Purcell and Elmslie, Architects
Firm active: 1907-1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota :: Chicago,
Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1913
Job Date (in Parabiography): April 28, 1913
Benjamin Paust, Alterations
Passing routine operation.
[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.]
[The following text is not about this specific job, but relates office history.]
At this point Frederick A. Strauel enters the office, and twenty-five years later we are still working together, G. G. E., Strauel, and me, bound by the ties we have all experienced together. He writes me:
"I do not recall how I made contact with your office. I was employed by the Tri State Telephone Company at the time, and had been since 1907, in their engineering department. The spring of 1913 I was out on a survey job, running levels for an underground crew laying telephone conduit along Lake Street near the river. Had no idea at the time of making any change although not quite satisfied with things in general, having been promised a raise which was not coming through. When I handed in my resignation, after accepting your offer of $17.50 per week, the superintendent, Mr. Berry, called me in and offered me more than that. But I told him I had made my promise and was keeping it - that they had had ample time to fulfill theirs."
When Strauel came, Fournier had been with us for a year, Lawrence Clapp for three, and Marion Alice Parker for four years. Strauel got his first baptism of Form and Function on the Thomas Snelling [JN 194] dwelling, a good basic idea because it was unrelated to the life of a malt salesman's family, and because preoccupation with construction and design details stood in the way of the thoroughgoing reorganization which the project should have had between sketches and working drawings. Although contact with the contractors and construction in far off Waukegan, Illinois, was so remote that we could not successfully control details requiring daily attention, both owner and builder were remarkably faithful in staying with the drawings and we are obliged to shoulder responsibility for any ineptness in the building as it stands in 1940.
Strauel is the most capable assistant I have ever known, in our office or any other office. He is unbelievably rapid, yet amazingly accurate. In twenty-five years I never knew him to make a mistake that cost anyone 5 cents - indeed, neither Elmslie nor I recall ever finding a mistake of any kind on his drawings - certainly a marvelous performance, considering the variety and complexity of the buildings he has carried through. Between 1920 and 1930, Strauel made drawings for George Elmslie and me for two score buildings representing a construction cost of several million dollars - banks, churches, dwellings, power plants, and not an error any place [In an annotation on a prior draft, Elmslie disagrees and reports: "Made several mistakes luckily caught in the nick of time. Average pay $85 week..."[Note: This is an incorrect salary figure].
Even more important is his sound, to the point judgment. Yet his practical good sense is but part of a highly imaginative mind, taking account of both direction and objective in organizing the machinery of accomplishment. Many a time both Elmslie and myself have outlined a process, after discussion, and had it cheerfully accepted, only to find the next morning a quite different solution all worked out and ready for review. And it was invariably the more reasonable fitting solution.
Our understanding of each other had become so complete that both Mr. Elmslie, in Chicago, and I, in Portland, Oregon, could work out dozens of projects with the Minneapolis office, for ten years, with a minimum of letter writing.
I recall the Moon house, # ____.
On a Thursday I received final approval - and expressed them with full notes to Minneapolis that evening. Strauel started on the working drawings Monday and mailed me the blue prints complete on everything Saturday night. Tuesday night I met the Moons and unrolled the full set of seven or eight sheets on the table.
"But I thought you said all your drafting was done in Minneapolis."
"It is - these were."
As Mr. Moon was an electrical engineer it was pretty hard to convince him that the drawings had traveled 4,000 miles, and that so large an amount of technical work had been accomplished in what amounted, to him, scarcely more than a week of elapsed time.]
From this May, 1913, forth, you will see in increasing measure, the force and quality of Strauel's mind as an ever increasing factor in the success of every building for Purcell and Elmslie, and in the individual work of both G.G.E and W.G.P in separate practice after 1921.
And what good times we all have had over the drawing boards - just the very best and happiest days of my life - and now George Elmslie, John Jager, Fred Strauel and I share the friendship of this long work and some play together.