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Louis Sullivan's Building for John D. Van Allen and Son

Joseph Siry
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 49, No. 1 (Mar., 1990), pp. 67-89
DOI: 10.2307/990499
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/990499
Page Count: 23
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Louis Sullivan's Building for John D. Van Allen and Son
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Abstract

Long regarded as an anomaly among his later works, Louis Sullivan's retail dry goods store for John D. Van Allen and Son of 1913-1915 in Clinton, Iowa, is one of his best documented buildings in surviving drawings and correspondence. Though related to his earlier Schlesinger and Mayer Store in Chicago, the Van Allen Building was Sullivan's only design for a regional adaptation of a metropolitan department store for a smaller city. Often criticized for the ornamental vertical mullions on its main elevation, the Van Allen store's exterior was carefully conceived with respect to its interior plan and its method of construction. Analysis of the design's development reveals that the mullions may have been Sullivan's architectural solution to interrelated questions of the visual rhythm of openings on both street fronts, the expression of the structural system that defined the store's main interior aisles, and the Van Allen Building's height and position in its urban context. The ornamental motifs on the mullions may suggest the relation between mercantile interests and regional agriculture which preoccupied the Van Allens as progressive businessmen who saw Sullivan's building as part of a larger vision for their city's urban development. In its symbolism the Van Allen store is thus related to Sullivan's banks of the same period. The response of Sullivan's design to the particular requirements of the commission makes the Van Allen Building an instructive example of his interest in architectural expression of a building's specific character as one facet of his theoretical ideal that "form follows function."

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