firm active: 1907-1921

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Store for Clayton F. Summy Company
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Chicago, Illinois 1912

Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1910
Text by William Gray Purcell
for 1912

Job Date (in Parabiographies): December 2, 1911 [1912]


This company had been in a long and narrow old-fashioned store in Wabash Avenue since 1883, and were moving into a square space immediately back of the elevator lobby in Steinway Hall. The sale of music and the accomodation of musicians is a special and complicated business. We set about to solve first the practical problem of filing thousands of pieces of sheet music where each title would be instantly available, and kept clean from Chicago soot. The next step was to give the design of the room a quality which would dramatize the business to the public in an advertising sense. Sound-proof piano rooms for practice, consultation rooms, a room for musical gadgets, specialties and instruments, illumined display cases for the new numbers, were all part of the project.

[The original draft differs: "This operation for remodelling the space and providing fixtures for the new store into which the Summy Company was moving on Van Buren Street. It was a complicated and difficult job with all sorts of very rigid government conditions in the way of pipes, conduits, and structural features. The result was highly [GGE: "most"] satisfactory, and the Summy Company continued there for ten years until they moved to another location next to the Auditorium on Wabash Avenue in 1921, which see Job #___. We had an opportunity to do a lot of interesting furniture, counters, filing cabinets, and to create a neat little music specialty shop in front with a carefully developed atmosphere."]

Order and unity between all of these factors was especially difficult as the entire building had settled badly and the floor varied as much as ten inches in level between the different parts of the room. The plan had to be handled to avoid the sense of walking up and down hill in the places most used by the customers, which would have produced a feeling of uncertainty in tempermental minds. We placed counters and furniture to discount highs and lows - the resulting floor seemed level.

We also made use of what we had learned in various buildings about the use of light, for convenience, for decoration, and for advertising attention.

With the exception of Brown's Book Store, by Frank Lloyd Wright, on the eighth floor of the Studebaker Building, a superb work from every point of view, ours was the first store or shop in Chicago which attempted in the contemporary sense to integrate business and selling with architecture. The result was highly satisfactory, and ten years later we designed a similar store for the same company when they moved to a new location on South Wabash Avenue, where they remained for another decade.


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

research courtesy mark hammons