Purcell and Elmslie, Architects
Firm active: 1907-1921
Minneapolis, Minnesota :: Chicago, Illinois
Work, 1899-1906 [AR:C1]
The Early work was done while attending college or at the various offices in which Purcell served his apprenticeship. For example, records survive of several prize-winning entries to competitions sponsored by the Chicago Architectural Club or Brickbuilder magazine. Presentation drawings and diagrams show the kinds of drafting required of Purcell when employed by other architects, and related memorabilia document some of his experiences in learning the practice of architecture. Although records are not present in the collection for all work known to have been done by Purcell during this time, the materials in the Early Work files provide a balanced and generally comprehensive impression of these seven years.
Building Files [AR:WGP X1-X18]
The materials representing work done from 1899 to 1906 have been arranged chronologically into project files and numbered to facilitate cross-references. Original or reproduced drawings exist in the Purcell Papers for fourteen Early designs. Two titled projects [WGP X1-X2] and several unnamed exercises [WGP X14-X17] are documented by large watercolor renderings executed in the academic manner of the time. One prophetic exception to the formal style is a pier-and-lintel elevation dated 1900 [WGP X18].
The most distinguished of the Early Work is a design entered in the Andrew D. White Competition of 1902 [WGP X4]. Although the original drawings were lost or discarded by Cornell University, Purcell obtained photographic copies of the plan, elevations, and section in 1952 from a published catalog. A lengthy manuscript titled “History to the Point” recounts how professors and classmates reacted toward Purcell taking first prize in the contest with a non-Classical design. The narrative is complemented by original congratulatory correspondence. Another important work of the same year is the Memorial Stone for W. C. Gray [WGP X5], a design sometimes included in the scholarly assessments of Purcell & Elmslie.
Two documents remain from Purcell’s brief service in the office of Louis Sullivan during 1903. A full-scale pencil on paper diagram for a Lockplate and Knob [WGP X6] carries the monogram “NST” and is identified from other manuscripts in the archives as being for the National Savings and Trust Building. The first collaboration by Purcell with George Grant Elmslie is shown in the Design for a Public Library [WGP X7]. The initial sketch for a “Village Library,” made as Elmslie and Purcell read the Brickbuilder competition program, has a seminal relationship to the final drawings entered into the competition. Purcell later wrote extensive comments about this design, especially the ornamental treatment and intended building materials.
A solo study for “A City Bank,” also known as the “Bank of Reno” [WGP X10], was published in the Chicago Architectural Club Catalog of 1905. This design was completed the same year that Purcell supervised construction of California Hall for John Galen Howard at the University of California campus at Berkeley [WGP X11]. Among other souvenirs that Purcell kept of this employment are a casual photograph of the Howard office staff, a reduced copy of the presentation rendering for the building, and a clipping of his article in Occidental Magazine discussing the functional values of the design.
Two presentation drawings remain from the time Purcell lived in Seattle, Washington. The first of these is the pencil rendering of a fanciful timber-framed residential design for Oliver W. Esmond, most notable as an early exercise of Purcell’s long term interest in the architectural possibilities of a high, steep-pitched roof [WGP X12]. A photographic reproduction of another rendering which was delineated by Purcell in 1906 presents an aerial view of a Seattle amusement park designed by architect A. Warren Gould [WGP X13].