firm active: 1907-1921

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Landscaping for Carl K. Bennett
Purcell and Elmslie
Owatonna, Minnesota  1912

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1913

Job Date (in Parabiography): September 26, 1913

Carl K. Bennett Landscape, etc.

Mr. Bennett, president of the National Farmers' Bank, had retained Louis Sullivan to design a dwelling for him. This he did, and working drawings were made by Parker N. Berry. This is certainly one of the most remarkable buildings that Mr. Sullivan ever conceived. there is no question but that is is a concept of great originality and imaginative content. As a piece of organized architectural philosophy, it is a really tremendous work, and in boldness of expression and novel use of materials, it will repay extended study.

But it called for an expenditure nearly three times the maximum that Bennett felt he could put in a home for himself. More important, it seemed to be wholly lacking in any feeling for the Bennetts as a living family, for their relation to the community, or the relation of the building to its site in a simple farmers' village. It was much more in the nature of a club house that would be suitable on a city lot where one could only look abroad upon adjoining buildings. Mr. Sullivan simply had not concept whatever of American family life. The living room floor was the second floor, cut off both in spirit and fact, from the garden. The great window areas were decorative fields of light that seemed to interpose themselves like beautiful screens between the dwellers and the world. The rooms were formal in character, a plan calling for many trained servants and a formal social life. So [--] Sullivan then made a second set of plans much reduced in cost but still no closer to a domestic solution. Mr. Bennett laid all these drawings aside, and the following year asked us to try our hand at a house (see working drawings completed in 1919) for the site, which we did. Pending the construction of this house, we made plans for the landscape work on the very extensive grounds and these were carried out in detail with a complete system of planting.

A considerable part of this L-shaped property lay behind the houses which faced along the street adjoining the approach, and our landscape problem was to build the plantings so as to blot out unpleasant back yards, barns, and ill-considered back elevations. When Mr. Bennett's bank failed in 1930, he moved away from Owatonna. He gave this property to the [?] College, the campus of which adjoined it on the west. Mr. Strauel went to see the area in 1936 and reported that the plantings had developed beautifully. The foliage masses accomplished the objectives we had in view. We built a small lake as part of the project, a place for swimming and skating, and this turned out very happily. Harry Franklin Baker collaborated with us in finding the species which would produce the desired foliage masses, colors, and textures.


   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.7]
research courtesy mark hammons