Wednesday, September 19, 2012



* * * * *
The Thatcher Building
First National Bank Building
By Garden & Martin, Chicago, Architects
- 1912 -
This post is to highlight The Thatcher Building, also known as the First National Bank Building (now the US Bank Building) at 503 North Main Street in Pueblo, Colorado.
Anyone even slightly familiar with the history of modern architecture would stop in their tracks to see this massive blocky cube shaped skyscraper, clad in Manitou red granite and what appears to be William Gates' Terra Cotta Tile Works (makers of Teco Pottery) ornamental architectural terra cotta. Further research has indicated that the ornamental work is carved stone, more about that later in this post.
The bank is an outstanding example of the tall building artistically conceived by the likes of Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. With its Prairie Style forms, it is a near sister of Adler and Sullivan's Guarantee Trust Building in Buffalo or the Wainwright Building in St. Louis.

You can find many photos of each of those buildings for comparison purposes on line. I suggest you take a look at them. While both are in the same color range and use similar over-all massing, Sullivan liked to emphasize the verticality of these early skyscrapers. The First National Bank Building in contrast has window-sill string courses that emphasize the horizontal, one of the key elements of Prairie Style design.

And yes, architectural historians, it does have strong echos of Florence's Renaissance palazzos such as the Palazzo Strozzi by Benedetto da Maiano and Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici (1444-69), with the rustication, well defined main level separated by a string course, the continuous string courses for the window sills, the projecting eaves and the arched window forms. (That I even recall this would make my Penn State professor Helmut Hager proud).

Even though this building is not written up in any of the standard works on American architecture of that period, in fact, I like it much more than either of the much ballyhooed works by Adler and Sullivan.
It took some doing for me to find out who the architects were: Not Adler and Sullivan but their Chicago colleagues Garden and Martin.
Hugh M. G. Garden (1873-1961) was a native of Toronto, Canada. Hugh Mackie Gordon Garden moved to Chicago in the late-1880s, apprenticing with several architectural firms, including Flanders & Zimmerman, Henry Ives Cobb, and Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. He then became a freelance renderer, which brought him jobs with Howard Van Doren Shaw, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright. With Wright and Teco Pottery owner William Gates, Garden was a member of the Cliff Dwellers Club (founded in 1907, other notable members included Daniel Burnham, Walter Damarosch, Hamlin Garland, Robert Jarvie, Jens Jensen, Cyrus McCormick, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Robert C. Spencer, Lorado Taft, Booth Tarkington, Louis Sullivan, Carl Sandburg, James Whitcomb Riley and William Allan White), and like Wright, Garden designed vases for Teco. The style and details of Garden's architectural designs were so unique and distinctive that they often are referred to with the term "Gardenesque."

Edgar D. Martin (1871-1951) was for about 20 years, his architectural partner. Martin was an extremely skilled structural engineer who was able to solve technical problems associated with large industrial buildings and modern materials, such as the partners' Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog House (1908; 600 W. Chicago Ave.), one of the first buildings to be constructed of reinforced concrete.
You can read more about them at this excellent website:

Inside, the main banking floor is replete with Prairie style ornament (the stenciling is amazing). High on the north wall of the lobby are three large murals depicting scenes in early Pueblo of a cattle roundup and of the Santa Fe Trail. They were painted by Edward J. Holslag (1870-1924) of Chicago, and were placed in the arches above the banking floor when the bank opened in 1914.

Born in Buffalo, NY, Holslag studied art with John LaFarge at the National Academy of Design and in Europe. After painting murals in the Congressional Library in 1892, he did a series of murals in banks and hotels around the nation. His 1917 mural in the Congress Hotel in Chicago measured two and one-half miles long and adorned eleven corridors. The shallow dome of the Librarian's Room at the Library of Congress includes a central disc with a painting by Holslag. Holslag travelled the world in search of subject matter. You may read more about him on line in the book:
Chicago: Its History and Its Builders, a Century of Marvelous Growth, Volume 4, by Josiah Seymour Currey, page 360.

If you have been to the Savoy Hotel in Kansas City, the Grill Room there is surrounded by similar work by the same artist, The Savoy Murals, painted by Edward Holslag in 1903 when he was in his early thirties. Those murals depict the pioneers' departure from Westport Landing and their journey along the Santa Fe Trail. Holslag is represented at the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C. The Savoy Grill Murals have been included in the Smithsonian Institution's "Bicentennial Inventory of American Paintings." The Pueblo Murals ought to be similarly listed and celebrated.
Also of note is Bank founder John Thatcher's private office, now a conference room, with its gorgeous (probably Van Briggle but possibly Teco or Rookwood) art tile fireplace surround. I was longing to, but didn't attempt to, photograph inside. After all, there was an armored truck making a delivery at the moment!

Adler and Sullivan HAD built a building in Pueblo, often listed in a summary of their work, which has since been destroyed by fire (in the 20s): The Pueblo Opera House. Although very interesting and a stubby version of their Auditorium Building in Chicago, I must say that Garden and Martin interpreted Adler and Sullivan's style more effectively, with Pueblo's First National Bank. It is a stunner and should be featured in every architecture history book. Without a doubt it is the most architecturally significant structure in Pueblo and it boggles the mind that it is not even listed in the 2006 "Pueblo Inventory of Cultural Resources".
H.J. Klein of Chicago was subcontractor for the stone-carving work. In addition to Klein, the artisans who carved the design out of rough stone were Levi Faulkner of New York, A. Holz of Chicago and L. Schaeder of Denver. The design adopted for the Thatcher building was worked out by Hugh Garden. The design was constructed in clay and a plaster of paris cast was made. To convert the rough rock, which was already in place on the building, into the design was largely a work of the eye. The stone was too rough to use stencils. The guidelines were sketched by freehand drawing onto the stone, and the artisans chiseled it out. They sat on scaffolding with a canvas covering for protection from the sun and wind.The finished work rivals the ornamental terra cotta of Sullivan on the Carson, Pirie, Scott Building in Chicago, or the National Farmers' Bank of Owatonna, Minnesota.

No comments: