilating openings. In this Hoyt house, these openings were very materially enlarged and a large Star ventilator placed on the roof at the rear, but still the movement of air was too sluggish. It was years before this problem was really solved. But then it took a national economic calamity to focus general attention on air conditioning and insulation. It was to be 1934 before the electric fan manufacturers saw the business opportunity in fans to remove superheated air from under roof spaces. This sales idea quickly spread and in 1936 such ventilators appeared in even the mail order catalogs.