WendyCity World’s Fair Moment: Sullivan’s Golden Door

2 Posted by - July 25, 2014 - A World's Fair Moment, Louis Sullivan

I’ll admit my bias: Louis Sullivan is my favorite architect.  His work has the power to make me weep.  Here’s a one-minute example.

But I just discovered some more Sullivan visual rapture to share with you.  Take a look at this simulated recreation of Adler & Sullivan’s long-gone Transportation Building from the 1893 World’s Fair, thanks to the UCLA Urban Simulation Lab.  It’s about four minutes long and a .wmv file that you need to download to view, but SO worth it.  You will feel as if you are in the presence of this building.

Sullivan’s design for the Transportation Building was a repudiation of  the white, neo-classical style chosen for the Fair’s Court of Honor.  The building stood apart from the rest of the huge, white pavilions both in location and in appearance.   With its somewhat exotic feel, this long, low, arcaded box was richly colored and ornamented: red, blue, green and lots of gold, foliate ornament and angels.


But its main entrance, a majestic gold arch celebrated by Fair visitors as the “Golden Door,” was the pièce de résistance.  While American’s tended to fall in love with the White City, many Europeans praised Sullivan’s work as original and exciting.   André Bouilhet, a delegate representing a Parisian decorative-arts union, organized a small exhibit of Sullivan’s work, including a plaster cast of the Golden Door and photographs of his skyscrapers.  From Paris, the exhibit traveled to Russia and Finland. 

And it appears that the idea for the single monumental entrance wasn’t all Sullivan’s.  As Erik Larson put it in The Devil in The White City: “Burnham urged Sullivan to modify his design to create ‘one great entrance toward the east and make this much richer than either of the others you had proposed… Am sure that the effect of your building will be much finer than by the old method of two entrances on this side, neither of which could be so fine and effective as the one central feature.’  Sullivan took the suggestion but never acknowledged its provenance, even though that one great entrance eventually became the talk of the fair.”


But all the accolades Sullivan received for his Transportation Building didn’t assuage his disgust about the Fair’s rejection of modern, distinctly American architecture.  He famously held that “the damage wrought by the World’s Fair will last for half a century from its date, if not longer.”

Thus with the Fair, Sullivan closes out his Autobiography of an Idea, an account of his life, work, and theories, published in 1924, the year he died.

Have you ever seen this at 1211 North LaSalle?


It is the 1980 trompe-l’œil mural in tribute to Sullivan’s Golden Door by Richard Haas (building dates to 1929) via Irina Hynes on Flickr.




  • fabio July 14, 2017 - 1:37 pm Reply

    La Golden Door venne distrutta con l’incendio?

    • Wendy July 15, 2017 - 11:32 am Reply

      Ciao, Fabio. Molti degli edifici fieristici del 1893 furono distrutti in un fuoco del 1894 partito da arma da fuoco. Ma la maggior parte degli edifici erano destinati ad essere temporanei, incluso il Building Transport.

  • Wendy July 16, 2017 - 3:41 pm Reply

    Questo è un buon libro! A Chicago abbiamo un altro arco di Sullivan che è stato salvato dal suo edificio di Borsa: http://www.civicartsproject.com/2012/06/04/chicago-stock-exchange-entrance-arch/

  • fabio July 17, 2017 - 1:22 pm Reply

    L’ho acquistato in “Chicago Architecture book shop”, sulla S Michigan Avenue.
    Grazie per l’informazione; pensa che ci sono anche passato vicino, lato liscio, e sono rimasto perplesso di quell’arco isolato. Ora capisco!

    L’ evoluzione degli archi di Sullivan nella pulizia del moderno di Frank Lloyd Wright
    (già accennata in alcuni portali e camini della “first golden age”):
    V.C. Morris Gift Shop in San Francisco

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