adler & sullivan's 1892 william loeb apartment then and now

adler and sullivan's loeb apartments (1891-92) as they appeared in 1964 (photographed by richard nickel) compared to the present, with only the south entrance and two-story staircase left standing. sadly, the frank lloyd wright-designed bedford limestone entrance was heavily damaged from falling debris when the majority of building was demolished in 1974.

the residence was built for dankmar adler's friends adolph and william loeb from 1891-1892. the southern half of the building was demolished in 1923 when randolph street was widened, and was then replaced by the currently standing building. the northern half was demolished in 1974 and remains a parking lot.

the loeb apartments were of little importance to louis sullivan, since the commission was relatively frugal and arrived at the same time that the firm had abundant work designing skyscrapers in the loop. instead, the job was entrusted to chief draftsman frank lloyd wright, a circumstance which allowed wright to practice working independently. in the resulting structure, wright imbued the architecture with english-derived detailing -- a quality demarcating wright's formal interests from sullivan's, and characterizing the building as early in wright's career. tim samuelson points out that the design is "clumsy" and shows "early flirtations with popular reival styles."

regardless of quality, we can thank richard nickel for having discovered this overlooked building, and for introducing it to the record of neglected adler & sullivan commissions. an account of richard nickel's visit to frank lloyd wright at taliesin in the late 1950's, is that upon showing wright the image of the mostly-forgotten elizabeth street apartment, he responded "so... you found that one did you?"

the building bears some relation to two other commissions that took place concurrently. the charnley house was completed in 1892, a townhouse on the gold coast built for james charnley, and the albert sullivan house, which was completed the same year as sullivan's family residence at 4575 south lake park avenue. counting the loeb apartments, all three projects represent a time when frank lloyd wright's influence was to be felt within adler & sullivan's work.

tim samuelson maintains that the loeb apartment entrance proves to be a compelling puzzle piece, evidencing sullivan's greater guidance in the design of the charnley and albert sullivan houses. the meager remaining archway does gain some significance then, representing the transitional work of a young frank lloyd wright, who would be fired the following year for "moonlighting" or taking independent commissions while still working for sullivan.

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