firm active: 1907-1921

minneapolis, minnesota :: chicago, illinois
philadelphia, pennsylvania :: portland, oregon

Navigation :: Home :: Commission List :: Parabiographies
Josephine Crane Bradley residence #1
Purcell, Feick and Elmslie
Madison, Wisconsin   1910

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1910

Job Date (in Parabiographies): July 20, 1910

HAROLD C. BRADLEY, Madison, Wisc. (for G.G.E.)

This was a bookkeeping number for George Elmslie in completing a dwelling at Madison, Wisconsin, begun in Mr. Sullivan's office, over which Sullivan and Mr. Charles R. Crane, Mrs. Bradley's father, had a falling out. The dwelling was largely from the hand of Mr. Elmslie. Mr. Sullivan's influence on the project was in the basic conceptions. The plan, while good in many ways, shows Sullivan's lack of knowledge and experience in family living and housekeeping, which was, in truth, nearly zero. This was on factor which caused the Bradleys to sell the house within ten years and commission us to plan another and more compact on, our No. 260 . [Referring to 2nd Bradley house:] This project in some ways went to the other extreme. It was a dwelling in which the machine-for-living idea disturbed the normal opportunities for poetry and romance. However, Bradley children within this new home and Nature growing all around restored the balance and in 1941 the Bradleys are still living there.

Farewell to Louis H. Sullivan Mr. Sullivan did not give much attention to the development of this first Bradley home, just a general looking over from time to time. The over-elaborated wood shell over the steel cantilever beams supporting the sleeping porch balconies are Sullivan, both in conception and in organization. The four great chimney-like piers along the south facade are functional enough. The steel cantilevers enter into these piers so that they act as counterbalance, the whole assembly holding up the projecting sleeping porches. The system is quite stultified by an excess of decorative detail.

These brick shafts appearing so abruptly against the shingle surfaces distract attention from the really important message of the house. They were just too much engineering appearing in a domestic scene which should not have been concerned with the explication of building methods. If the steel beams were to be clad with all that elaboration of wood, the masonry part of the system could logically, and I think more happily, have been retired under the shingle walls of the building.

Practical Work with George Elmslie Begins

Mr. Elmslie came to Minneapolis the summer of 1909, with quantities of curtain samples, color samples and data, concerned with the completion of this house, but this was all his private business under an arrangement with Mr. Crane. I have a vivid picture of a bright summer day on a yellow street car going up the hill opposite Loring Park. Mr. Elmslie pulled from a roll the material he was planning to use for Mrs. Bradley, with all the why's and where's. How engaging were all the ideas, not just aesthetics, but sound reasons for all to be done. I could hardly wait to see "in person" this house which I had seen in the drawings when George was at work on them in the private draughting room at the east end in the auditorium tower overlooking Lake Michigan, the room in which the Wainwright Building first saw the light of day. This was the room where Wright had also worked from 1889 to 1896.

Office Methods

Mr. Elmslie draughted in the Sullivan tradition of always making working drawings on stretched hard surface pale creamy buff drawing paper. There would be a dozen or more of the thing, round-cornered hardwood edged drawing boards, scattered over the tables, set up above them against the wall and at the floor around the walls. It was an excellent draughting procedure, provided an inspiring surface on which to draw, and carried a certain atmosphere of finality and exactness. The system was generally in use in all architectural offices for making finished presentation drawings and water color perspectives, but I never saw it used elsewhere for working drawings. Where the mind that conceived the project also carried the working drawings up to the point of tracing, the method was a perfect one especially where the former were so completely thought out in advance that each aspect of plan, section, elevation, and detail could be finished in sequence without need for too much laborious reshuffling of the great boards.


It was in this form that I saw in turn, in that corner office of the Auditorium Tower, the working drawings for the Owatonna Bank, (winter, 1906) on my return from Europe, the Babson house (1907), the Bradley house (1908-1909). How these things lifted my spirit, and fired my determination to fight for an honest art of truthful building.On all these drawings I never saw any lines but those George put there--and only occasional parts that looked as if L.H.S. had been influencing any of the forms, basic or in detail. Occasionally Mr. Sullivan would come in with a pleasant greeting, seldom a word about the business in hand. When contractors came, George made the decisions without referring the questions to Sullivan. They always asked for George when anyone called on the phone.


With respect to the Bradley house, Mr. Elmslie writes me under date of February, 1939: "The basic idea only was Sullivan's, all the detailed working out of the semi-circular study and all other parts of first floor and second floor my own.  The great ado after leaving Sullivan' office and moving to the completion of this project was to get to her liking all Mrs. Bradley's cabinets throughout. The furnishing and equipment was also a work of endless detail. My sister Louise made some gorgeous and beautiful embroidered draperies from my designs which the fraternity, that later bought the house, demanded as part of the deal, -- as one of the members told me. The plan as a whole is neither good nor bad. My last few days in Sullivan's office were occupied with [Parker] Berry on the cantilevers, Berry putting in the structural outlines, I filling in all the detail. Some of the woodwork is make-believe, the bent line of cantilever meaning nothing.

In F.L.W.'s [Frank Lloyd Wright] review of Morrison's book, he says that the whole house was mine, implying a very inferior order of things - 'a backwash,' he calls it. This was not true, and I told him so. That review made [Charles] Whitaker pretty mad, particularly in relation to Wright's gibes at me."

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.4]
research courtesy mark hammons