Louis Sullivan bank in Iowa suffers flood damage

A Chicago Tribune blog reports that Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has sustained an unknown amount of flood damage, with several feet of water entering the bank.

Peoples Savings Bank, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The bank is one of a series of late-career works by Sullivan, scattered across the Midwest; it is currently a Wells Fargo location. I visited it in 2004, but was unable to go inside as my visit occurred on a weekend. It’s less than a block away from the river which runs through the center of town.

At least one Flickrite has a photo of the floodwaters surrounding the bank.

The bank is far from the only architectural victim of the floods; much of the city’s old downtown is reported to have sustained damage.


Graceland Cemetery

It’s not exactly obscure, but Graceland Cemetery, located along Clark on the city’s north side, does constitute a kind of urban dead zone (ha!), a massive bump separating Wrigleyville, Uptown and Andersonville. A brick wall topped with barbed wire surrounds the 119 acres of gently rolling greenscape, hinting at a history of needing to protect itself from the crush of the city around it. Within the walls, however, awaits a pastoral Victorian funerary park quite at odds with the roaring L to its east and the urban hustle all around.

Graceland Cemetery

Within, many famous Chicago citizens are interred, including quite a few of architectural interest: Louis Sullivan; his 1960s champion, preservationist Richard Nickel; Mies van der Rohe; Daniel Burnham; his partner John Wellborn Root; and many others.

Graceland Cemetery

Sullivan left his mark on the place with two tombs, including the famous Getty Tomb; the rest of the headstones, memorials and mausoleums are likewise rich in ornament and style, if not originality.

More than anything, it’s an oddity among the furiously insistent urban madness of Chicago, which historically has had a tendency to devour whatever non-commercial entity got in the way of its relentless development.

And it’s still an active cemetery! For as little as $2,600, you too can be laid to rest there, in the considerable empty land that still remains.

They are Mohammedans in faith, polygamous in custom, and bandits by instinct

Something remarkable happened to me while in St. Louis last weekend. I mentioned — just in passing — that I lived in Chicago, and a fellow just gave me a book he’d gotten off of eBay. Just like that!

The book bears the unwieldy title of The Magic City: a Massive Portfolio of Original Photographic Views of the Great World’s Fair and Its Treasures of Art, Including a Vivid Representation of the Famous Midway Plaisance, and it is, of course, a compilation of photographs from Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. It was published in 1894, the year after the fair’s magnificent run. As might be expected from a free, 113-year-old book, the copy I got is in “poor” condition: the pages have some water damage around the edges, many have developed a purple discoloration, and the binding has pretty much come apart. But the photographs are still in fine shape and all the text is there.

The photos are mostly 8×10, so they have massive amounts of detail. They include overviews of the fair grounds, shots of each major building (including at least one view of Sullivan’s Transportation Building that was new to me), and many shots of the exhibits — including the many indigenous peoples shipped from around the world to be displayed at the fair.

It’s an incredible document of an incredible event, and a window into a time whose mores and values were often quite different than our own. The sheer scope and scale of the fair is mind-blowing to behold. Architecturally, it was a time when people loved their buildings unabashedly:

As the Manufactures Building held the wondering interest of multitudes by the unexampled magnitude of its dimensions, so the Administration Building struck with amazement, and won the unstinted admiration of every World’s Fair visitor by its incomparable beauty and artistic magnificence.

Culturally, Victorian society was equally sure of itself:

A typical Bedouin, with his main transportation dependence [a camel], stands before us in the photograph, nothing being omitted in the characterization of the roving bandit of the Asiatic Steppes, as he is seen in his own desert country. His tarboosh, bournouse and gibbeh, his trusty scimeter [sic], and a countenance reflective of the cruel instinct that he vainly seeks to hide beneath his richly colored robes, are conspicuous as they are typical. His patient beast of burden, demure, but equally treacherous…


Our illustration is one of two Sioux men, whose style of dress shows the result of contact with civilization. In earlier years their rainment was principally a breech-clout and blanket, but progress has effected changes, which, though gradual, will in a few years more eliminate every appearance of savagery in the dress and customs of the plains Indians.

….and amazingly odd:

Babies of strange peoples have a fascination for us greater even than have the customs which often excite our amazement. Indian mothers have always found large profit in exhibiting their papooses to overland travelers, and who is it that would not give a quarter for a peep at a real Chinese baby?

The exhibits were lavish beyond compare: sculpture, furniture and paintings from around the world. Machinery of all types. Native dwellings. Dioramas. Entire mock streets and villages. The world’s first and still largest Ferris Wheel. Secondary buildings that are all but forgotten against the grandeur of the main buildings, but would be landmarks in their own right if they still stood today. Today, little remains of the fair besides the Museum of Science and Industry’s grand building, and the Wooded Island that stands in a lagoon behind it.

It’s nothing short of amazing that nobody has re-issued this remarkable document.