firm active: 1907-1921

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W. J. Landon duplex residence, projects
Purcell and Feick
Winona, Minnesota  1907

Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1907
Text by William Gray Purcell

Job Date (in Parabiographies): October 23, 1907

W. J. Landon Duplex Group, Winona, Minn.


While garages for new houses were to be a great novel for the next two or three years, this daring small town pioneer whose family name was to go to pieces in 1936 - encouraged us in a whole flock of garages for his proposed apartments. Please note the Cadillacs drawn on the plans (measured from my father's two cylinder of that year) with a tremendous wheel base of 100 inches! - all installed in roomy garages nine feet wide by eighteen long!

Why this project was abandoned is not of record. The loss of the commission to build the bank probably cost us the rest of our Winona business prospects.

Study Abroad

Another surprise appeared on our architectural horizon about this time. It had a powerful effect on our planning. We noticed, in the plans of new dwellings in Europe appearing in the architectural journals, that rooms, which could easily have been given our idea of "architectural treatment" - their plan squared up, rooms made symmetrical, jogs eliminated, windows and door put on axis, were apparently allowed to remain in their artless disorder. The designers were plainly able men, and it finally penetrated our architectural school-spoiled minds that these architects did not want to give these rooms the Beaux Arts "treatment." These British, Swedish, Dutch and Swiss rooms were more interesting, livable, human than ours - they had the power of making people happy, at peace, from the "slings and arrows of outrageous" squareness. And so came another emancipation from the bonds of the T-square, escape from graphic art architecture, which enabled us to move onward toward the art of that three or four dimensional space in which sentient people existed - lived and loved.

Planning Laboratory

This plan shows the plan of our thinking pretty clearly. Among other things we were studying doors and furniture. But we had not yet learned that there should be some easing of the space between the nose of any door in action and the passage wall, so that a person in passing through the door could start going on around the swinging door itself before it was entirely open. This instinctive reaction of people to their immediate mechanical environment became more and more interesting to me and when a few of our buildings had been built with these rearrangements of common utilities we realized that here was a potent function calling for expression in an already clattering world where men needed all the physical and mental comfort that could be supplied to them.

For example, this apartment plan recognizes the fact that the floor area at the going-in corner of any room is not usable area in the room, and that doors could be across corners - often improving and actually liberalizing the feeling of size for the room, and making right little halls into free circulation, thus further smoothing the trail of a moving person.

Wardrobe type closets had arrived for us and had been accepted by the more adventurous; the "kitchen cabinet," first of the prefabricated nationally advertised emancipators of women was just beginning to be front page news in those days. The laundry tray in the kitchen was decidedly our idea - simply not done then - and pretty completely condemned by all women, who had not even begun to wash "things" in the bathroom lavatory.

Combining living room and dining room was another novelty condemned by practically every woman. The breakfast nook was far into the future.

One feature shows evidence of much new thinking on bay windows, in an attempt to make the space they enclosed an integral part of the cubic content of the entire room. Bay windows in room planning had been a sort of process for stealing a little more area for a toom without its being as it should be, a livable an integral part of the room.

"Bay window" was patter, like "oak finish" - "plate rail" - "tile floors" (in bath), - if you had them your house was right even if the rooms had neither convenience or quality. We were soon to laugh with one practical, socially-free woman, Mrs. Goetzenberger, who said, "I'm tired of wiping Mr. G.'s rubber heel marks off that while tile floor in the bathroom" - and this really started me on the quest for the ideal floor for each kind of room.

For bay windows we set up two principles and stuck to them: a) that the windows in a bay should all be the same width; b) that the bay should be some part of a regular geometric figure of 6, 8, or 12 sides. Sometimes only two facets of a hexagon or octagon, making a pointed bay with only two windows (see digrams). But most important of all was the concept that the bay should be commensurate in size with the room and its shape, and similarly with the fabric of the plan of a whole.

This apartment plan was good in its day. It shows exact, clean draughting with the mechanical interrelations, neatly adjusted, all recognizing concern for orderly, logical honest architecture.

   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d4.1]
research courtesy mark hammons