Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Speculative Home for Bertha Palmer

In 1883, Silsbee took a series of trips from Syracuse to Chicago, beginning working on one of his most significant commissions, the designs for the interiors of Potter Palmer's "castle".  Late in that year, he established an office in Chicago with talented architect Edward Kent as his partner.  By 1884, the firm was busy with commissions and though local newspaper accounts in Syracuse try to dispel rumors that Silsbee was moving to Chicago, by 1885 he dissolved his partnership with Syracuse architect Ellis Hall and relocated.
Many of these early commissions were speculative homes for Potter and Bertha Palmer near their own mansion in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.  This building, one of these homes designed on speculation for Bertha Palmer, is the only known surviving Chicago building from these very early years, when Silsbee still resided in Syracuse.  It is also the only surviving building designed by the Silsbee & Kent partnership.
Illustration of the home as it appeared in the Inland architect
and a photograph of the home on HAARGIS.
The home has been significantly altered over the years but even with these changes, it is an excellent example of Moorish Style architecture.  One remarkable feature is the array of terra cotta on the building.  According to local newspaper accounts, Silsbee was the first architect to begin using terra cotta as decoration on residences in Syracuse.  The novel material allowed great possibilities for design, allowing the architect to design endless shapes and relief patterns at a relatively inexpensive cost.  By the time this home was constructed, Silsbee was exploring the limits of the material both for its physical appearance and its structural qualities.

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