You don’t say?

Germania Club Building, Chicago, IL / August Fiedler, architect (1889)

I grew up in Chicago, one of North America’s most ethnically diverse cities. As in Toronto and New York City, the measure of that diversity is the number of foreign language weekly newspapers; prominent among them and boasting the longest continuous publication is the Illinois Staats-Zeitung. But there is far more evidence of Chicago’s German-ness.

A building once known as the Germania Club still stands at 108 West Germania Place; and in that same neighborhood is Goethe Street—but don’t pronounce it properly and expect to be taken there by uber; it is locally pronounced “goh-thee”. Closer to my own native habitat on the far southwest side is a Lithuanian neighborhood. I know because an habitual bus route took me past Draugas, the Lithuanian Catholic Press. Don’t jump to conclusions about Lemont, the town where my grandmother was born, about twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago: a hundred years ago it was predominantly Swedish (Lutheran) and Polish (Catholic) and there on Blue Hill (niebieskie wzgórze) you’ll find the intersection of two streets named Ledochowski and Moczygemba. Times change; cities evolve. But not without the persistence of memory; not everything can be whisked away or even bulldozed into oblivion. At one time I knew where the best Czech pastries could be found; the best pierogi; the most reliable tamales. Schnitzel of heroic proportion existed (and probably still does) on Milwaukee Avenue, while other streets like Pulaski and Cermak highlight the important contributions of Eastern European stock.

That Midwestern German presence is attested by place names (Chicago’s Goethe Street or its Hegewisch neighborhood), by social clubs or church dedications (that often make no sense as the ethnicity of neighborhoods shifts), and commercial enterprise, like beer (Leinenkugel, Pabst, Schlitz, and Schmidt) and banking. On the west side of Agincourt’s Broad Street, for example, is one of those institutions: Hansa House. It ought to have been “haus”, you say, but that wouldn’t have pushed the envelope of assimilation far enough.

Hansa, of course, refers to the Hanseatic League, an association of Medieval cities bound together for trade and mutual protection from piracy, from the eastern Baltic to the British Isles. Cities like Gdansk, Poland, or Lübeck, Germany retain their Hanseatic luster in the form of churches, guild and municipal halls, all underwritten by commercial prosperity and especially by the architectural character of the Hanseatic trading house: a tall, narrow-fronted building facing the water—all commerce traveled by water—probably with four floors, each with a wide warehouse door, and served by a winch-and-pulley system projecting from the stepped attic gable. Brick is the nearly universal material, save for Scandinavia where wood was in greater supply. The Hansa style was widely emulated by German enterprise in 19th century North America, including the German-American Shipping and Insurance Co. in Agincourt.

Hansa House, #8 North Broad Street, Agincourt, IA / architect unidentified (1898)

Various tenants have occupied the main floor, currently a purveyor of pianos, while floors two and three have always concerned themselves with the pushing of paper, until computers were touted as the salvation of deciduous forests, The cathedral/attic fourth floor housed the Deutscher Verein, a men’s club and chorus, until the Great War, when Germans sang alone in the shower or garage and armed conflict thousands of miles away interrupted the thirty-year expectation of Oktober Fest or a Christmas concert. The U.S. didn’t join the war effort until 1917, of course, but another event brought war-consciousness to the home front far sooner.

Like all good businessmen of the time, Anson’s father Jim Tennant spread his custom around the community, not wanting to favor one vendor and offend all others. He was a member of several clubs and was generous to charities of every sort—long before such contributions became a tax deduction; they were simply good business practice, threads in the fabric of social connectivity. And so it was that he’d done business with the German-American Insurance Co. at Hansa House.

When Anson returned from Chicago, intent on establishing an architectural practice, rental space at the Hansa was a contender, favorable terms no doubt tied to his father’s business. It was chance that the opportunity to put his studio-office above Wasserman’s Hardware and luck, perhaps, that the Wassermans were Austrian. So when he sailed in 1915 for a well deserved rest aboard the RMS Lusitania, who knew that a German topedo could strike so close to the heart of landlocked Agincourt, Iowa.

The still grieving Tennant family underwrote the design and placement of a Lusitania Memorial in the Commons, strategically opposite the door to the new public library. But when it was dedicated on the anniversary of the sinking—an event that, under and other circumstances, would have been enhanced by the Deutscher Verein men’s chorus—were the community’s Germanic residents conspicuous by their absence or their presence. Often, what we don’t say, speaks loudest.



An Unlikely Agincourt-Albuquerque Alliance

On January 6th, 1912, New Mexico joined the Union; less than a month later, on February 14th, Arizona followed suit. Forty-seven years later Alaska and Hawai’i rounded us out at fifty. But during that winter of 1912, Albuquerque and Phoenix were the places to be. The southwest had already become a tourist destination, thanks to a partnership between the Santa Fe Railway and the Fred Harvey chain of restaurants and hotels. For a Hollywood recreation, look for “The Harvey Girls” on Netflix.

January was a cool dry month in1912; Albuquerque enjoyed a median temperature 32.1°F and just 0.02 inches of precipitation; and if it didn’t warm for the midday festivities—marching bands and speechifying—sturdy turn-of-the-century woolen menswear kept everyone comfortable. Dignitaries and local residents were joined by a goodly number of tourists who attended by chance or choice, among them six members of the Tennant family (Jim, Martha, and the four children) who’d made the arduous 1,000-mile journey specifically for the occasion. I’d like to think they took rooms at the Alvarado Hotel.

Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel (with adjacent dining facilities, the Santa Fe depot, and a room crowded with local arts and crafts) had opened ten years earlier on May 11th, 1902. But despite its stylistic sophistication and level of service, the central city was a cultural grab bag of territorial aspiration and native persistence; witness the photo below with an earth lodge juxtaposed against the best Victorian Gothic that frontier builders could provide. This experience alone would have transformed an architect like Anson Tennant, but another encounter made it more deeply personal.

A mile and a half northwest of the Anglo town’s Jeffersonian regularity was the Old Town plaza del pueblo and a different culture—one that most of us could only have known through the pages of the National Geographic. It was there, in a flat-roofed territorial-style building that had once been a Masonic Lodge, Anson found the workshop of furniture maker Manuel Galvez y Paz; one of his chairs was displayed in the Alvarado craft shop.
Galvez’s style used the simple planar construction promoted by The Roycrofters. Squint and you can also sense it in the Prairie Style furnishings of Frank Lloyd Wright, or more obviously in Mission Style furnishings sold by Gustav Stickley. Anson understood it in the larger context of William Morris and the Arts & Crafts and visited the Galvez shop with more than a casual interest.

The Tennants enjoyed the city for ten days, with a cool dry winter unlike the one back home. They bought some Galvez pieces, including a hefty buffet (which required a crate as big as the house it would occupy), but Anson stayed for at least two more weeks, learning the rudiments of furniture-making and building a friendship with “Manny” that would have consequences neither of them could have imagined.

Beware of Spokespeople

As the de facto spokesperson for the Agincourt community, I’m mindful of that responsibility. I do not speak for more than my own hopes for the place and not for what may actually be afoot there. To whit, I saw an advert in the current issue of the London Review of Books which torqued my sense of self.

I Speak for Me

I speak for me, just me, me alone. If you mistake anything I have said, or might yet say, as representing anyone but myself I apologize and wish to set the record straight.

The current London Review of Books (05 July 2018) notes a new anthology of short stories centered on “the love that dare not speak its name”. As a gay man, this title ought to have risen to the top of my list of must-reads, you might well imagine, but it holds less interest for me than, say, a new biography of Nelson Mandela or Royal Bodies, a collection from the LRB of pieces about the current British royal house, the Windsors, prurient voyeur that I am. Would I read a collection of gay-related fiction to see if I’m doing it right?

The publisher’s blurb promises treatment of “the social, cultural, psychological, and emotional issues facing the LGBTQIA community in the world today”, and therein lies its off-putting-ness. The acronym for the segment of the population which includes me, in one respect, has grown well beyond my antediluvian point of view. LGB had already stretched my sense of community, but its expansion represented by the addition of T, Q, I, and A has introduced at least one letter for which I have no point of reference, and by implication affords a sense of wonderment about just how inclusive any “community” can be before it ceases to be one. If this connotes a lack of sophistication or inability to acknowledge nuance which put me among the luddites, so be it until I can reassess the situation. To others in this LGBTQIA community, I apologize if this seems insensitive, but I want to share with you an opinion—and it is just that and just mine—formed thirty years ago when there were far fewer letters in the acronym.

At the time our then mayor had the foolhardy temerity to declare Gay Pride Week (for the first time and for which he took considerable heat), the local press was eager, as it always is, for a spokesperson, someone to prop before camera and microphone to speak to the general public—the Others—about what the LG (and possibly B) community felt/believed/had to say on the issue of celebrating its existence. And it should probably go without saying that someone was more than willing, anxious even, to stand before that camera and allow the press to construe that he spoke for me—as though there had been a plebiscite sweeping them into that position. To the Others whom he addressed there may have been the impression that his words were mine, his opinions mine, his positions mine. They were not, but I chose silence over stepping forward, because I believed my words-opinions-positions were no more than mine and warranted no forum (pun intended).

And so it is, this book ought to be on my list, if for no other reason than it represents a sampling of points-of-view (twenty-one short stories by, presumably, twenty-one authors—all likely younger than myself and at least one of whom might actually not be LGBTQIA) which might very well expand my consciousness and, at the very least, provide some nouns for all those new letters in the ever-expanding acronym. Until that time, I suppose, I shall continue to be a voice whining in the wilderness, but whining for none other than myself.

Cromwell: Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial! More: Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is “Qui tacet consentire”; the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”. If, therefore, you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied. Cromwell: Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it? More: The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.

The Role of Architectural Competitions

Architectural Competitions and the Dispersion of Style

Architectural styles are dispersed in a variety of ways in popular culture. Only rarely does it involve direct connection with a particular example of that style; the mechanism far more often involves publication—books, periodical, newspapers. One of the more interesting and direct is connected with the 19th and early 20th century phenomenon of architectural competitions.

From my perspective architectural competition are valuable for two reasons: first, they represent a cross section of architectural thinking at a moment in cultural evolution. The Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922, for example, invited architects from around the world to submit ideas for the new Chicago headquarters of the self-described “World’s Greatest Newspaper”. The submissions were published in a handsome volume for all to appreciate but also as a stylistic slice of the times. One byproduct of the competition concerns the second prize winner Eliel Saarinen who, on the basis of his new North American notoriety emigrated to the United States from his native Finland, bringing with him his young son Eero who would become a major figure in the development of Modernism.

Their second value is closely related but concerns a building type rather than a stylistic choice. Like the aforementioned corporate competition—the design of a skyscraper—competitions are most often focused on a particular building type. And among those, some of my favorites were sponsored by the manufacturers of building materials and their purpose was to promote the use of those materials. The White Pine Manufacturers Association, for example, or the Indiana Limestone Institute sponsored such competitions. And their results—published in architectural or trade periodicals or as stand-alone publications—can be used to assess the state of the art for, say, single-family residential design. I’m appending four illustrations that are of special interest to me, because they are all in the Prairie School style of Midwestern Progressivism. Three of these were the work of Russell Barr Williamson [1893-1964], a Frank Lloyd Wright apprentice during the WWI years. If I’d had my poop in a scoop, I could easily have met this man.

“Design for a White Pine House for the Vacation Season” / Russell Barr Williamson, architect (ca 1917)

“Design for a White Pine House to Cost $12,500” / Russell Barr Williamson, architect (circa 1916)

“Building of Hollow Tile Construction to Cost $4,000” / [not certain of the designer]

“Design for a Detached Residence of Indiana Limestone” / Russell Barr Williamson, architect (1917)

The point, as usual, is to demonstrate how remote pockets of America could easily be exposed to current, even avant garde, architectural thinking. And lest you think that all of these came to naught, here is a Williamson design in Kenosha, Wisconsin looking very much like the Indiana Limestone proposition.

Frank and Jane Isermann residence, Kenosha, WI (1923) / Russell Barr Williamson, architect

One of Wright’s last houses in the Prairie Style was the Allen-Lambe residence in Wichita, Kansas. RBW was an apprentice at the time and, apparently, supervised the Wichita project, then went into private practice. Compare the Allen house with Williamson’s nearly contemporary entry in the vacation house competition.

Henry J. Allen residence, Wichita, KS (1917) / Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

Lud Heat

If you are drawn to English that doesn’t just sing, but sings the blues and does scat and rocks the joint, try Sinclair. His sentences deliver a rush like no one else’s (Washington Post)

Christ Church, Spitalfields as seen by John Piper (lithograph, 1964)

Forty-three years ago British poet Iain Sinclair published Lud Heat, a book that is hard to categorize. I read about it somewhere—God knows what I was reading at the time that would have taken note of it—and sought a copy from the publisher Albion Village Press. [I didn’t know at the time that this was Sinclair’s own press, and that the edition was probably very small.] I sent them payment (at a time when primitive international banking would have been an improvement) and promptly forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when a thin stiff envelope arrived with a yellow-covered copy that still resides somewhere on my shelves, because I had to buy a replacement copy recently for reference. Incidentally, if you should stumble upon a first edition, buy it, because there’s a “true” first edition, autographed, for sale on-line at £750.00.

Its full title is Lud Heat: A book of the dead hamlets and refers to the eastern boroughs of London which have since been combined administratively into the Tower Hamlets; an entirely remarkable district of London that, in 1975, would not have been a tourist destination. Today we would classify Sinclair’s treatment as psychogeography, defined by Guy Dubord twenty years previous as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” For that is precisely what Sinclair has done in this act of literary phrenology, reading the bumps and furrows of his city to find the history lying just below its surface. I was intrigued because English Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor is a principal character in Lud‘s juxtaposition of poetry and prose—Hawksmoor being, then as now, one of the stars in my firmament.

So, what about this psychogeography? If I were a scholar, understanding Agincourt in those terms would be the subject of a conference paper. Sadly, I am not, so for the time being it will remain simply an interesting question awaiting a response, and I’ll conclude here with a lengthy quote from an Introduction to a later edition Lud by Allen Fisher. It’s written in the form of a letter to the author himself:

The more people communicate, by building-environments’ symbolic natures as well as verbally, about their surroundings and social practice, the more they get to know about their place, enabling them to comprehend, thus appropriately deal with, their situations. It becomes increasingly necessary, in a society fashioned into obliged mobility, the jet set and tile economically insecure, to insist that home be made. That we “feel at home” whether as settlers and locals, or as nomads looking for rest in comfortable surroundings. At the same time it becomes necessary not to be fooled by, what at best is, the romanticism, the Ivor Novello, and, what at worst can lead to that blut-und-Boden Homeland propagated by the Third Reich. The necessity to locate, to place ourselves becomes increasingly apparent to people living, as you do Iain, in the throws (sic) of, up against the old walls of a city. When this City—London—is now one borough of 33 held in the name of The Greater Council. The idea of (City), to someone in this situation, becomes of city dissolved, of an amoebic and pulsing cloak moving all bounds of geographic possibility leaving behind most bounds of etymological meaning in the name City. To give sense of emotional attachment to locality, to the knowable and unrepeatable, does not mean to do so as an individual. The territorial ties are not made alone. There are subtle mechanisms at work subjugating our psyches, trying to keep and often succeeding to keep, our senses, awareness at a lower level than they need to be in view of the social and economical potential of our situation. Kant held that enlightenment meant the liberation of people from the bondage from which they were themselves to blame. This is not to suggest that all of you are concerned with is a matter of this rooting, But you symbolic concerns strongly relate to and impinge upon this area. Your work just is not semiotics. But Lud Heat assumes the kind of symbolic value particular architectural forms possess: what associations they are capable of evoking in individuals: what those associations depend on. Symbolic attachment to place, apart from the social relationships of groups, concerns itself primarily in the built urban environment. It is from these building that the energies of the area are—I was going to say, “generated”.

I think I know what this says, but may have to find someone to translate it from British English to American English. As someone—possibly George Bernard Shaw—has observed, we are two nations divided by a common language.

St Anne Limehouse as seen by John Piper (lithograph, 1964)



Stephen McMillan [born 1949]

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

McMILLAN, Stephen (born 1949)

“East of Orcas”


etching and aquatint / 11.6 inches by 8.6 inches

West Coast artist Stephen McMillan’s interest in the landscape grew from his early years in Berkeley, CA and a home with a view of San Francisco Bay. The Warnock Gallery, one of his dealers, has this to say about his education:

[McMillan] studied art at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and also one year at Hornsey College of Art in London, England, where he concentrated on sculpture. It was at Santa Cruz, in 1969, that Steve was first introduced to etching. Since receiving his BFA from UCSC in 1975, he has focused on creating aquatint etchings of landscapes, drawn freehand from photographs he takes.

From 1975 to 1979 he worked at Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco. For most of the years from 1979 to 1992 he was an artist in residence at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, where he taught classes in printmaking, and wrote three technical articles about aquatint etching. In 1992 he moved to Petaluma, California, and set up a printmaking studio in his home. In 2006 he moved north to set up a new studio in Bellingham, Washington.

Orcas is one of the San Juan Islands in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, between Washington State and Vancouver Island.

The Richardsonian (1.1)

Richardson and the Romanesque

H. H. Richardson’s value in the evolution of late 19th century American style is twofold. First, he introduced a version of Early Medieval architecture influenced by his time at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, France. [As a Louisianan, it was a good place to ride out the Civil War.] It was in France and Northern Spain that Richardson gleaned the value of simple geometries and strategic ornament, lessons that would prove to be vital during a career barely twenty years in length.

The architect’s second contribution is subtler and can best be understood looking at his entire career. As an ersatz historian I can cherry pick specific works and put them together or in sequence to prove pretty much anything, but Richardson’s career is so compact and the examples so comparable that I’m convinced he almost single-handedly reformed the excesses of Victorian and Ruskinian Gothic that dominated post-Civil War America. Project by project, Richardson limited his shapes, restricted his material palette, and simplified or eliminated ornamentation. And in doing so, he facilitated the movement toward Modernism that premature death at the age of forty-eight denied him.

HHR emmanuel

Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh), PA (1886) / commissioned in tandem with the Allegheny County Courthouse & Jail.

HHR potter2

Henry S and Margaret Potter residence, St Louis, MO (1886) / demolished / Richardson and his successor firm Shepley Rutan & Coolidge designed at least four buildings for the linked Potter and Lionberger families.

The architect’s reductionist tendency achieved its ultimate expression in late works like Emmanuel church in Pittsburgh and the Henry S. Potter residence in St Louis, both completed in 1886, the year of Richardson’s death. Each has been stripped of extraneous ornament: brackets, moldings, gratuitous textures or shifts in material for the sake of contrast. Emmanuel’s hairpin plan has the simple efficiency of a paperclip. Its windows, cut almost directly into (out of?) a plain brick surface; articulated only by sandstone sills and basic concentric courses of brick that define their semicircular tops. What could be more elemental.

Richardson’s suburban residence for Henry S. Potter* [1850–1918; president of the St Louis Steel Barge Co.] once stood at Goodfellow and Cabanne, on a large lot in a leafy suburban enclave. Its simple massing, an external expression of internal function, used shapes that are at once childlike and sophisticated. Its skin, a uniform sheet of shingles pulled taught like a drumhead across walls and roof alike.

But these prescient buildings seem to have had little influence on a wave of “Richardsonian” design only amplified by his untimely death. Throughout the Midwest, dozens of courthouses, city halls, schools and other building types reflect the influence of his earlier work, which was easier to parody and to extract design riffs. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery—which leaves for each of us to answer a question which ought to be on the mind of every architect: Where lies the distinction between imitation and inspiration? And is that distinction a mere gap or a gulf?

*H. S. Potter lies beside his wife Margaret Lionberger Potter in the Lionberger plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery. Two other members of the family—one of them very likely Margaret’s brother—were also HHR clients.