My VIP for this week is Louis Henry Sullivan. He was born on September 3, 1856. His father was Irish-born Patrick Sullivan, and his mother was Swiss-born Andrienne List Sullivan; both of his parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1840s. An older brother, Albert Walter, was born in 1854.
Sullivan graduated from high school and studied architecture for a short period of time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was only sixteen years old when he entered MIT, after learning he could graduate from high school early and tests out of the first two years at MIT simply by taking some examinations. He studied at MIT for a year and then took a job with architect Frank Furness in Philadelphia.
Because of the Depression of 1873, Furness did not have enough work to continue to employ Sullivan, and Sullivan moved to Chicago. There he worked for William LeBaron Jenney and took part in “the building boom following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.” Jenney is “often credited with erecting the first steel-frame building.” Sullivan worked for Jenney for less than a year before moving to Paris where he “studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts for a year.”
Sullivan returned to Chicago where he worked as a draftsman for Joseph S. Johnston & John Edelman, who were “commissioned for the design of the Moody Tabernacle. The “interior decorative `fresco secco’ stencils (stencil technique applied on dry plaster) [was] designed by Sullivan. He was hired by Dankmar Adler in 1879 and became a partner in the firm a year later. “This marked the beginning of Sullivan’s most productive years.”
“Adler and Sullivan initially achieved fame as theater architects. While most of their theaters were in Chicago, their fame won commissions as far west as Pueblo, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington (unbuilt). The culminating project of this phase of the firm’s history was the 1889 Auditorium Building (1886-90, opened in stages) in Chicago, an extraordinary mixed-use building which included not only a 4,200-seat theater, but also a hotel and an office building with a 17-story tower, with commercial storefronts at the ground level of the building fronting Congress and Wabash Avenues. After 1889 the firm became known for their office buildings, particularly the 1891 Wainwright Building in St. Louis, The Schiller (later Garrick) Building and theater (1890) in Chicago, along with the Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1894), the Guaranty Building (also known as the Prudential Building) of 1895-96 in Buffalo, New York and the 1899-1904 Carson Pirie Scott Department Store by Sullivan on State Street in Chicago.”
Sullivan “has been called the `father of skyscrapers’ and `father of modernism’. He is considered by many as the creator of the modern skyscraper, was an influential architect and critic of the Chicago School, was a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, and an inspiration to the Chicago group of architects who have come to be known as the Prairie School. Along with Henry Hobson Richardson and Wright, Sullivan is one of `the recognized trinity of American architecture’. In 1944, he was the second architect in history to posthumously receive the AIA Gold Medal.”
The Panic of 1893 brought a great decline in work for Adler and Sullivan as well as all American architects. Money was borrowed to keep employees on the payroll, but no relief was in sight from their “financial distress.” The partnership was dissolved in 1894 with the Guaranty Building being considered as their last major project.
This event started Sullivan into a “twenty-year-long financial and emotional decline, beset by a shortage of commissions, chronic financial problems and alcoholism. He obtained a few commissions for small-town Midwestern banks…, wrote books, and in 1922 appeared as a critic of Raymond Hood’s winning entry for the Tribune Tower competition.
Sullivan married Margaret Davies Hattabough in 1899 but was not happy in the marriage. The couple separated in 1906 and divorced in 1917 without having any children. Sullivan died on April 14, 1924, in a hotel room in Chicago; he was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago’s Uptown and Lake View neighborhoods. A monument was erected in his honor and placed a few feet from his headstone.