George Grant Elmslie Architectural Tour

Aurora's Collection of Elmslie's

The largest collection of George Grant Elmslie's commercial buildings is located here in Aurora, Illinois. His 5 building designs in our city illustrate the influence of the Chicago School of Architecture's modern ideas. This tour provides some excellent examples of Elmslie's impact on American architecture.

Elmslie's Work

Through Louis Sullivan, his employer for nearly 20 years, Elmslie was associated with the vanguard of modern architecture. Sullivan, one of the fathers of modern architecture, was then working with Dankmar Adler on the landmark Auditorium Building. Frank Lloyd Wright was employed by Adler and Sullivan at the same time. "Sullivan," Elmslie wrote later, "allowed me a lot of freedom and from 1895 to 1909 I did much designing for him and all of the ornamental work besides. I owe an inexpressible debt to him, the great master, and to his teachings."

Elmslie's contributions to the firm were significant, including his work on Chicago's Carson Pirie Scott and Company Building. While the structure's overall design was Sullivan's, what is frequently overlooked is that Elmslie created the world renowned cast-iron ornament that decorates that monument to the Chicago School.
A map of the George Grant Elmslie Architecture Tour.
Elmslie began designing alone in 1922. "Since then," wrote Elmslie, "I have been holding aloft the banner of the Sullivan philosophy alone and endeavoring to design and plan on its basis." Their shared philosophy included an unbending belief that modern American architecture should be, above all, indigenous. Elmslie once remarked, "There is quite some talk going on about an International style. This is something we do not want. I hope the idea of a common style between nations will pass away and be forgotten. What we need is a sane and wide development of the use of our own varied and marvelous materials..."

Elmslie favored terra cotta for ornament. Characteristically he used repeating bands of this baked clay material to define spandrels, lintels, piers, and other structural systems. Elmslie also frequently accented his work with bas-relief, deriving the themes from the building's purpose and association to locally significant activities and values.

Tour Information

  • Begin: Pace Route 524 - Downer Pl., Galena / Broadway
  • End: Pace Route 526 - W Plaza Galena / Chestnut