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Lawrence Buck at Cedar Rapids


John M. Ely Sr residence, Cedar Rapids, IA / Lawrence Buck, architect / demolished

Among the unsung contributors to early 20th century residential design — overshadowed by his near contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright — Lawrence Buck may have had as much public recognition during the years 1900-1920 as his more renowned Chicago colleague. Born just two years apart, Buck died in 1929, while Wright lived another thirty years, sufficient time to add considerable luster to his reputation. I’m a Chicagoan, too, and inclined to honor the also-rans of architectural history — not those who finished as win, place, or show, but who simply finished the race — and find considerable interest in Buck.

Born in New Orleans in 1865, Buck studied art with his father, a well-known painter of romantic moss-draped landscapes, but entered the architectural profession when his mother was widowed. Following a few years of early practice in Birmingham, Alabama, Buck and his employer-partner John Sutcliffe relocated to Chicago during the late 1890s, where he maintained a small office and supplemented his income as the delineator-for-hire for other architects. I became aware of his work when a house of Buck’s design showed up in a survey of pre-WWI North Dakota buildings. By what means did a Chicago practitioner get a commission at the edge of the known universe? Answering that question has led me a merry chase.

Followers of the Agincourt blog will know that Buck designed three houses in the community, each of them plausible and an opportunity for me to play in the design sandbox of history:

  • the substantial home for Aidan and Cordelia Archer at 108 N.E. Agincourt Avenue
  • a far more modest home for school principal Miss Rose Kavana, and
  • an actual Buck design replicated from his Ladies Home Journal scheme of about April 1908

Two of these are my effort to “channel” Buck’s design idiom. But their inspiration has come from a survey of Buck work in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, California, both Dakotas, and, most significantly, in Iowa. I present for your consideration the substantial home in Cedar Rapids for John Ely (above) — sadly destroyed several years ago to make room for an apartment complex.

If memory serves (which it does far less reliably these days), there were six Lawrence Buck houses in Iowa at one time, all of them dating from about 1905-1910, three in Cedar Rapids and another three in Dubuque. Of those, the house called “Four Mounds” at Dubuque was even larger.

George Burden residence, “Four Mounds” / L. Buck, architect / ca1909

I’m not, by the way, trying to make a case that Lawrence Buck was an architect of comparable talent to Mr Wright; his work is far more modest and of a decidedly more English Arts & Crafts character. But for those very reasons, I find him a wonderful case study in the nature of residential design a hundred years ago and also the mechanisms for regional architectural practice.

Aidan and Cordelia Archer residence, Agincourt, IA / ca1908


  1. Peter R.A. Flynn says:

    Good afternoon: I really love the design of the Ely residence. I found the plan on Pinterest, and followed links to this page. Thank you for ’rounding out’ my knowledge of this place. Are there any existing pictures of the place before it was taken down? Thank you very much. Peter Flynn, Western Canada.

    • Hello, Peter (if I may),
      It’s my understanding that the Cedar Rapids Fire Department used the Ely house as an “exercise” in fire training. They burned it to the ground. The site is now a tacky upscale apartment building. If I run across some pre-fire pix, I’ll pass them along.
      Ron Ramsay (plains.architecture@gmail.com)

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