3 September 1856 – 14 April 1924
Sullivan was a massively influential architect whose work was foundational in both the birth of the skyscraper and in the Chicago School of architecture. He was a mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright and inspired many of the architects who would later be known collectively as the Prairie School. A late-20th-century text on American architecture grouped Sullivan with Wright and Henry Hobson Richardson as “the recognized Trinity of American architecture” He also coined the phrase, “form follows function.”
In the late 1800s, he and his partner Dankmar Adler had great success, designing and building many elaborate, unique buildings throughout Chicago and the country. Chicago’s Auditorium Building, the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY, and the Wainright Building in St. Louis still stand. The Panic of 1893 hit construction hard, as financial downswings usually do, and as months passed with no improvement in their business prospects, Sullivan and Adler dissolved their once-top-tier firm in 1894, the Guaranty Building the last major project the firm completed.
Adler had been the businessman of the partnership, finding the lucrative commissions, and Sullivan’s career never rebounded from the impact of the Panic. His work went from large, elaborate commissions to a few small-town Midwestern banks, many of which still exist (see Sullivan’s Wikipedia entry for photos of many of his still-standing and lost designs).
The last two decades of his life were marred by financial difficulties and alcholism. He died in a Chicago hotel in 1924, and though Wikipedia says he and his wife were separated, the public records are unclear if that was the case or if he had been widowed prior to his death.
Sullivan’s comparatively humble marker stands in a cemetery where mausoleums he designed for wealthy clients (Getty, Ryerson) draw every camera-weilding visitor. The marker that does draw the eye was placed later in his honor; his actual headstone is a simple stone that stands beside those of his parents.
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