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Edison Shop
Purcell and Elmslie
Kansas City, Missouri    1914

Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1910
Text by William Gray Purcell
for 1914

Job Date (in Parabiography): January 26, 1914

EDISON SHOP, Kansas City, Missouri

A chain of phonograph shops in various cities was operated by Henry Babson and his brothers, and thus George secured the commissions for these buildings. Each building was designed in a definite attempt to produce sales atmosphere in architecture, interior and exterior, instead of resting content with an architecturalized [sic] "store front." Up to this time, the business problems, of advertising, selling, sales psychology, consumer reaction, concern with "package" dramatization of product, employee deportment, had simply not been touched by the architect. His mind simply could not materialize any such world. Even if, through business or social contacts, he caught a glimpse of the world as creative business technique, he looked down upon it as something unclean and entirely beneath his notice as an aesthetic person. Whatever of "business" got into a project which was under the direction of an architect, must come in through the battle which the owner of the business put up against the idea of Architecture which was the life of an architect. The result was that every business building was a compromise which depended upon the relative prestige of the owner and the artist-architect.

The Edison Shop on Wabash Avenue, at Chicago, our building No. 238, is the most significant of the four which we built. Those in San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Kansas City, were more interesting as interior architecture than in that part which faced the street because little opportunity was afforded in the latter to do very much other than pattern, color, and display, mostly in one dimension. We were also limited by the fear of the conventionally minded business man who were to operate these stores, for no such imaginative reorganization of signs, show windows, re-entrant entrances, and so on, as are commonplace today, would have been considered by them for a moment. For all these stores we organized the interior arrangements along lines of scientific customer control and circulation, and with dynamic architectural forms and a complete equipment of ultra-modern furniture, electric fixtures, rugs, interior decorations, curtains, and color schemes.

In this connection we recall our tremendous disappointment at losing the opportunity to build the Edison Shop on Fifth Avenue, New York, directly opposite the New York Public Library. We prepared designs for this building, but Mr. Henry Babson's brother, Fred, who was not interested in our special architectural forms, was executive in charge during Henry's absence in Europe. We tried to delay decision on this building until Mr. Henry Babson could reach home. On the other hand, Mr. Fred Babson was determined to make the decision himself. Two days before his brother Henry landed in New York, Fred gave the commission to a New York firm of architects who produced a conventional Italian Renaissance facade in grey terra cotta, a building which did not differentiate itself from dozens of others up and down the street.

Had we secured this commission, it would have been, with the exception of Sullivan's Condict Building, the first piece of modern architecture in New York City, and in its conspicuous location would have put us on the map and undoubtedly created a mild riot in the profession.

Sullivan's Condict Building (originally Bayard Building) was on an obscure side street, and while a brilliant and arresting piece of work, after the first pictures and discussion of it in the architectural press, it was wholly forgotten, purposely forgotten by the profession, who resented and feared the challenge of ideas.

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.8]
research courtesy mark hammons