SULLIVAN, Louis Henry
(b. 1856, Boston, d. 1924, Chicago)

Farmers and Merchants Union Bank

1917
Photo
159 West James Street, Columbus, Wisconsin

The last phase in Sullivan's career was largely devoted to designing banks in small towns in the Midwest. Midwestern agriculture thrived in the early 20th century, leading to a revolution in rural banking and the proliferation of small institutions sympathetic to local needs.

Sullivan's first commission in this field was the magnificent National Farmers' Bank (1907-08) in Owatonna, Minnesota. It was followed by the People's Savings Bank (1911), Cedar Rapids, Iowa; the Merchants' Bank (1914), Grinnell, Iowa; the Home Building Association Bank (1914), Newark, Ohio; the Purdue State Bank (1914), West Lafayette, Indiana; the People's Federal Savings and Loan Association (1917-18), Sidney, Ohio; and finally the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank (1919) in Columbus, Wisconsin.

These buildings posed no problems in the expression of structure, as they were all low, load-bearing brick constructions; they did, however, raise important questions of institutional expression. Sullivan's solution was to make them monumental, as befitted banks, but 'modern' and unrelated to historical precedent in order to communicate their transformed character. They are the final and most richly impressive demonstrations of his ornamental skill, with their rich use of polychromy in brick and terracotta. Furthermore, the design of each was sensitively adapted to its setting, usually at the end of the main street facing the town square (as at Owatonna, Grinnell, Newark, Sidney, and Columbus).

At Owatonna, the mass of the structure rises above the surrounding shops and balances the mass of the court-house facing it across the square; at Columbus, an arcade down the side of the bank frames the town's Civil War monument. Although these buildings were in remote areas, the care bestowed on them by Sullivan suggests that here he had finally found appreciative recipients for his exquisite talents.