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David Pooley
David Pooley
OPINION: Mitchell restoration project testament to architectural legends
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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Kudos to Jeff Logan for breathing life back into the Branson Bank building (perhaps known to most as the old Mitchell Abstract) just off Main on East Second Avenue (Daily Republic Page A1, Oct. 19).

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Mitchell is fortunate to have such a great example of the "Jewell Box" banks that were built in the Midwest in the early part of the 1900s.

They were designed by some of the most notable architects this country ever produced, such as Louis Sullivan, George Elmslie and William Gray Purcell.

This building, like the others that dotted the landscape of the Midwest, from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Indiana and Ohio, was inspired by the National Farmer's Bank in Owatonna, Minn., which was Louis Sullivan's final masterpiece.

While Frank Lloyd Wright became more famous, he began his career in Sullivan's Chicago office, becoming chief draftsman, and developed his "Organic" architecture ideas from Sullivan's concepts.

In spite of Wright's famously large ego, he always referred to Sullivan as "The Master," even after achieving his own incredible fame.

George Elmslie succeeded Wright as Sullivan's chief draftsman and was very influential in the design of the National Farmer's bank.

Eventually, Elmslie joined Purcell of Minneapolis to form a partnership, and the Branson bank in Mitchell was one of their finest designs.

Purcell called Elmslie's terra cotta design over the entry to be one of his best. High praise considering that Elmslie's terra cotta designs are considered some of the greatest ever for that material.

Purcell had such an affinity for this building that he wrote to another banker in Mitchell in later years to find out about its condition.

Having such a wonderful example of this uniquely American architecture is a great asset for Mitchell. For it to have survived is no less fortunate.

I didn't know its history when I was a kid as I rode my bike by it on my way across town, but I knew there was something special about it.

Looking back, it was an instant connection to those masters through their principles embodied in that design.

Later, when I became an architect, I had the incredibly good fortune to work on a renovation of the Farmer's Bank in Owatonna.

Though the project didn't allow for a true restoration, we were guided by Sullivan's original concepts in the renovation.

After seeing the designs of these masters and the care they took, one gets a strong desire to help to keep them alive for others to appreciate.

Mr. Logan's efforts to bring the Branson Bank building back to life are a testament to his appreciation for the building and its history, as well as a desire to save it for all of us, both now and into Mitchell's future. Those masters would be proud. We should be, too.

David Pooley, of New Hope, Minn., is an architect.

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