|Sullivan Owatonna MN Bank|
Runners, Placemats and Pillows
By Rennie and Rose
Between 1916 and 1920, Louis Sullivan designed and built seven rural town banks: Cedar Rapids and Grinnell in Iowa, West Lafayette in Indiana, Owatonna in Minnesota, Newark and Sidney in Ohio and Columbus in Wisconsin. These were among the few commissions Sullivan got in the final years before his death in 1924. Modest box buildings in size, they are located in small rural towns. With richly ornamented architectural interiors, they became known as Sullivan’s ‘Jewel Boxes’ which is how they are referred to today.|
Critics rank these banks as the finest of Sullivan’s designs. Comments of visiting bankers were: “No space wasted“, “Nothing is crowded“, “Nothing is left out” and “Beautiful”.
Carl Bennett was VP of the bank his father had founded, the National Farmers Bank of Owatonna, MN. Mr Bennett was also observing the aesthetic of the Arts & Crafts movement which had him subscribing to Gustav Stickley’s ’The Craftsman Magazine’. There Bennett encountered Stickley’s references to Louis Sullivan in Chicago. So Bennett met Sullivan and the two became both personal and professional friends sharing their love of music and the ideological tenets of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Mr Bennett had convinced his bank governing board to invest $125,000 ($3,600,000+ today) in a new bank. Sullivan rose to the occasion and impressed Bennett’s board colleagues which awarded him the commission to design and supervise the construction of the now famous first Sullivan ‘Jewel Box’ Bank. Sullivan even requested the assistance of his former Chief Draftsman George Elmslie, to design much of the ornamentation incorporated in the final construction including the four huge electroliers cast by the Winslow Brothers of Chicago. The two huge stained glass windows were designed by Louis Millet and the dairy farm mural on the north wall was by Oskar Gross.
With the commission Sullivan received a desired layout for the new bank envisioning a temple form outer shell. The final design as we know it today is believe it or not, a watered down temple form much more appropriate to the dairy-farming community it served. Forced to follow his own creed, Form Follows Function, some of the design ideas for this bank that didn’t survive were used subsequently in the following 6 commissions, particularly the last one, the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank in Madison WI.
Finished in 1908, the Owatonna Bank is both polychromatic and monumental and got rave reviews which led to the six additional commissions. Bennett’s final comments to Sullivan was “I have often likened your work to that of the great musicians or poets and have thought of ourselves as though we possessed exclusively one of the symphonies of Beethoven!”
Owatnoona became the ‘Mecca of Architecture” for architects wanting to review a preeminent design of a rural commercial bank building. And Sullivan’s Prairie School architect conterparts were very impressed with the Owatonna Bank and they followed him as he designed and constructed the:
Peoples Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids, IA in 1911
Purdue State Bank in West Lafayette, IN in 1915
Merchants National Bank in Grinnell, IA in 1915
Home Building Association in Newark, OH in 1915
Peoples Savings and Loan Association in Sidney, OH in 1918
Farmers and Merchants Union Bank in Columbus, WI in 1920
The exclusive and extraordinary fabrics shown below that are inspired by the stained glass of the Owatonna Bank have color depth and are woven on jacquard looms in rich detail taking into account the ornamentation detail of Sullivan‘s ‘Jewel Box’. Products manufactured in the USA.