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Henry G. Goosman residence
Purcell and Feick
Minneapolis, Minnesota  1909

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1909

Job Date (in Parabiographies entry): September 27, 1909


A Holland-Dutch brick salesman from St. Paul whom I liked induced me to consider a patented terra cotta building block for this house. It was a very ingenious and useful form of construction, but it did not prove as economical as was anticipated because, for one reason, the contractors were afraid of it, and from the architect's point of view, it held the designer very rigidly to a series of units with which it was hard to conform, because we had not yet caught the idea of designing in modules instead of feet and inches. The result was a very costly set of working drawings, and when the bids came in they were far beyond a reasonable cost for the structure. We went to the expense, for our good friend Goosman, of making a complete new set of revised drawings, calling for a frame building with plaster exterior.

As finally built, the interior of this house was a very happy group of rooms, practical and convenient, a plan type of our own that was to reappear in interesting variations.

Pioneering Troubles:

The furniture was so inharmonious and out of step with the fresh clean design of the rooms that we were acutely faced with a new problem in form and function--forms for the life that was to be lived in our new-day houses.

Very few clients could or would lay aside all their furniture and equipment. When Wright has in a few instances designed the furniture for his houses the result, fascinating as were the details, lacked a certain intimate, human, inner adjustment to the people. He refers to the same problem in his autobiography--laughs at his uncomfortable chairs.

The day when one could go to the shops and find acceptable furniture of living form, fabric and color to harmonize with clean, honest design, was still thirty years ahead and we continued to be distressed with house after house as the people moved in with their lifelong accumulations of manufacturers samples.

The exterior of the house as built was as unfortunate a building as could well be imagined, but the original project was a competent piece of designing which the accompanying drawings will disclose. Returning to this work after many years, a few bad spots stare at me, but this Goosman house of terra cotta blocks pleases me because it shows basic elements of plan and design toward which current work is still moving.

I have a real desire to see this house built and have no great wish to make any vital changes in it. The patent building blocks are too chunky. The sash patterns of the windows are just a bit stiff and angular but the basis is sound enough, and the could be sweetened and a little graciousness let in.

Our "Lady Draughtsman":

Marion Alice Parker made the drawings, took a lot of pains to do a perfect job. George Feick stayed with every detail of engineering and equipment. The house has a garage in the basement, one of the very first "built-in garages," for the first real garage owner of Minneapolis.

To this day George Elmslie has never seen these plans and in a large measure they represent a design approach which lay directly on my personal course and which I resumed from time to time when practical matters placed some one of our projects wholly in my hands, as for example Heitman #312, the little Mitchell Bank, #308, and the works produced in Oregon after 1920.

Retrospection from 1940:

In reviewing these pages in 1940 Mr. Elmslie writes to me: "after all is said and done a merely well-planned and well designed building means but little unless it partakes of the psyche of the architect himself. The man standing behind, whether dry as a pine cone or juicy as a peach, with functionalism as an end, or only a beginning of the art of expression. Frank Lloyd Wright dominates by his power the world of today and after him (via Finland) comes Saarinen. There is no mistaking it. Gropius, Van der Rohe, Moholy-Nagy are away behind, their work being hardly distinguishable from that of many others except in their plans which occasionally display a deal of imagination.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Saarinen sometimes overdo themselves in their exhuberance as did Louis H. Sullivan, just because they felt that way, which, as it may appear to some, is too bad; but of course of no real importance. Some of my own penny whistle work suffered in that same way. I think I have cured myself at long last, as in recent school designs, the Healy Chapel and the old Second National Bank, both in Aurora, Illinois. After all, a man's remaining effort is the true man himself seasoned as he is by time, by the winds that blow, and sunshine, like a good apple. Every building should be a very part of the man's spirit and stand alone as his without compromise, clear, clean and inspiriting to look at lingeringly. Time will forgive us our errors and think of us all at our best and sincerest."


    Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.3]
research courtesy mark hammons