Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Home » 2017 » November

Monthly Archives: November 2017

De Bijenkorf (1.1)

Mappa Mundi

Block E-1, Original Townsite, Agincourt, IA / circa 1925

Several areas in Agincourt are “detailed” in maps of this sort. They tended to grow organically and may not actually represent that neighborhood at a single point in time. Cities are like the palimpsest of the Middle Ages: a sheep skin inscribed with message after message, each scraped away to use it for another.

The texture of the city is set in its townsite plan, the pattern of streets and alleys, the grain of lot sizes and orientation. You can see it here: east-west running commercial lots (25 by 140 feet) would be far easier to sell than those running north-south. Why, you ask? Come visit Fargo some time and chart the vacancy rate for commercial space that faces north: I’ll bet they have a far higher turnover rate and command lower rents than those lots facing virtually any other direction. So Broad Streets commercial lots avoid a northerly orientation. In fact, so do most of the residential blocks — though there are exceptions in the T-blocks related to school sites.

The three 25-foot lots at the northeast corner were typical two-story late Victorian store fronts: shops with an upper floor of rental offices for the professions (law, medicine, dentistry, etc.). There is no guarantee of uniformity in floor heights or architectural details. So as the de Bijenkorf foothold at the corner allowed them to acquire adjacent stores as their business grew. By 1920 they occupied about 18,000 square feet on two floors — allowing a rectangular light well at the center for stairs and just a hint of big-city style.

Variations in second floor levels can be accommodated with stairs and ramps — a freight elevator is likely, but not one for passengers, I suspect (though I’ve drawn one here). But then there is the matter of harmonizing the disparate brick façades. That’s why the prosperous 20s are a good bet for this renovation: #1) strong economic conditions and #2) snazzy terracotta units to clad the exterior with Art Deco style. That is also why I was so happy to run into the Delmar–DeBaliviere Building in St Louis and its remarkable adaptation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “textile block” houses in Southern California. Isadore Shank was a figure unfamiliar to me but I think he’s given me “an out.”

Delmar—De Baliviere Bldg., St Louis, MO / Isadore Shank, archiect

Het Scheepvaarthuis, Amsterdam / John van der Mey, architect (1913-1916; 1926-1928)


And you can also see why stylistic connections with the Netherlands are very likely.

De Bijenkorf

Our second AFS foreign exchange high school student was Tjipke, a very Frisian name from the north of the Netherlands. At some point during his eleven months in Fargo, I asked what was in hindsight an embarrassingly silly question.

During each of my visits to Amsterdam, I’ve visited it fine department store, De Bijenkorf, on the Dam in the heart of the city. De Bijenkorf is much like Selfridge’s in London or Nordstrom’s in the U.S. It turns out that the Dutch chain of stores is owned by the same holding company that operates Selfridge and similar chains in Ireland and Canada. What was my silly question, you ask? I asked Tjipke was de Bijenkorf meant, assuming that it wasn’t a family name and might be something akin to Seattle’s Bon Marche (which translates “cheap” or “economical”). Tjipke’s expression was just short of patronizing: “It means ‘the beehive'”, he said.

Agincourt’s department store bears that name (simply because I like it) because it was founded by a Dutch family of merchants, the van der Rijns, I felt comfortable with that origin, there being so many Nederlanders in Iowa: Pella is a Dutch community and I also knew from former NDSU student Steve Varenhorst that there was a department store in Storm Lake of similar origin — if memory serves, which it doesn’t always. The van der Rijn family were contributed to the mix by Mark Roelofs, another SU student in the first Agincourt seminar.

De Bijenkorf

Not much has been set other than its original owners and a site on South Broad street just opposite the Square. Mark and I sketched out a likely scenario which involved an initial twenty-five foot wide building that would grow through time the include three mismatched Victorian buildings that would eventually have to be unified inside (to rectify differing floor levels) and outside (to blend what were presumably buildings in three different styles).

Presumably the van der Rijns were familiar with the namesake chain of stores in the Netherlands, regardless of their year of emigration. Not only was De Bijenkorf a high quality retailer, it also relied on the best that contemporary architecture could provide. Dutch Modernists like Michel De Klerk and Piet Kramer contributed to that corporate image:

De Bijenkorf Department Store, The Hague / Piet Kramer, architect (1926)

It’s interesting that there was a near contemporary architect in St Louis, Isadore Shank, who used remarkably similar materials to achieve effects that are almost “Amsterdam School” in appearance. There is a modest commercial complex at the corner of Delmar and DeBaliviere clad in terra cotta panels that knocked my socks off when I stumbled on the building several years ago and wanted as much background as possible:

Imagine a veneer of these unifying three dissimilar store fronts at the corner of Broad Street and Agincourt Avenue.

[#1000, a landmark]

Drama Therapy (1.something)

The first task in realizing Reinhold Kölb’s drama therapy is the playhouse” itself. Two examples come to mind: #1) Frank Lloyd Wright’s puppet theatre for his children and those of Mrs Cheney; and #2) Radio City Music Hall. The first is chronologically wrong (circa 1914, long before Kölb’s arrival in the community), while the second is temporally better suited but totally out of scale. Is there a median here?

Puppet Theatre designed circa 1914 / Frank Lloyd Wright

Radio City Music Hall (1932) / Edward Durrell Stone (architect) and Donald Deskey (interiors)

Some of the earlier entries connected with Reinhold Kölb can be found here and here. Jim (a.k.a. Seamus) Tierney is “Ghost of Christmans Past” #19.

Agincourt Redux…again

“A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face.
And when you are near I will tear your eyes out
and place them instead of mine,
and you will tear my eyes out
and will place them instead of yours,
then I will look at me with mine.”

[and see me for the first time.]
― Jacob Levy Moreno

Last weekend while at my volunteer post in a local museum, the director casually asked when the next Agincourt exhibit might be expected. Frankly, the thought had never entered my mind: despite my own enthusiastic engagement with the ongoing project, it had never occurred to me that any of the visitors to either of the two exhibits (2007 and 2015) could possibly muster the strength for another bout. The seed safely planted, it took just a couple days to send out some tendrils.

Among the many undeveloped ideas for wither of the previous exhibits, there was one for a puppet theatre, or more properly, marionette. The story line involves Dr Reinhold Kölb’s clinic Walden Retreat, southeast of town along the banks of Crispin Creek. Among the good doctor’s innovative therapeutic techniques was one adapted from the psychodrama therapy of his former Viennese colleague Jacob Levy Moreno. Kölb’s spin on the technique was to combine puppet theatre (marionettes, actually) and aspects of Japanese Noh plays, at least insofar as they can be understood and adapted by Westerners unfamiliar with Japanese culture and language. I had thought to make a puppet stage for the 2015 exhibit but, like so many ideas for which I lack an appropriate skill set, it went like snow on water. Perhaps with a new fire built beneath me (and some woodshop experience), Kölb’s experiment will finally take physical form.

To pull this off, I have to undertake several unfamiliar tasks:

  1. Designing and building a stage and, presumably, some of the necessary scenery;
  2. Constructing marionettes and their costumes (Do you think Mr Vandervort will buy into this nonsense?);
  3. And, naturally, write the play that would have been acted out by several of Dr Kölb’s “guests”.

Wish me luck. And don’t hold your breath.

PS: Since we don’t yet have a photo of Dr Kölb, do you think it would be kosher to borrow one of his friend Levy Moreno?


PS: The story thus far:

The interconnectedness of Agincourt’s stories provided an opportunity to link Dr Kölb with another character, Jim Tierney¹, eventual director of Agincourt’s theatre company. It was one of the last of these performances that convinced the your Tierney to pursue a career in the dramatic arts.

Kölb’s methods worked like this: Each patient at Walden will develop a character — who might be themselves, someone they know (a family member or authority figure), possibly a stranger, or a mythical being not even necessarily a human being — an avatar of sorts, a creature which either frustrates or facilitates, through whom they would express their situation (i.e., condition; the reason they’ve come to Walden) and interact with others. With Kölb’s guidance in group therapy sessions and individual counseling, the story line will develop, each participant effectively being a therapist for the others [“and when you are near I will tear your eyes out and place them instead of mine…”]. Then, while the script develops, each player builds a puppet/marionette, as well as its costume, and learns the rudiments of puppetry. It is easier to speak in public through the mouth of another, just as it is to see through their eyes.

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” – Carl Jung. [I suspect it also works the other way.]

¹ Jim Tierney, by the way, is a thinly veiled inclusion of an actual person probably known to most of those who read this blog.

John Edgar Platt [1886–1967]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

PLATT, John Edgar [1886–1967]

“Pilchard Boats, Cornwall”

November, 1922

woodcut / 16.5 cm x 31.8 cm

From The Colour Woodcuts of John Edgar Platt by Hilary Chapman we learn:

Wood engraver and painter, born at Leek, Staffordshire. He studied at the Royal College of Art, 1905-08, and went on to become principal of both Leicester College of Art and Blackheath School of Art. He won a gold medal at the International Print Makers’ Exhibition, 1922. He exhibited at the RA, NEAC, RE and with the British Council. During World War II he was an Official War Artist. His work is held by the British Museum, Imperial War Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate. He wrote for a number of publications including The Studio and The Artist and produced several books on the art of the colour woodcut.

He worked equally successfully in oil, watercolour and wood engraving, usually confining himself to a small scale; he often worked en plein air, a method he successfully employed to respond directly to his subject. His panels are frequently annotated with notes about the weather and light conditions.

This is the second of two nautical woodcuts by Platt in the collection. The other — “Building the Trawler” of 1929  and moderately larger but equally Japanese in its inspiration — was acquired many years before “Pilchard Boats”. They share a nautical theme, however, which was common to the artist’s woodcuts and paintings.

Pilchard fishing has declined seriously along the Cornish coast but has been recorded in several fine documentaries.



Margaret Munro Stratton [1911-1995]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

McLENNAN, Margaret Munro Stratton [1911–1995]

“Star of India — San Diego”

late 1930s

oil on metal cigarette case / 4.5 inches by 5.75 inches

Margaret McLennan (née Stratton) created one of the more unusual pieces in the Community Collection: a sailing ship painted on the cover of a metal cigarette box. “The Star of India” was built in 1863 at Ramsey, on the Isle of Man and like many 19th century sailing ships, it has a long and varied career, which ultimately led to its restoration and berthing in San Diego, where she must have seen it.

The box comes to the collection for a source who wishes to remain anonymous, claiming the case was won in an illicit poker game during the Depression, also implying that the removal of clothing may have been involved.



Trolley vs. Interurban

It wasn’t unusual for one company to operate both interurban lines and street cars or trolleys. Both were powered with electricity, so it was also possible that they might be a city’s source of electricity. And in order to compensate for lighter passenger traffic on weekends, these privately-owned stock companies sometimes operated amusement parks at the end-of-the-line, in addition to serving cemeteries.

With so many companies nationwide, serving communities of even modest size, there were several car manufacturers, eager to innovate during the interwar expansion period. It wasn’t at all unusual for one company to purchase the hand-me-down stock from another undergoing an upgrade. I direct you the the book by Messrs Hilton & Due, The Electric Interurban Railways in America, which may yet be in print. The internet is awash in nostalgic black-and-white images, however, to give you a sense of their size and style.

These three images are typical of the smaller (and earlier) cars used on city streets. Their windows opened for summer heat — notice the grill to keep hands safely inside — while some services used cars there were hybrid or completely open. Access was often clumsy, particularly in eras when women wore full skirts; one solution to this problem was the center-entry car that actually dipped in the center and required only a step or two from the pavement — if there was any, that is.

This last example (above) is also larger and heavier, the sort that could be suitable for inter-city service, the above-mentioned “interurban.” Notice how high the car is above grade on this Lake Shore Electric Railway car (below) that ran the one hundred and twenty miles from Toledo to Cleveland.

The Agincourt Street Railway and the NITC are likely to have at least a couple in each of these categories. The trick is being historically accurate.

NITC (2.something)


mFLWFoundation BanffRailwayStn

Railway Station for Banff National Park (unbuilt) / Frank Lloyd Wright, architect


The temporary NITC shelter at the Commons will be basic: tickets are available from an array of vendors (druggist, news stands, etc.), so essentially it will be a glorified comfort station. And once the actual depot is complete, one block south at Broad and Louisa, it can be recycled as a public facility on the Commons itself.

Since it will serve the company for less than a year, heating is necessary to keep the pipes from freezing. Passenger comfort is important but they will be in the building for only short periods. Provision for four-season use, however, is a consideration for its future service, both as a comfort station (in the Edwardian sense of what that should be) and as a warming house for winter sports like ice skating.

What do I mean by “Edwardian” standards? Women and young girls and children expected the privacy that a “Women’s Waiting” room afforded, both for hygiene and the discretion of nursing infants. I can recall riding on Chicago busses with my mother in 1951 and 1952 and seeing women openly nurse their babes without hesitation (or, presumably, embarrassment). There was also an expectation that it was men who smoked, more often pipes and cigars, rather than cigarettes (and those were likely the roll-your-own sort). So a M/W binary scheme makes sense.


C&NW suburban station, Glencoe, IL / Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Wright designed a suburban depot for Glencoe along the C&NW North Shore service; a bit too basic for my purposes. By the same token, his shelter at Banff Provincial Park is too grandiose.


Pavillion, Banff National Park, Banff, AB / Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

A median needn’t be a half measure.


Arranging deck chairs on the Titanic…

Can anyone delineate the distinctions between depression, dejection, despondency, and despair?

The Prairie School in Iowa

Iowa is rich in the number of Prairie School buildings that once stood there. Louis Sullivan contributed five of them, though technically, “Sullivanesque” isn’t interchangeable with the low-slung ground-hugging style of Wright and a few of his cronies. But the full list of contributors is impressive, nonetheless:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright, of course (the now restored hotel and bank in Mason City, as well as the Stockman house)
  • Louis Sullivan (banks in Algona, Grinnell, and Cedar Rapids, where there is also a church; and a department store in Clinton on the Mississippi)
  • a long-demolished (1971) house in Des Moines by Arthur Huen, of whom you’ve never heard
  • multiple houses in Mason City by both Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, and William Drummond
  • and others; by George W. Maher (Waukon)
  • Hugh M. G. Garden’s Christian Science church in Marshalltown
  • William L. Steele’s work in Sioux City and vicinity, some of it done with P&E
  • and a host of other first-, second-, and third-string architects and builders inspired by the Prairie School; even the “back bench boys” are pretty good
  • not to mention the likes of Lawrence Buck, whose work (in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque) is more Arts & Crafts than blatant P.S.

For a full list, you ought to visit the Prairie School Traveler’s website. It was this wealth of material that encouraged me to put my Sullivan knock-off in Iowa.

In the 2007 exhibit there was a spectacularly successful transit station in the Prairie idiom, circa 1910, but documentation of that project has long since disappeared and the student’s name has faded from memory (with the hope that someone will refresh it). I’m thinking of that today as I feel the need to put the stamp of early FLlW on the community — not that Wright is any easier to ape than Sullivan.


The Northwest Iowa Transit Company’s terminal at Broad and Louisa might be remade in the P.S. idiom; the plan is already half-way there. And that would make the other transit facilities easier to integrate into the story: a temporary shelter on the Commons, which served until the main depot was complete, and the now-lost “Industry” stop on the southwest loop of the figure-eight.

Peter Stohr Arcade, Wilson Avenue “L” Station, Chicago, IL (1909) / Frank Lloyd Wright

You may be surprised to know that Wright himself designed transit stations in the Oak Park period: small stations along the North Shore, and the Arcade for Peter Stohr, which served for a few years as the Wilson Avenue “L” stop on Chicago’s farther north side. It seems to me that the Stohr building, the river Forest Tennis club, and the Yahara Boat Club project are all the background anyone might require.