Larkin Administration Building, Frank Lloyd Wright 1903

Posted by George Pudlo on December 28, 2011 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Larkin Administration Building 

680 Seneca Street

Buffalo, NY 14210

The Larkin Administration Building was Frank Lloyd Wright's first large scale commercial commission. The commission came from Darwin Martin, who was visiting his brother William Martin in Oak Park, Illinois. Wright had just completed William Martin's House, and Darwin Martin was so enchanted that he commissioned Wright to build his own home in Buffalo, New York, the Darwin Martin House, as well as the new headquarters for the Larkin Company, of which Darwin Martin was secretary. Wright would also design the EZ Polish Factory for the Martin Brothers.

The commissions for the Larkin Administration Building and the Unity Temple, which occurred in 1903 and 1905 respectively, launched Frank Lloyd Wright's career to a national level and marked him as a serious architect.  The Larkin Company manufactured soap, and after introducing a mail order business, needed a large administrative building. The Larkin Building was to be surrounded by existing factories, and it was Wright's challenge to create a serene working environment, pleasant for its employees by blocking out the smoke filled exterior factories. 

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Larkin Administration Building as a seven story structure, including basement and roof top garden. As was typical of Wright, he designed every element of the Larkin Building, including the furniture. From a design perspective, the interior of the Larkin Building was arranged in such a manner that each floor surrounded a large open aired, central atrium. The first floor was used as the main work floor. Where we would commonly see a lobby on the first floor, this skylit interior featured a bright, open area for the Larkin employees to process thousands of mail orders a day. Wright would use the same skylight tactics in the Unity Temple. With both structures, a passerby may assume no natural light enters the building. But the trick that Wright played came from skylights above. Wright would carry this concept into the SC Johnson + Wax Administrative Building he designed more than thirty years later in Racine, Wisconsin, also a milestone in factory design.

The Larking Building remains a modern icon of twentieth century building, despite it's unfortunate demolition in 1950 to make way for a trucking terminal. Today, the site of the Larkin Administration Building is a parking lot -the sad fate of innumerable historic structures in the United States. 

Midway Gardens, Frank Lloyd Wright 1914

Posted by George Pudlo on December 25, 2011 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Archival Photographic Files, [apf digital item number, apf2-05124r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Archival Photographic Files, [apf digital item number, apf2-05121r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

The Midway Gardens is a lost treasure in Chicago's long list of demolished buildings. The Midway Gardens was built in the prime of Frank Lloyd Wright's career. He was settled in at his Taliesin home with his mistress Mameh Cheney in Wisconsin, but commuted weekly to Chicago for work. The commission for the Midway Gardens came from Ed Waller, an old friend and client of Wright's. The concept was for a beer garden and concert hall for the upper middle class leisure goer. It was to be designed in the material of concrete, cast, with strong Asian influence. Frank Lloyd Wright collaborated with sculptor Alfonso Ianelli to magically bring the concrete to life. The famous sprite sculptures were designed for this work.

The Midway Gardens came to fantastical fruition in the summer of 1914, and opened to the public on July 27, 1914, while the complex was still partially under construction. It received outstanding praise from critic Harriet Monroe. However, for Wright, the glory of the Midway Gardens was short lived. Less than one month after the Midway Gardens opened, Wright received word of the Taliesin Tragedy while he was finishing up the Gardens, on August 14th, 1914. 

The Midway Gardens was a popular attraction in its first several years. But by the 1920's, prohibition severely strained business. It changed ownership and names twice, the Edelweiss Gardens became the Midway Dancing Gardens, before it was demolished in 1929. 

The story goes that the demolition company went bankrupt trying to dismantle the Midway Gardens and subsequently dumped a vast amount of Midway refuse into Lake Michigan. The Midway Gardens was located on the corner of Cottage Grove and 60th, named for the Midway Plaisance from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Archival Photographic Files, [apf digital item number, apf2-05125r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


     Cast concrete tile preserved from Midway Gardens


Dismembered head of Sprite sculpture


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