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Architectural
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Sullivanesque

The term Sullivanesque pays homage to Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924), one of the most brilliant and imitated architects of the 19 th and 20 th centuries. As a leader of the Chicago School of Architecture, Sullivan pioneered the design and construction of large-scale, multi-story commercial buildings supported by skeletal steel structures. His brick and terra-cotta buildings were façade-oriented structures noted for their stylized ornamentation. Sullivan's unique style was embraced by architects and speculative developers; by the 1890s it gained a popularity that continued for decades.

Sullivan is widely considered America 's first modern architect. Instead of imitating historic styles, he aspired to create an American architecture that was expressive of democracy and the industrial age. He recognized that machines could economically produce building components and ornament that would unify both the interior and exterior elements of multi-story buildings. Sullivan is the originator of the phrase "form follows function" and is credited with inspiring three architectural movements: the Chicago School, the Prairie School, and the Sullivanesque.

Sullivanesque design features include:

  • Multi-storied buildings, usually commercial
  • Buildings situated in urban settings, such as downtowns or neighborhood commercial strips
  • Buildings situated on narrow and deep lots, often with rear alley service
  • Exterior walls, especially those facing the street, embellished with ornament
  • Intricate ornament placed at door surrounds and other easily viewed locations
  • Ornamentation based on images from nature, rejecting classical references
  • Steel frame construction with brick and terra-cotta

Sullivan's designs, which often used intertwining vines and leaves combined with geometric shapes, were often imitated. Other less-gifted architects often relied on stock terra cotta ornamentation produced by suppliers such as Chicago 's Midland Terra Cotta Company.

The style was popular from 1895 to 1930. At the peak of the Sullivanesque period, the skyscraper was the pinnacle of architectural commissions, and many cities had one or more Sullivanesque high-rise buildings. The style did make it to California, but most Sullivanesque buildings were constructed in the Midwest.

Fullerton has only one Sullivanesque building: the Chapman Building (1923) in the heart of downtown at 110 E. Wilshire Avenue. The five-story building - the tallest in Orange County at the time - was built for wealthy Charles Chapman, Fullerton 's first mayor. Chapman was born in Illinois and began his entrepreneurial career in Chicago in the 1870s, leaving for California in 1894, when the construction of skyscrapers was flourishing in Chicago. When Chapman moved to Fullerton, it was natural for him to want to recreate the architecture he had known in Chicago. The Chapman Building actually borrows some of the detailing from Sullivan's Bayard Building, constructed in New York in 1897.

Read More about the Sullivanesque Style:

  • Schmitt, Ronald E. Sullivanesque Urban Architecture and Ornamentation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Includes an inventory of Sullivanesque buildings across the United States.
  • Van Zanten, David. Sullivan's City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. New York: Norton, 2000.

 


Chapman Building (1923)
110 E. Wilshire Avenue

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