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Lawrence A. Fournier Joins Our Team

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1912

Laurence A. Fournier was in many ways a queer character, his wife even more so - a professional female intellectual, but very pleasant and a capable artist. He was very loveable and sincere, an efficient drafter but different in type to Strauel, not so flowing in his work - staccato. He not only was staccato in his drafting, but in thought, speech, and action. He made no mistakes and his judgment in construction and design was wise and sound. He was a sort of encyclopedia, in all fields of knowledge, entirely at home in an office where the exploration of uncharted fields of thought and action was going on. He was thoroughly in accord with all that we did and furthered it in every way he could. (See NORTHWEST ARCHITECT for biography).

We moved him to Chicago in April, 1917, when the major part of our work was being done in that territory, or in the east where most of our best prospects were then developing.

In 1922-23 a tremendous battle developed between Mr. Elmslie and Mr. Fournier, the details of which, in spite of talks with both sides, I never got clear and all of which seemed to me either trivial or irrelevant to any reasonable architectural or business continuities. From it all George Elmslie developed an unending hatred which did great harm to his business and his creative spirit. It upset his normal balance and deprived him of Fournier's essential and long trained technical competence in day by day document production, at the very time when George needed him most. Strauel at "P and E" headquarters in Minneapolis did wonders for the next ten years, but working five hundred miles away with only letter and marginalia contact, was just not enough. Vital decisions could not be integrated. They had to be accepted as put down. The beautiful Purcell and Elmslie teamwork came to a stop and George, who had watched the others make working drawings for ten years, just couldn't go back into that harness. The men he could get were not "P and E." Only one, Clapp, returned to him but he really didn't have, deep down, the crusading spirit, ran off to make fortune in the Florida boom, a decision he came to greatly regret. I think of Joyce Cary's novel "The Horse's Mouth" [Footnote on draft: Harper and Brothers, 1944, a most entertaining work, sort of very modern kind of Dickens or Trollop.]": "You take a straight tip from the stable, Cokey, if you must hate, hate the government, or the people, or the sea, or men, but don't hate an individual person; (even one) who's done you a real injury. Next thing he'll be getting into your beer like prussic acid...blotting out your eyes..."

Laurence Fournier greatly admired and really loved George, looked upon him as a sort of architectural hero. In later years when Fournier was doing well in his personal affairs he made several really Christian efforts to heal this feud (he told me here in Pasadena that he intended to do this "for George") but both his calls were rebuffed and George's Scotch righteousness seemed, if anything, to become more theological. Fournier and I continued our friendship in duo.

For several years before he died in a fire, he came by, to see me here in Pasadena, on his annual visit to his mother in Vancouver, B.C. Our talks reinforced the deep affection and admiration I had for the man.

Laurence A. Fournier had entered our office in March, 1912, and a quarter century later writes me so characteristic a letter. Be patient with his strange prosetry. Here are Gertrude Stein's explorations serving a necessity - joy in the patterns of words, in the quaint things would could do, carrying their meanings in gay bowls waving in air without slopping over:

"1225 East 54th St., Chicago, September 23, 1938.

Dear Sir! or Friend! ---

As the case may well be!

Anyhow, I am vexed right in the very beginning, 'fair affrontet', if that is the word.

You, my dear WGP, wrote such words as these, -- the very identical statement was --

'How did you happen to contact us in the first place?' Such were the exact words from you to me.

How do you mean in the first Place? Rather, as I think of places, there seemed to be no other place than your office; at any rate, I had not discovered such.

Well, one fine cool day, I, with absolutely nothing to do, found myself leaning solidly against the corrugated column of the Farmer's and Mechanic's Bank, down on fourth street.

There was little of anything on my mind. Perhaps the main problem was in vaguely speculating just how long my little pile would last, and the like. While the day was calm as well as cool, I recall the grayness of the atmosphere surrounding me. That, too, seemed to be in a sort of harmony with my characterless thinking.

How long I stood there I do not know. Had no place to go.

And even if I thought of going to other parts, the direction was no present in my mind. So I simply stood, and stood and stood. Meanwhile gazing vacantly into the dull street.

Then along came a lad from your office -- can't recall his name just now. He came not to see me; that was an accident. He said, 'I am from "P.F.E." and I am to fill my place before I go. And I could think of no one outside of you (meaning me, of course).'

Most distressing not to remember his name. (His name was Paul Haugen) But the upshot of it was that he advised me to call and discuss the matter with you. This I did that very day. I do recall, distinctly, how somewhat self-conscious I was, a mere carpenter drafter! -- a backwoods fellow, to boot! -- who had been also 'booted' by hard conditions from pillar to post, or to fluted stone column to be exact. We did not arrive at any definite arrangement that day, except that a price was set, and I would think it over! Then I went to labor over a board in the drafting room of the Minneapolis Ornamental Iron Works. Of all places!

Sickening of that, I finally called you and said, in other words, 'Sir! I am coming to your office, if the place is still open!'

So on the 29th of March, 1912, I carried my T-square and etc., to your place. And continuing with prosaic? details -- the very first job was making the large scale and full size details of, or is it for, the Winona Bank.

Then when the gods decided, you acting as the director of the proceedings, I was transferred lock stock and barrel to the then 'awful' city of Chicago. That was first, in April, 1917, and later with all my effects, in September of the same year.

But, notwithstanding at the foregoing balderdash, I put in eight delightful and very educational years in your office, and I would feel quite lacking in appreciation if I fail to say so right now before I find myself at the bottom of the page.

I may be out there in your country at Christmas. Have been invited to be at my sister's place for the feast. And if I go, I shall plan to go into the mountains and spend an hour with you. Wonder if there would be any objection on your part if I brought my sweet niece with me. She is a quiet loveable dear going to U now. (She was indeed)

My thought is to travel during the holidays when things close down to some extent and make the rounds again, moving north to Vancouver to see my mother.

Well, best wishes, to both you and Mrs. P., especially the latter! Yours somewhat triumphantly, because of two pages, of words! mainly - I am so sorry. L.A.F."

= ...Continuing selections from this eight page letter of February 14, 1940, Fournier says in part:

"(In 1919) I was working on a scheme with G.G.E. and 'Henry Babson', the latter bothering the wits out of Mr. George [the "salon" of the Babson house ]. I had developed the plans to a point where they were ready for tracing, and when I was sent to New Hampshire. You will recall that I met you in Philadelphia and there the scheme, already started, for the Alexander camp at Squam Lake was further set down. That was in March, 1919.To add to this, I left there in the middle of July. Fred came down to Chicago to carry on the work connected with the Riverside Club.

"I, personally would hardly wish to be too highly praised because I have known draftsmen who could work circles around either Strauel or myself. One Ashelman, for example, a friend of Paul Haugen's. I worked under Ashelman, while in Kees and Colburn's office, in 1908 and 1909. And not even today with all the experience of over thirty years between, would I dare say I might compete with that clever man. After all, a drafter in an office is only a drafter, however important a cog he may be, and however friendly the atmosphere.

"Before this time I had heard of your firm in a round-about way. Recall seeing certain photos and drawings on exhibition in the art school exhibit, in the Library Building. Once indeed, I called at your office, looking for a position. Spoke to Feick. He was sitting at the stenog.'s desk near the door, reading a book. All seemed very quiet in the office. I spoke to him. He looked at me sharply, and replied that there was nothing going on in that office. And just why should another man be hired, or words to that effect. I thought he was unnecessarily gruff.

"Still later, when after leaving Kees and Colburn, I was located with Whitney, Haugen visited that office, and spoke in high terms of the work you were doing, saying 'Those men know how to do things.'

"I had been in your office a little over a year when Strauel came. A young lad then. And not so much acquainted with building and architecture. And it pleased me of course to have him depend upon my knowledge and experience to such an extent, that I sincerely hoped I deserved it! The difference between Strauel and myself was one of years as well as knowledge and experience. For, when I came to your office, I had then a long period of fifteen years of building experience, and Fred very soon recognized that I had such intimate acquaintance with construction work. So I feel as if I had something to do with his development. For the man is clever. And yet does not boast of it. A few months ago he showed me his work in Minneapolis, making the city maps, and his spirit was modest and straightforward, believing that I would be interested in looking over what he had done. Often in the intervening years have I felt that I spent far too much time in the building field. And then suddenly there would come to me an experience which required an intimate knowledge of construction. Comes in handy to be a better carpenter than the men we have in the field! Of course I don't rub it in!

"And then both Fred and myself owe much to P and E and I would feel lacking in a sense of appreciation were I to overlook that fact. The freedom from cant in your office, the endeavor to face facts, and seek solutions there from, and the like - all that greatly assisted in developing our thinking in the field of organic architecture. I am almost unconsciously influenced by what I learned when with you! At the same time, while I may not be so strong for the philosophy of what was then the 'new architecture', (ie., as "modern") I am certainly strong for the fundamentals of construction, a straightforward manner of doing things, on a plan as well as in a building.

"Just for fun I give a partial list of the plans I worked on, some where I had complete charge, others, only assisted!

Winona Bank - interior details Alexander Work Wood's Hole Bungalow Philadelphia Office & Gardener's Cottage - minor Factory details Chicago Factory WGP's Minneapolis House New Haven Factory Madison State Bank Babson Service Bldgs. Bennett Landscape Chinese Institutional Decker House - two plans Building Parsonage - Eau Claire Beebe House, St. Paul Parish House - Eau Claire Flossmore House Australian Parl. Bldgs. Apartment on Dorchester - Edison Shop - San Fransisco Chicago Edison Shop - Chicago Sioux City Court House Edison Shop - Minneapolis Riverside Country Club Le Roy Bank Kasson Municipal Bldg. Bradley House - Madison Bennett House Goodnow House Heitman House, Helena Bismarck Bank Parker House

"And surely others as well. Many having escaped my memory (see initials on plans)"

research courtesy mark hammons

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.6]