Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Architect and the Silversmith

In the last blog, I wrote about Robert Jarvie the silversmith. When Jarvie had a problem with design, he often turned to his friend, George Grant Elmslie, the architect. They worked together on a number of projects including items for sale at Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company.

In 1912, the Aero-Hydro Club of Illinois sponsored an International Aviation meet in Chicago. Jarvie was asked to design a trophy for the winner of a ten-mile hydroplane race. He turned to Elmslie for help on the design. “The trophy’s angular column and rounded bowl, embellished with delicately designed flying fish and seaweed, create a perfect setting for the model hydroplane perched on top.” You can see a picture here. For some reason the trophy was never awarded and now resides in the Chicago History Museum.

George Grant Elmslie, the architect, was born February 20, 1871, on a farm called Foot O’ Hill in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, near the town of Huntly. His formal education began in the Riggens School in Gartly and continued in the famous and highly disciplined Duke of Gordon School in Huntly. His father came to Chicago in 1883 and was employed by the Armour Company. The family arrived one year later.

At the age of 16, George Elmslie began training with J. L. Silsbee where he worked with Corin, Maher and Frank Lloyd Wright. He followed Wright to Louis Sullivan where he worked for 20 years and was considered a devoted assistant. During that time, he detailed the exterior of the Wainwright Building in St. Louis and designed the ironwork entrance and interior finish of the Carson, Pirie, Scott building in Chicago.

“Craig Zabel writes of architect George Grant Elmslie who believed he never got proper credit for work done in Sullivan’s office. Still, Elmslie was so respectful of Sullivan that after his death he destroyed Sullivan’s diaries, thus keeping secret part of the master’s personal life and depriving historians of a rich resource.” (Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1991, pg G14.) He also designed, along with William L. Steele of Sioux City, Iowa, the monument erected on Louis Sullivan’s grave in Graceland Cemetery.

On September 14, 1910, Elmslie married Bonnie Marie Hunter. He was 39, and she was 29. William Purcell said “No man was happier in winning his bride than George Grant Elmslie.” They moved to their new home in Minneapolis, where George Elmslie had just become a partner in the firm of Purcell, Feick and Elmslie. According to her death certificate, she was admitted to a Chicago hospital in late August, 1912. She died of a blood clot in the lungs after an appendectomy, September 8 1912, and is buried at Graceland. I found one picture of the couple on the Internet. He was profoundly affected by the death of his wife and often worked himself into a state of exhaustion which required hospitalization. He never married again and there were no children.

Elmslie died April 25, 1952 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery with his wife and three members of her family.

The Internet lists some 400 projects where Elmslie was listed as the architect. Just a few of his commissions are listed below. For more see Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame which is now located in Elgin, Illinois.

  • Henry Babson house, 277 Gatesby Road, Riverside, IL.
  • People’s Gas Light & Coke Co. 4839 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago
  • Healy Chapel, 332 W. Downer Pl., Aurora, IL.
  • “Windy Pines” 1421 Milwaukee Rd., Glevniew, IL. 
  • Edison Jr. High School, Hammond, IN.
  • Lake Lawn Hotel, Lelavan, WI.
  • St. Charles Country Club, St. Charles, IL.
  • Maxwelton Braes Resort Hotel, Baileys Harbor, WI.
  • The Airplane House, Woods Hole, MA.
  • Purcell-Cutts House, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Merchants National Bank Building, Winona, Minnesota

I don’t know that Elmslie was a member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society but his office was in the People’s Gas, Light, & Coke building on Michigan Avenue. Here he would have been surrounded by Scots including John Williamson. There is one record of a gift from George Elmslie supporting the Scottish Home in 1924. He also signed the admission request for the Jarvie’s to the Scottish Home.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society

Upcoming Events:

March 7, 2015 - All about hats, including the Bess Ben hats in the Scottish American Museum. Our speaker is Mary Robak who wants every woman to wear a hat. She and Elizabeth Fanuzzi have been studying our six Bess Ben hats in the hope their original owner could be identified. 

April 4, 2015 - The Town of Pullman. The President is coming to Chicago next week to designate the Town of Pullman, Illinois, a historic site on the National Register. I just heard our speaker, Michael Shymanski, talking about this event on the radio.