Monday, February 15, 2010


What this country needs is a good propylaea. And the country's first professional Architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, made a good argument of its necessity.

Some years ago I followed Latrobe through DC and Baltimore. After the Baltimore Cathedral (where mass could still be heard in Latin), the scheme below, for a Propylaea at the Capitol, remains a favorite work. The first image is from Sheila Scott's "Temple of Liberty." The second is from "The Journal of Latrobe" published by D. Appleton in 1905.   

I bought the "Journal" at the Prairie Avenue Bookstore, attracted by what appeared to be a relatively cheap first edition and The Three Arts Club Ex Libris. The penciled inscriptions were also of interest.      

The book appears to be a gift of Peirce Anderson's parents to their son in 1906. Perhaps on the event of his thirty-sixth birthday. February 20. Just back from Manila, he would have been working in Daniel Burnham's top floor offices at the Railway Exchange.      

I have to guess that the Latrobe Journal would have been one of those "spot-on" gifts that parents can sometimes find for sons. Of course there were ties and socks of excellent quality (both before and after). But the implication here that cannot be missed is that with the success of the 1901 Plan for Washington and construction about to begin on Washington's Union Station (on axis with LaTrobe's capital) the folks in Salt Lake City understood, exactly, Peirce's place in history. And they wanted him to know that.    

Washington's "Propylaea" is surely Peirce Anderson's Union Station. I passed quickly through the renovated Station on my Latrobe pilgrimage, cut through the Post Office because it was cold (and night) missed the Saint Gaudens, Lorado Taft's Columbus Fountain and Daniel Burnham's refined axial connection to the Capitol -- happy to find a cab to Latrobe's Decatur House -- warm enough, to be sure, but having missed (at least) one significant fact. Chicago's contribution to the nation's Capitol is no small thing. No little plan. American Beaux Arts, imported from the East Coast for the 1893 World's Fair, was returned to its source, unforgettably, remarkably, Chicago Style.



  1. Finding a book like that - with that inscription - would make me giddy. Well done. The University of Virginia has a nice introduction to the 1901 Plan for Washington D.C. The Chicago boys and Exposition alumnae had quite a hand in the project.