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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.

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