Happy 158th Birthday to Louis Sullivan

Father of Modern Architecture and part time Mississippian Louis Sullivan would have celebrated his 158th birthday this week.  To honor his birth here is an excerpt from his autobiography which is entitled  Autobiography of an Idea.  In this excerpt Sullivan discusses the first time he laid eyes on the properties that are today the Sullivan-Charnley Historic District on East Beach Drive Ocean Springs, Mississippi, when he was 34 years old and at the height of his career.  Sullivan would write this passage the same year he died-1924- looking back and remembering it lovingly with the same decisive fervor he did the first time he visited the site.

This property would be the site of the only home he ever owned and the place he described as being the location of his “finest and purest thinking.”

 …The trail wound up and down, crossed a bayou, then followed the shore, ascended a low bluff, following its edge, passing by some second growth at the left which gradually changed character, increased in height and density. Louis was becoming excited. At last the Colonel stopped, rose in his light wagon, and with a broad gesture as though addressing the House, he said: “This is my land.” Louis clasped his hand to his heart in an ecstasy of pain. What he saw was not merely woodland, but a stately forest, of amazing beauty, utterly wild. Non-commercial, it had remained for years untouched by the hand of man. Louis, breathless, worked his way as best he could through the dense undergrowth. He nearly lost his wits at what he discovered; immense rugged short-leaved pines, sheer eighty feet to their stiff gnarled crowns, graceful swamp pines, very tall, delicately plumed; slender vertical Loblolly pines in dense masses; patriarchal sweet gums and black gums with their younger broods; maples, hickories, myrtles; In the undergrowth, dogwoods, Halesias, sloe plums, buckeyes and azaleas, all in a riot of bloom; a giant magnolia grandiflora near the front all grouped and arranged as though by the hand of an unseen poet. Louis saw the strategy. He knew what he could do. He planned for two shacks or bungalows, 300 feet apart, with stables far back; also a system of development requiring years for fulfillment. The Colonel made the price right, not over ten times what he paid. The deed ran thus: Beginning at a cross on a hickory tree at the beach, thence north 1 so many chains (a quarter mile), then east, etc., and south to the beach, with riparian rights, etc. The building work was let to a local carpenter. On 12 March, 1890, the comrades light-heartedly looking toward the future, made their way toward Chicago.

Louis Sullivan, 1890. from Ryerson Burnham Library, Art Institute of Chicago Accessed 9-3-2014

Louis Sullivan, 1890. from Ryerson Burnham Library, Art Institute of Chicago Accessed 9-3-2014

Categories: Architectural Research, Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina, Lost Mississippi, Ocean Springs

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2 replies

  1. Happy birthday Louis! Thanks for sharing this Thomas, it is indeed a place of amazing beauty.


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