Episode posted December 10, 2020
Title: Architect to Pabst and Pullman
This is Cream City~Windy City. I’m Wendy Bright.
Every episode, we explore thought-provoking connections between Milwaukee and Chicago, two cities 90-miles apart on the shores of Lake Michigan. This podcast is an effort to lay out some of these links, to connect the histories and human stories of both cities.
Today we look at an architect who left a formidable legacy in Chicago and Milwaukee, but who is not as widely recognized as he should be.
Maybe you don’t know his name, but you know of his work.
The Town of Pullman, on the outskirts of Chicago, was his first major commission. He, along with a landscape architect, worked on the model town for 20 years. The company town for Pullman, maker of luxury rail cars, was a brick utopia of 1300 residences, a hotel, shopping arcade, library, church, and the towering administration building on Lake Vista, surrounded by trees and flowers. In 2015 Pullman was designated a National Monument.
This most famous of planned communities was his design.
The Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue was a tall commercial structure that he originally built for Studebaker, which featured a sophisticated ground floor showroom. But he later transformed it into a magical warren of artist studios, shops, and a glorious theater, filled with Art Nouveau murals, manually operated elevators, woodwork and marble, all bathed in warm light.
This, too, was his work.
The Loyalty Building, originally for Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee, exhibits a powerful stone presence on Broadway. But the splendor of its interior beckons. Mosaic tile floors, the grand sweeping staircase, gleaming copper newel posts, and a stunning skylight make it one of the most superb spaces in Milwaukee.
This was also his design.
The Pabst Building on Milwaukee’s most historic corner, Water & Wisconsin at the river, was the city’s first skyscraper. But the prominent structure had the appearance of a German guildhall, its picturesque tower of curving gables with a clock on each side, presiding over downtown.
This extraordinary structure, unfortunately, came down some 40 years ago now, but it lives on in photos and memory.
Solon Spencer Beman (1853-1914) was the architect to Milwaukee’s Frederick Pabst and Chicago’s George Pullman. His prolific 40-year career produced mansions, skyscrapers, train stations, churches, libraries, commercial and industrial buildings, pavilions for the World’s Fair and more. Beman was widely praised for his eclectic versatility. He was celebrated for his elegant designs. But he left few records and little correspondence. He wrote no treatise or memoir. So his name is not as widely known as those of his peers. Solon Beman was a man of unassuming demeanor. He let his work speak for itself. In a rare 1903 speech, he said: “My friends…my duty is to build, not speak; to act, not talk; to deal with marble, stone and brick: not language.” His works still speak for him. The many designs of marble, stone, and brick continue to bear witness to this quiet architect’s significance.
Thanks so much for joining me. I welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions. You can leave them here.
Many thanks to my son, Zack Goehner, for his brilliant graphic design work.
Intro music: “Chicago Blues” by the Kenny Dorham Quintet.
Background music: “Hovering Thoughts” by Spence.
Outro music, “I Lost My Baby In Milwaukee” by KEdKE.
See you next time.
Solon Beman – selected works:
Town of Pullman (1880s)
Pullman Office Building, Chicago (1884)
Marshall Field, Jr. House, Chicago (1884)
Studebaker Fine Arts Building, Chicago (1885, 1898)
Loyalty/Northwestern Mutual Building, Milwaukee (1886)
Pabst Building, Milwaukee (1891)
Grand Central Station, Chicago (1891)
George Pullman’s Home, addition, Chicago (1891)
The Kimball House, Chicago (1892)
Mines and Mining and Merchant Tailors pavilions at the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 Chicago World’s Fair
John W. Griffiths House, Chicago (1894)
Blackstone Memorial Library, Chicago (1905)
12 Christian Science churches