Iowa and Illinois 2019

I went to Iowa in July 2019 to see my parents. While I was there I traveled around and saw some sights with my old Iowa friend Bob Graef.

McBride Hall is on the University of Iowa Campus. I’m a graduate of the University of Iowa so it’s like going home. McBride Hall is located on the Pentacrest which consists of four classical buildings surrounding Iowa’s old capital. The old capital was built in 1846.

This is McBride Hall. I think it’s beautiful. It was originally called the Natural Science’s Building.

In early 1897 the University of Iowa’s North Hall, which housed the university’s library, burned to the ground and took the library with it. Four years later, in 1901, the university’s South Hall went up in flames. As a result of the fires, the Iowa state legislature, which oversaw the University of Iowa campus, decided to build fireproof buildings for the university and selected the Des Moines based architectural firm of Proudfoot & Bird for the work. [That’s an amazing firm name.] According to the University of Iowa website, Proudfoot & Bird were influenced by Chicago’s Columbian Exposition held in 1893, and as a result the firm tended to design in the neoclassical style. The Natural Science Building cost $313,872 and was completed in 1908. In 1934, it was renamed McBride Hall in honor of Thomas McBride who was the University of Iowa’s president from 1914-1916.

This terrazo floor is inside the front door. In the vestibule.

William Thomas Proudfoot. Photo from Find A Grave.

Proudfoot & Bird were a well-known, mid-western firm in the last quarter of the 19th century and first quarter of the 20th century. Proudfoot was born May 2, 1860 and died June 8, 1928. Proudfoot’s obituary in 1928 states, “During the last thirty years Mr. Proudfoot designed most of the schools and office buildings in Des Moines and practically all the buildings of the state colleges at Iowa City, Ames and Cedar Falls.” Proudfoot was 68 when he died. He suffered two paralytic strokes before his death. Flags at the University of Iowa were flown at half-staff out of respect for his contributions to the campus. He is buried in Indianola, Iowa.

George Washington Bird. Proudfoot & Bird worked together in Wichita, Kansas from 1885-1891.
Photo from Find A Grave.

Proudfoot & Bird were partners until 1912 when Bird retired. According to a National Register for Historic Places document, Bird was “burnt out” from all the work “especially the Polk County Court House” which was completed in 1906. Bird moved to California in 1920 because of an interest in motion pictures. Bird was born on September 1, 1854 and died on September 7, 1953. He died at his home, which was located at 832 S. Kenmore Avenue in Los Angeles. He was 99 years old. He is buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. That’s a long way from Wichita.

My friend Bob took this picture while we were in McBride Hall. He sent it to me with the caption, “Tony discusses evolution with a museum guide.” I don’t look as dignified as Mr. Proudfoot or Mr. Bird. Maybe, it’s the T-shirt? I should dress more formally when I go places.

Later that same day we drove up to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to see:

Louis Sullivan’s People’s Savings Bank

This image is from the January 1912 issue of Architectural Record.

Me, trying to contain my excitement. Shouldn’t it be historic not historical?

This is so cool. It’s outside, on the front of the building, about a foot above the sidewalk.

There’s an exhibit inside the building on the way to the restroom. That’s Mr. Sullivan. All hail Louis Sullivan!

Montgomery Schuyler wrote an article for the Architectural Record regarding Louis Sullivan and the People’s Savings Bank. It appeared in the January 1912 issue.

In the article, Schuyler stated that when Henry Hobson Richardson was at his peak most architects, in America, were interested in his work. While that was true of Louis Sullivan too there was one major difference between the two of them. Regarding Richardson, Schuyler said architects studied his work and were interested in what he was doing because they sought to see how they could adapt what Richardson did to their own projects. American architects’ admiration for Richardson’s work resulted in a large inventory of Richardson Romanesque buildings across America. Louis Sullivan’s work, on the other hand, was also followed by architects but the difference was that architects did not look at Sullivan’s work as something they could adapt. Instead they were interested in Sullivan’s work simply because of the beauty of the buildings he was creating.

Schuyler then quoted the Western Architect and stated that none of Sullivan’s pupils had created anything within Sullivan’s sphere.

[Note: What follows is “word for word” from Schuyler’s article. I think it’s clunky writing but it still makes his point.]

“In the October number of the Architectural Record there were illustrated in conjunction a country house by the master and another by the pupil. The Western Architect of Minneapolis was moved by the conjunction to remark that while Mr. Sullivan’s genius “permits him to do the most daring things in design and ‘get away it,’” of his followers “none have gone so far into the realm of the picturesque, or failed so signally in the production of livable houses, as Frank Lloyd Wright.”

Poor Mr. Wright. It is obvious that during Wright’s lifetime critics had a love/hate relationship with his work. It could not have been easy for Wright to read this type of criticism. It probably gnawed at him.

Schuyler wrote that no one could do what Sullivan could do. Schuyler strangely overlooked Purcell & Elmslie who worked in the Midwest and produced over sixty Sullivan-esque homes between 1910 and 1921. It could be that Purcell & Elmslie weren’t well known at the time or didn’t have the reputation, then, that they have now. George Grant Elmslie was certainly a pupil of Sullivan and even worked for him.

Schuyler stated that the People’s Savings Bank is designed from the inside outward and that the exterior is merely an envelope that contains the striking interior. He went on to write that many people would find the simplicity of the building’s exterior surprising. After praising the bank’s interior, Schuyler wrote that the People’s Savings Bank, like the Farmers Bank of Owatonna before it, had become a pilgrimage site for individuals who admired Sullivan’s work.

An original light fixture.  They seem a little flashy for a bank in Iowa.

The space is occupied by a restaurant now. The building was flooded in 2008.

Looking in the same direction as the previous photograph. From Architectural Record.

A Louis Sullivan column.

One of the columns is featured in Architectural Record.

There are murals in the banking room. The murals are by Allen E. Philbrick. He was a local artist. There is an image of Philbrick at the People’s Savings Bank. Next to his photo it states Philbrick attended the Art Institute in Chicago and then taught at that institution for 50 years. It’s difficult to get a “head on” or good photograph of the murals because of the big light fixtures.

This is looking in the same direction as the previous photo. From Architectural Record.

You can eat in the vault.

Two more interior views above and below. From Architectural Record.

A light fixtures outside the bank. I don’t remember these light fixtures being here the last time I visited the site. There were light fixtures outside the bank when it was built.

I think these original light fixtures have been copied and the copies are what is in front of the bank now. The top is different in many ways. From Architectural Record.

The furniture looks like it was bought from a Sears catalog. Architectural Record.

I wonder if there was a woman’s rest room or if all the employees in the bank were men. Architectural Record.

Decorative stonework on the exterior.

An exterior light fixture.

A rendering of the building. I want it!

The People’s Savings Bank is very close to where I was staying. The GPS knows how long we were there. You know these computers are going to kill all of us one day.

A couple of days later we drove down to Springfield, Illinois to see:

Lincoln’s Home and Tomb

YAY, it’s the National Park Service! I’m glad they’re on the job.

The whole area is meticulously maintained. I think they sweep the sandy street at night to make it look perfect in the morning.

According to the National Park Service this is the only home the Lincolns ever owned.

Our tour guide.

Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd married on November 16, 1842. They lived in a boarding house for the first year of their marriage and then bought this house in 1844. It is located in Springfield, Illinois at the corner of Jackson and Eighth Streets. The Lincolns paid $1,200 for the house. They also gave the seller a $300 lot they owned. The Lincolns lived in this home for sixteen years until the family moved to the White House in Washington, D.C. The National Park Service guide said the Lincolns stored their furnishings and household goods and rented out the home during Lincoln’s presidency. The family intended to return to the home but after Lincoln’s assassination Mary Todd Lincoln wouldn’t go back. Eventually, most of the furnishing were sold at a public auction. The stove in the kitchen and a writing desk in Lincoln’s bedroom are two of the objects that belonged to the Lincolns.

In 1887, Robert Lincoln donated the home to the state of Illinois with some restrictions. One was the public would be able to tour the home for free. Consequently, there is no admission fee even today. Parking is $2 for two hours. In 1972 the home was transferred to the National Park Service.

A section of the parlor on the first floor.

Lincoln’s bedroom.

The desk Lincoln used. It’s small for a big man.

Mary’s bedroom. It’s a comfortable looking room. I could happily retire there at night.

The stove Mary Todd Lincoln cooked upon.

By the time we drove down to Lincoln’s tomb the sky was overcast and it was windy.

It’s a well maintained cemetery…

…with a pretty impressive tomb.

Evidently, it’s good luck to rub Lincoln’s nose. That’s my Iowa friend Bob Graef. I’ve known him practically all my life.

The National Park Service has an informative internet site regarding Lincoln’s Tomb. The Park Service says almost immediately after the citizens of Springfield, Illinois heard that Lincoln’s body would be returned to his hometown a fund to build a tomb or monument for him was initiated. Lincoln’s body spent six years in two different receiving vaults after being shipped from Washington, D.C. and wasn’t immediately interred in the tomb because the tomb was unfinished. In 1871, his body was placed in a crypt in the still unfinished tomb. Finally, in 1874, the tomb was dedicated with former President U.S. Grant in attendance. At this point, Lincoln’s body was interred in a sarcophagus. The website does not specify if the sarcophagus was above ground or buried. I am guessing it was above ground because the sarcophagus ended up being a temporary resting place again. Two years later, in 1876, two cash strapped men attempted to steal Lincoln’s body with the goal of holding the body for ransom. When the plot was uncovered, Lincoln’s body was moved and buried in an unspecified location within the tomb. The Lincoln Monument Association thought it would be best if no one knew the exact location. The vault room is large so even if the body was buried in the vault room unless a grave robber knew the body’s exact location it would be difficult to find and steal.

In 1901, Lincoln’s body was re-interred in the sarcophagus (above ground?) but Robert Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln’s son, objected and the state of Illinois listened. Lincoln’s body is now buried in “a cement vault 10 feet below the surface of the burial room.” The National Park Service does not specify if the body is beneath the cenotaph or in some other location in the room. The cenotaph is the large, red, 7-ton block of marble with Lincoln’s name & his life and death dates.

In 1930-31, the interior of the tomb was reconfigured to allow visitors the opportunity to enter the tomb and see the cenotaph up close.

The entrance to the tomb.

This is the first thing you see when you walk inside.

The tomb is a big circle. You enter to the right of the statue above and walk around. At the midway point is the cenotaph. Along the way are statues of Lincoln by various sculptors. It’s very tasteful and restrained.

She’s there too.

The interior of the tomb wasn’t accessible when it was originally built so people would come to the rear of the tomb and look through this window at Lincoln’s final resting place.

Grant Wood

I’ve always liked Grant Wood’s paintings. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art has a number of them and so does the Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa. The Figge is housed in a David Chipperfield building.

Self-Portrait. (1932-1941) This self portrait is at the Figge.

The Cedar Rapids Museum has a permanent exhibit.

Woman with Plants. (1929) The woman in the image is Grant Wood’s mother.

Young Corn. (1931)

Overmantle Decoration. (1930)

A bench Grant Wood designed.

The door to Wood’s studio which was located at 5 Turner Alley.

Close up of door glass.

Adoration of the Home. (1921-1922) This was a commercial commission. It was used in a local real estate developer’s housing campaign.

This is my favorite image of Grant Wood. He looks very modern and yet looks like a beatnik too. The photo is from the 1920s. Photo from R. Tripp Evans’ book on Grant Wood.

Grant Wood painted American Gothic in 1930 and died on February 12, 1942. He was fifty when he died. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. In his final days Wood was still somewhat optimistic about his future and said he wanted to sell his Iowa City home and move to Palm Springs. For his new home Wood would need a servant so he asked his sister Nan “to be on the lookout for an Oriental houseboy.”

I had a great trip to Iowa. Bob is the perfect traveling companion because of his good disposition and his fine photography skills. I’ve used many of his photographs in this post.



Bird, George Washington.

Evans, R. T. (2010) Grant Wood. New York: Knopf

Legler, D. (2006). At home on the prairie; the houses of Purcell & Elmsie. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Lincoln Home.

Lincoln’s Tomb.

McBride Hall.

Proudfoot & Bird.

Proudfoot, William Thomas.

Schuyler, M. (1912, January). The People’s Savings Bank. Architectural Record, 31(1), 45-56.

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings: Lincoln Tomb.


My book from The History Press, Architects Who Built Southern California, was released on March 11, 2019. It’s 10 chapters with each chapter devoted to a different architect (or architectural firm) including: Harrison Albright, John Austin, Claud Beelman, Elmer Grey, Hudson & Munsell, A. C. Martin, Meyer & Holler, Julia Morgan, Morgan Walls & Clements and Alfred F. Rosenheim.