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First National Bank, project
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Mankato, Minnesota   1911

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1911

Job Date (in Parabiographies): [1911]

First National Bank, Mankato, Minnesota

Selling the Idea

We lost this commission under circumstances which made us a bit peevish because we felt that the bank's executive dealt unfairly with us. It was the privilege of this cashier not fully to approve of the studies we made for him, but we were entitled to the opportunity for revising them until he was satisfied, more especially because we had completely sold him on the idea of organic, American architecture for his building. He took our ideas to a commercial architect of no particular standing [Ellerbe] in either business or in the profession who made a transcription of our project and carried out a building which so nearly resembled what we were doing in the Middle West at that time, that to this day people think that it is one of our buildings.


Both the plan of the building and its exterior design make it certain that the drawings which we unwisely left in Mankato "for further study" were gone over in detail by this man. In no other way could an office which was doing hack work on small town commercial routine suddenly appear with a no-cornice building, ornaments in terra cotta, leaded glass lifted from our designs, and a new interior architecture entirely out of step with the banking tradition. From the business bargaining which went on, and direct statements by the cashier, it is certain that this architect also materially underbid us for the job.

Looking back on these drawings, I believe that there was a tendency to over-articulation, and possibly the scheme as a whole, was a little removed from business life--a little self-consciously beautiful--but it is probably that the actual translation of the drawings into the cold facts of building materials would have quieted and and simplified the whole project. The necessity for meeting a rigid cost program would undoubtedly have done so. In an effort to insure ourselves the job, we made three schemes with very different mass organization and varied expression. We made beautiful drawings with water color perspectives for each design.

Mr. Elmslie writes me in 1940, "Just looked over my August, 1911 sketches for Mankato Bank exterior and interior with figures of people by your deft and dainty pencil. This design is the clerestory one of which you made outer and inner perspectives. The secondary one with the arch is nowhere near as fine as No. 1 which delights me to this day. No. 1 was, to me, excellent and of a fresh order of expression. I was feeling free in those days and maybe a bit bold, anyway, I was happy and thus, perhaps, the spirit of joyousness in No. 1."

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.5]
research courtesy mark hammons