February 06: a prairie architect’s companion

2012/02/06 § Leave a comment

In this month in 1883 the premiere issue of The Inland Architect appeared.

Although it had no editorial stance against architecture outside of the midwest, the journal’s focus was on the buildings rising in such quickly growing cities as St. Louis, Cincinnati, St. Paul, Detroit, and of course its home base, Chicago.  With this point of view, it filled the gap left by myopic East Coast journals that thought only barns and tepees existed in the wild west beyond the Hudson River and supported the profession in the midwest by recording the aims and concerns of these first architectural professionals on the prairie.  Its first issue promised a history of Chicago architecture written by William Le Baron Jenney, lots of news on apartment construction, info on the growth of Chicago’s hardwood market, the rediscovery of vasa murrhina  (which is apparently in need of rediscovery again), reports on new buildings (including the Calumet Club House portrayed above–the only illustration that appeared in the fourteen-page issue), warnings about improper application of brass curtain-loops, notes on several upcoming art exhibitions, a short piece explaining that the “erection of buildings at night by means of the electric light is becoming quite a common thing all over the country,” advice about trendy colors for libraries and dining rooms (Pompeiian red) and parlor wallpaper (electric blue and shell pink), predictions on the damage done by the winter’s snowfall, and a complete list of building permits issued for the month.

Inland Architect represents the first centralized voice for the profession in the middle part of the country as directed by and focused on some of its leading practitioners–names like Burnham, Root, Adler, and Sullivan.  These are the same people who would form the Western Association of Architects in the following year after losing patience with the East-Coastcentric AIA.  (And why not, seeing how they could still totally eat the lunch of their contemporary eastern rivals like Hunt or McKim or Kendall or Post or whomever.)  However, just like the WAA (which merged with the AIA in 1899), Inland Architect could not maintain its sense of isolated professional bravado as the country and profession expanded and the country was knit more closely together.  That is a good and a bad thing, for it meant more opportunity for midwestern architects, but less of a regional voice–both expressed and preserved.  Inland had a troubled publication history after its heyday, struggling for steady readership through the twentieth century.  During the 1980s Harry Weese valiantly helped it along, but after his exit from its leadership the journal wobbled.  The costs associated with its next iteration, which made it glossier and fatter, also made its publication costs untenable in the collapse of the profession in the latter part of the 1980s.  In 1994 it was sold to Steven N. Polydoris, who runs REN Publishing Co., “a publisher of high-quality consumer and trade magazines” (according to his website).  Inland is now a sad orphan among his list of titles, standing among such stunning journals as North Shore Style Weddings and New Accountant.  Jenney would not be impressed.

In April, 2011, the Art Institute of Chicago made a load of Inland images available on its website.

You can read the inaugural issue of Inland Architect here.

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