What's in it for me?
Some Eye Candy in Aiken
Some of the most colorful terra cotta in Minnesota occurs in an unexpected place: a small former bank building in Aitken, Minnesota. It is worth the two-hour drive up Highway 169. Designed in 1913, the First National Bank of Aitken (now a retail store) was among the first of many Upper Midwest buildings to apply Sullivanesque decoration to a
decidedly non-Sullivanesque building. Its architects were Alban and Hausler, a
short-lived partnership of two quite different talents. Charles Hausler, still in his 20s, was the likely source of the terra cotta design, as he had spent a few months in Louis Sullivan's office and flirted on and off with the Prairie School for nearly a decade. William Linley Alban tended to labor under Gothic and Neoclassical restrictions, but his commercial projects often pushed the style boundaries. His hand can probably be seen in the varied patterning of the tapestry brick and brownstone facings.
the First National Bank Aiken, MN
Tapestry brick was also beloved by Sullivan for its rich palette and deep texture. Many of his small-town banks show just this combination of texture brick and terra cotta. In Aitken, the central terra cotta figure is a seedpod embraced by lyres, with a mass of leaves forming a sort of corona over the top, the whole composition supported by the familiar, rectilinear Prairie School rendition of the Tree of Life. Similar Sullivanesque fantasies adorn many small commercial buildings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa; but none with such intense color. The illustration shows only the centerpiece of a broad display of polychrome ornament.
by Paul Clifford Larson, Architectural Historian St. Paul, Minnesota