WPC: Ornate Turn-of-the-Century Architecture in Chicago and New York City

We are part of nature. We are here to bloom like a flower- to ornate the earth with beauty, love, joy, happiness, and care.
Debasish Mridha

Our modern design ethic values simplicity.  We see beauty in clean lines and limited adornment.  But not too long ago, architectural designs were more elaborate, ornate.  A mark of true craftsmanship.

An architectural giant with a signature ornamental style is Louis Sullivan, named the “father of skyscrapers.”  On a recent architectural tour of 33 South State Street in Chicago, I was struck by the extravagance and beauty of his work–even down to the smallest detail.  Have you ever seen a newel post with such an ornate finial?

Louis Sullivan. Ornate Finial. Shot with a Canon 40D.

Louis Sullivan. Ornate Finial. Shot with a Canon 40D.

Another distinctive feature of the Carson, Piri, Scott department store, completed in 1904, are the large windows, ideal for illuminating the merchandise on sale.  As you can see in the photo below, Sullivan’s external window “treatments” are no less elaborate.  This shot was taken looking up the facade of the building.  In the window, you can see the reflection of the building across the street.  The orange glow in the corner is from a neon sign across the street.

Louis Sullivan. Ornate window framing. Chicago. Shot with a Canon 40D. Paint Daubs Filter

Louis Sullivan. Ornate window framing. Chicago. Shot with a Canon 40D. Paint Daubs Filter

(Here’s a bit of literary gossip:  Louis Sullivan was rumored to be the real-life inspiration for Ayn Rand’s main character, the architect Henry Cameron in her classic novel The Fountainhead.  Cameron’s assistant, Howard Rourke, was also modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright, who was Sullivan’s protegé.)

Clearly, these are not the grandiose architectural wonders one would liken to European cathedrals or ornate movie palaces. But they are in many ways just as reflective of our region’s unique and diverse architectural history.–Ken Bernstein

Another example of an architectural ornate style is Grant’s Tomb in New York City.  The ceiling is spectacular.

Grant's Tomb with Poster Edges. Shot with a Canon 40D.

Grant’s Tomb with Poster Edges. Shot with a Canon 40D.

It is the largest mausoleum in North America, and was funded by private citizens to honor Ulysses S. Grant, who ended the bloodiest war in United States history.  Designed by John Hemenway Duncan, the interior of the tomb is modeled after the the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides in Paris.  The building was completed in 1897.

Today, like most of us,  I am surrounded by the clean straight lines of modern architecture.  But I still value and appreciate the labor and craftsmanship of distant eras.  Perhaps the architecture seems elaborate, excessive, and too labor-intensive to us, but it shows a commitment and dedication to an ethic and style that was extraordinary.

See more interpretations of this week’s ornate challenge, by clicking the link below:


And have a great week, everyone!

22 replies »

  1. Had to laugh as your post reminded me of the old “who is buried in Grant’s tomb” joke!! And loved your literary rumor – I’m a huge fan of Ayn Rand. I hope your rumor is true! Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tina. I hope it’s true too. I love these literary “secrets!” I remember when I heard that the character Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird was modeled after Truman Capote. It added so much to the story. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Maria. It is a challenge sometimes, but these larger monuments are easier, I think, if you can isolate a piece of it that tells the “whole” story! Thanks for your thoughts.


  4. Hi Sally. Thanks! Yes, it’s true. Sullivan is overshadowed by others. It’s so sad that he died penniless and almost forgotten by his contemporaries. He is one of the giants of architecture. Makes me wonder about the fickleness of the public in general!


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