firm active: 1907-1921
minneapolis, minnesota :: chicago, illinois
William Gray Purcell - Part VII. (October 1, 1957)
ROY HOTCHKISS - Architect.
1868 - 1933 (about). A biographical note of end-of-the century history, concerning "tradition" and illustrating the use of pictures of architecture old and new.
Also footnotes on Page 5.
THE SUMMER of 1902, I worked six weeks for E. E. Roberts, in Oak Park. He had a large practice throughout Northern Illinois. Old friend of my father. Roy Hotchkiss was Roberts' chief designer and a very capable all- round man of the building arts. High School was all he had of formal education. He was a natural planner and self taught engineer. From the wide variety of building types, rounded up by the full-time sales- manship of Eben E. Roberts, Hotchkiss had furnished his store of ex- perience with enough personal architecture to design anything. There was no huckstering egotism about his designing, no show-off, <page 2> but there was plenty of self confidence. He knew he could do it, and he just loved his own buildings when finished. In producing his forms and detail "from-his-head," they just flowed out of and around his projects as common talk circulates between competent men, in club or shop, or as Grandma Moses paints pictures. He admired Wright and tried to learn all he could from him. Wright ridiculed Hotchkiss. But I envied Hotchkiss his easy and contented facility. He certainly was no copier. That summer of 1902, a two-story, eight-room grade school out at Wheaton had come into the office. As I returned from lunch one day, there was Roy with his school-house "plates" from the three or four Arch- tectural magazines spread out all over his table. After some minutes of plainly preoccupied and rather glum silence, he looked around held- lessly at the curly-headed Guy Henderson, our bee-expert draftsman. "What's the use of all this nonsense?" said Roy. (At that time "what the hell" had not entered into the American vocabulary.) He put the whole mess into the lap of our red-haired typist, Lola Roberts - "Take it away; no good to anybody." By five o'clock he had the whole project laid out at quarter scale all ready for Guy and me to get busy with out purple, green, blue, yellow and red aniline hectograph tracing inks, then in great favor. Next morning Roy "did the outsides." The design was all Hotchkiss, pre-"World's Fair" pale cream-tan Roman-shape brick; a sort of slick Romanesque with Richardson-Sullivan suggestions. Here, nine years after the Chicago Fair, its white classic had not affected Roy. His schools were pretty much like Post's New York Produce Exchange of 1883, which was the same sort of engineer-romanesque in streamline. Roy liked to design schools that looked like the first Oak Park High of 1895 (?) at Lake and East Avenue. The only other architect in Oak Park at the time was Van Keuren, <page 3> who had worked some years in Sullivan's office. George Elmslie re- called him. Apparently he had learned nothing from Sullivan and had a tough time competing with E. E. Roberts' salesmanship. I am unable to identify a single building as his. Oak Park, and all of Northern Illinois for that matter, is filled with Hotchkiss buildings and with contractors' copies of his work. I should estimate three hundred buildings in Oak Park from his mind, 1895 to 1930. There must be a hundred of his big, long span front porches added to old Oak Park houses. I drafted two or three in the short time I was there. I could identify him easily today from the character - "signature" - of his design habits. He was a better man than he ever received credit for. His last big job for Roberts was built around 1920 on the west side of Dearborn in Chicago, between Madison Street and Monroe, as I recall it; a fifteen story office building with many large windows. Several or more of the lower stories were all glass, except for plain slabs of polished red gran- ite as facing for structural members. Actually the design has con- siderable feeling of the Wainwright in St. Louis of Sullivan. I went to Robert's Chicago office shortly after completion of this building; just a friendly call on both. Roberts was out, as he always had been. Hotchkiss had quit Roberts. I later called on Roy at his office in Oak Park (1928); he had a nice layout at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue, southwest corner, in one of his own very good buildings. He was in bad shape from drinking - was doing the new and first Catholic Church in Oak Park at South Oak Park Avenue and Pleasant Street, southwest corner. His personal business was pros- pering, but he seemed embarrassed to see me. Somehow he had become a defeated man. I think he missed Roberts. His younger brother, Cornelius, had been my constant companion in second and third grades in the old South Grammar School at Clinton and Washington Boulevard. <page 4> In 1889 Cornelius' father was dying of tuberculosis in a small dark room with rusty green and tan wall paper, feverishly working at a machine to record telegraph signals on a running tape. The shining brass gears slicking down the dots was a new wonder. Just the right thing. I went home and built a couple of telegraph instruments out of show-thread spools and some iron nails. Connie and I mad two batteries in Mason jars with sal-ammoniac. We learned Morse code. Later he showed me how to make a secret solution, which we kept in a bottle wrapped in dark paper. With this brushed on paper you could make imprints of ferns and flowers pressed against glass and exposed to the sun. You washed out something greenish yellow and the print would not fade. All very wonderful. The next year, I got my $1.75 "outfit complete" with camera and tripod, all for making two dozen pictures, this from "The Youth's Companion." My days in photography had begun. Next summer my father was letting me, at eleven, use his new 5 x 7 camera all by myself, and develop and print as I wished. Still, I liked to use that little "Harvard" one-shot 2-1/2 x 4. Christmas 1891 Father got me a 4 x 5 Adlake "detective" camera with three plate holders (six shots a trip). Six years before Grandfather brought me home from his newspaper office two of the first batch of Eastman Kodaks given out in April 1888 to secure newspaper publicity. See the picture of this camera in the files. It sold for $25.00 loaded with one roll of film for 100 2-1/4 round pictures for which "you press the button; we do the rest," the first national advertising slogan. The processing cost $10.00, which was low considering the slow individual sun printing process - five to ten minutes per print on sunny days - and so on with some two dozen assorted cameras. <page 5> FOOTNOTE: The date of this section is subsequent to the completion of the Thesis in August, 1957. This is due to my desire to assemble some notes on information given David Gebhard in personal conversation. In particular, in the hopes that some further study may be given Roy Hotchkiss. Very little of his work ever found publication, and prior to about 1910 such publicity would be credited to E. E. Roberts, who to my knowledge never drew or designed anything. This is no discredit to Roberts; he was a business man only, and proud of it. A brief biography of Hotchkiss was printed in Oak Leaves, weekly Oak Park paper, at the time of his death. See also Oak Park Historical Society.