Finding Jewels Along the Way
On our recent travels to the Southwest, we spent two days driving west from Wisconsin to our first destination, and then two days driving east from our last destination back to the Midwest. We had much ground to cover–over 2200 miles–on those four days, and we were traveling on Interstates, something that neither of us particularly enjoy.
We didn’t want to squander four days of our two week vacation doing nothing but driving, so I researched our route before we left our home. Perhaps Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas don’t have a lot of well-known places to visit, but there is always something interesting to see if you are willing to look. And I found quite a few treasures that gave us an hour’s diversion from the monotony of the road.
Our first treasure literally was a jewel. We stopped at Grinnell, Iowa, which was just a few miles off I-80, to see the Merchant’s Bank, one in a series of architect Louis Sullivan’s Jewel Box Banks. Though Sullivan is most famously known as the “Father of skyscrapers”, he also left a legacy of these small banks, eight in all, dotting the Midwest.
Drat that car, but I wanted a photo of the front exterior showcasing the rose window medallion, and the car came with the exterior shot.
The window is designed with overlapping circles and squares that are in encased in terracotta ornamentation.
Griffins originally flanked both sides of the bank’s entrance, built vandals destroyed the East Griffin in 2006. The terracotta and stained glass were a significant part of Sullivan’s designs.
When the bank opened on January 1, 1915, the townspeople of Grinnell were nearly unanimous in their approval. One citizen observed, “It sure looks nothing like Grinnell.”
Although that’s not entirely true. Grinnell, a small farming community, has an astounding number of buildings designed by well-known architects.
I think the building is best summed up by a newspaper journalist who wrote for the Grinnell Herald and was allowed a sneak preview prior to the grand opening for his article. He wrote:
“Go back to the north end and turn around to the south. Raise the eyes above the partitions and brickwork and catch the massive simplicity of the long beams along the ceiling: study the windowed colored by Millet and its mosaic replica below which surrounds the clock with face of gold. Raise the eyes still higher to the skylight… If you are in just the right mood in time you can hear the dash of the waters over Niagara Falls, listen to the winds that sweep across the prairies of the West, see the blue that hovers over the land of the azure sky and understand something of what Sullivan meant when he talked about the genius of America.”