The Story of a Building Designed by a Young Frank Lloyd Wright

Urban Remains discovers an early Frank Lloyd Wright-designed architectural remnant that survived the wrecking ball.

The Story of a Building Designed by a Young Frank Lloyd Wright

In an irony-laden location-- between a parking lot and an adult novelties shop-- at the corner of Randolph and Elizabeth Streets in Chicago is an impressive Bedford limestone archway that once comprised one of two entrances to the Loeb apartment buildings. The largely intact carved stone assemblage is a rare remnant showing Frank Lloyd Wright's hand in a commission for the firm of Adler and Sullivan. The opening leads to a separate stairwell at the rear of the building, the apartment having long since been demolished.

The south entrance (archway) from Adler and Sullivan's 1892 Loeb apartments that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Remarkably, the Gothic style varnished oak wood staircase is still intact.
The south entrance (archway) from Adler and Sullivan's 1892 Loeb apartments that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Remarkably, the Gothic style varnished oak wood staircase is still intact.

Specifically, the residence was built for Dankmar Adler's friends Adolph and William Loeb from 1891-1892. The southern half of the building was demolished in 1923 when Randolph Street was widened, and was then replaced by the currently standing building. The northern half was demolished in 1974 and remains a parking lot. An account of Richard Nickel's visit to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in the late 1950's, is that upon showing Wright the image of the mostly-forgotten Elizabeth Street apartment, he responded "so... you found that one did you?"

The architectural plan for the Loeb apartments
The architectural plan for the Loeb apartments

The Loeb apartments were of little importance to Louis Sullivan, since the commission was relatively frugal and arrived at the same time that the firm had abundant work designing skyscrapers in the Loop. Instead, the job was entrusted to chief draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright, a circumstance which allowed Wright to practice working independently. In the resulting structure, Wright imbued the architecture with English-derived detailing -- a quality demarcating Wright's formal interests from Sullivan's, and characterizing the building as early in Wright's career. Tim Samuelson points out that the design is "clumsy" and shows "early flirtations with popular revival styles." 

1964 view (kodachrome slide) of the Loeb apartments (1891-92) photographed by Richard Nickel. Wright, Adler, and Sullivan, architects. It was demolished in 1974, but the south entrance and two-story floor staircase escaped demolition.
1964 view (kodachrome slide) of the Loeb apartments (1891-92) photographed by Richard Nickel. Wright, Adler, and Sullivan, architects. It was demolished in 1974, but the south entrance and two-story floor staircase escaped demolition.

The building bears some relation to two other commissions that took place concurrently. The Charnley House was completed in 1892, a townhouse on the Gold Coast built for James Charnley, and the Albert Sullivan house, which was completed the same year as Sullivan's family residence at 4575 South Lake Park Avenue. Counting the Loeb apartments, all three projects represent a time when Frank Lloyd Wright's influence was to be felt within Adler & Sullivan's work.

The former Loeb apartment building today.
The former Loeb apartment building today.

Tim Samuelson maintains that the Loeb apartment entrance proves to be a compelling puzzle piece, evidencing Sullivan's greater guidance in the design of the Charnley and Albert Sullivan houses. The meager remaining archway does gain some significance then, representing the transitional work of a young Frank Lloyd Wright, who would be fired the following year for "moonlighting" or taking independent commissions while still working for Sullivan.

Originally published by Urban Remains

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