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Edison Shop, alterations
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Chicago, Illinois   1912

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

Job Date (in Parabiography): [1914]


Alterations. Mr. Babson had Mr. Sullivan also make some studies for this project, but they were feeble and gave clear evidence of how dependent Mr. Sullivan had become upon Mr. Elmslie through all the years. At this time, Berry had not found himself in the matter of design, and Mr. Sullivan was not resting upon him for the initiation of design projects. It is interesting to recall that the curious little heraldic lions with shields in their paws appeared on this Edison Shop facade. Babsons were tremendously taken up with Mr. Elmslie's solution, which called for a recessed front, the show window being placed some ten feet back of the building line with small, beautifully wrought show cases on either side out on the sidewalk line.  This was the very first of the attempts to coax a person away from the sidewalk, the sales psychology being that if you could get a person all on his own initiative to take a step toward entering the building, that he could then be persuaded by proper displays to keep on coming, and finally enter the store.

The Woolworth Company were the first to employ this display method on a large scale, and every possible variation of such extended window exhibits was tried by the commercial store front companies. It was well into the depression, 1932 or 33, before architects would touch plan and design arrangements of this kind which, by association with commercial artists, had, in the eyes of the architects, taken on more or less of an unclean character.

At a time when electric light fixtures had practically not advanced at all beyond some modifications of lanterns or torches, it has seemed to me that this superb ceiling fixture for the entrance arcade of this Babson shop represents high tide in Mr. Elmslie's decorative design which he has not surpassed and which is not outclassed by anything of the kind produced today.

The interior architecture of this building was given a great deal of thoughtful attention and produced a very successful result. Excepting Brown's Book Store, by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was the first piece of really specialized shop interior designing in Chicago, if not in the country. All of the furniture was built in Milwaukee from our designs. The rugs, hangings, equipment, electric fixtures, color decorations, were all developed as an integral whole and carried out under Mr. Elmslie's supervision.

In this building we made the first use of flowers and flower box decorations as an integral part of the architectural design of commercial buildings. Although we did not invent the idea, we developed a special type of self-watering flower boxes. Those were arranged to form a continuous line at the window sill of each floor, from side to side of the building and adjusted so that they could be reached and watered and kept in condition all summer from the inside, without resort to ladders.


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