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Maurice I. Wolf residence
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Minneapolis, Minnesota   1912

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

Job Date (in Parabiographies): [1912]

WOLF, Minneapolis

Mr. and Mrs. Wolf were that fine type of Jewish idealists with progressive and liberal minds, which brought them naturally to us and our work. I do not think we served them as well as we might, because the job tended to get into a jam for the same reason that Snelling, #194 , did at a later date. Starting from the open plan base and its numerous variants, but based on a square plan, the house was given a very dynamic expression in its forms, and it seems to me now that Mr. Elmslie took insufficient account of the site high above the street. George's design called for rich detail and perfect adjustment decisions in construction, especially with respect to location on the ground. If twice as much money could have been spent upon it, I think it might have been quite interesting, especially if some broad terrace walls and steps could have been inserted to hold down the unduly heavy cornice line and broad, vigorous design elements of the facade.

Unfortunately, in order to get the house built for the money that Mr. Wolf wanted to spend, the opposite course was pursued. Not only were the details cheaply and incidentally carried out, but we had no control over the construction. The house was delayed four or five years after completion of the working drawings. Mr. Wolf then constructed it under agreements which he himself made, and with his own supervision. The result is a pretty disappointing building, within and without. The massive basic form of the interior is unrelieved by any finesse in detail finish or color that would have streamlined the construction into related surfaces instead of emphasizing massive forms. Even where today the interesting ultra modern furniture and decorations easily available would have helped wonderfully to give the room style, the conventional style-form furniture of the day when the house was built made things even more awkward and unpleasant.

Here is a job where we should certainly have given the architectural expression of our plan just as gentle and as conventional a working-out as decent regard for honest forms and assembly would have permitted. I believe that, as in Backus for example, or Heitman #2 as built, and the many operations I subsequently carried out in Portland, I could have saved this house and made a very acceptable and economical project from it. The trouble was that there was no shock absorber, no gentle consideration for the human qualities of living in the house to bridge the transition from philosophic lines and form ideals on the designing paper while those same elements were getting translated into building construction, and on through into the atmosphere that people were actually going to live.

An excellent example, proving that Architecture is basically building production and that not even the best of "designs" avails much if the creative pressure does not continue on beyond making the working drawings: People would come to us asking to buy or have made just the "blue prints; "My uncle is a carpenter"; "We can get it built very easily by a good contractor we know".

Well, we never sold any drawings [*] and I told them: "You go and buy any drawings that suit you, bring them in here, I'll see the project built and get you a result. But if I sell you the best drawings we can produce and you go it alone, you will destroy whatever of value the drawings hold - you will have plenty of troubles and end up with an unsatisfactory building."

House standing in 1952 and last I heard occupied by original owner.

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