firm active: 1907-1921

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Writings by William Gray Purcell
The Parabiographies manuscripts (circa 1930s-1950s)

Fragmentary draft (undated, but ca. 1930s)

Summary: This fragment of three single-spaced, typewritten sheets was dictated very early in the process of writing the Parabiographies. Purcell recounts in direct and descriptive terms the influences that led to the formation of his architectural partnerships, the dissonant character of George Feick, Jr., and where he originally intended to go to establish his practice. The draft contains one of the very few instances where Purcell discloses the situation that led to the departure of his Cornell classmate and early partner, Feick. Little to none of this content filters to later versions of the Parabiographies.

Editor's note: These pages were heavily marked with deletions by Purcell. These passages have been left in place in this version. Some editing done by Purcell has been included where additional information results. Page breaks in the original are noted. The heading indicates the place this fragment was intended to occupy in the Parabiographies, e.g. as an introduction to the work of the fourth year, 1910, when Elmslie joined the firm.

Begin fragmentary text:
<page 44b>

George Grant Elmslie

From this time forth for twelve years, George Grant Elmslie is bound by name into all this work, as he has been in spirit from its beginning as a business, and into all my architectural thinking since that evening in July, 1903, when I first met him and his sisters at the home of the dear old Scotsman, George Simpson, in Oak Park.

George Simpson was one of the first American "columnists." He wrote "The World," a page in my grandfather's newspaper, The Interior - devoted to international news and politics. This was one of the first of the weekly reviews of world events, originated by Grandfather [W. C. Gray] in the late seventies [1870s], and soon to be common enough in every type of newspaper.

Very subtle influences were washing my mental shores from the direction of George Elmslie since 1898, for even as early as that his pencil was giving beauty and character to the drawings of Frank Lloyd Wright, which had so fascinated me. And with Wright's leaving Sullivan, George's thinking and pencil were more and more in evidence as I grew more familiar with Louis H. Sullivan, his buildings and his thinking.

During the first three years in Minneapolis, I had gone very frequently to Chicago, and as I have already reported, my contact with George on the general principles of Architecture moved further into the making of sketches for us, and then to the production of finished designs before he actually came to Minneapolis to live and rebuild my partnership with George Feick into Purcell, Feick, and Elmslie, Architects, which was to continue under that title until the summer of 1913.

Sullivan had broken with his last big client, Charles R. Crane. There was no work to do in that office, and with our little Purcell and Feick business growing and with draughtsman being added to our staff, to unite myself with George Elmslie in Architecture was inevitable. George Feick, Jr., was a peevish, crotchety, jealous person. He had what we now know as an inferiority complex of the particular variety that seems characteristically German. Even by 1910, George was all too frequently missing on one or

<page 44c>

two cylinders [handwritten by WGP: "failing to get the routine work in his care supervising our construction."] He was not liked by the draughtsmen, who tended to ignore him. His rather silly social deportment cost us the respect of clients, and over his own draughting board, he failed to meet adequately out engineering needs. This was supposed to be his field, and yet we were employing specialists from outside to do his work. He certified a client's payment on a plumbing contract with the contractor bankrupt and his bills unpaid. This cost us $1,000 and the loss of a good client  and friend (Sexton). Misreading maximum rainfall figures provided  by the weather bureau, he undersized the rain conductors for the Electric Carriage and Battery Company's garage. The first summer cloudburst made a tank of the roof.

Thus, over a period of several years, he was slowly cutting the connections that bound him into the business. It now seems surprising that it was three years before the separation was made. A business trip to Germany which he made the summer of 1913 was such a relief to the office, and his work so little missed, that the unsatisfactory nature of our relations came to its normal crisis [WGP note: "called for decision."]. George Feick disliked his martinet of a father, felt consciously grand in being an architect rather than a contractor, and as return to Sandusky was, therefore, a retreat, the final break which had to be dictated to him was received in great bitterness.

I should have never joined forces with George Feick. Subconsciously I knew it at the time. I had refused to consider such a possibility, made by him as we returned from Europe. The Minneapolis move was basically bad judgment for me. I knew no one there. If I were to leave Chicago, as the negative attitude of my father toward architecture as a business seemed to compel me to do, my natural objective was Los Angeles - I had carried that city name on my suitcase as an address all year 1906 in Europe.

But when it came to starting out alone, I couldn't face it by myself. I was too inexperienced in the actual practice of architecture, - three years all told in offices. George Feick had less executive experience than had I, but I gave him undue credit for the time he had served on his father's construction work, all his eight summers since grammar school.

<page 44d>

It seemed necessary to me to make a permanent location - make a home for my grandmother, then living in a boarding house and most unhappy over the loss of her home. I narrowed choices down to Los Angeles or Minneapolis - chose the latter - wired Feick - he came at once, and we arrived - twenty-two degrees below zero.

If I had chosen Los Angeles, I'd have missed the continuity of life contact with George Elmslie, and would have never met John Jager, the two forces which, with Grandfather Gray, made me what I am. And I'd have missed marriage with E.S.P. [Edna Summy Purcell].

Impossible to imagine what sort of man and mind I'd have come to be. A more peaceful - perhaps - but much less exciting life, and I feel certain I'd have never made the mark in Architecture that was accomplished by us as a team.


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