Louis Sullivan imposter bank, Poseyville, Indiana

I recently was driving a round-about way to New Harmony, Indiana and passed through Poseyville.  Much to my surprise, right in the middle of town, what appears to be a bank by Louis Sullivan.

PoseyvilleBank02

No mistaking the ornament, both in their individual designs and how they ‘strap’ the building.  However, having studied Sullivan in school and later while living in Chicago, while I was familiar with many of his late career bank designs, I had never heard of this one.  It is extremely similar in its long facade to the bank in Sidney, Ohio.

Sidney Bank 01

However, as you can see, the Poseyville bank is more of a shoe-box than a jewel box, simply repeating the long facade ornamentation to the main entry.  The individual ornamentations however are unmistakable:

PoseyvilleBank03

Poseyville bank

Sidney Bank 02

Sidney bank

Well, it turns out the Poseyville bank is not a Sullivan work at all.  Rather, it is a knock-off, by Edward Thole, built in 1924 (documented in the excellent essay “The Banks and the Image of Progressive Banking” by Wim de Wit in Louis Sullivan, The Function of Ornament. ( I highly recommend this essay as it gives cultural context to the intentions of the architect and clients of the bank projects.  Rarely are the needs and desires of the engaged clients presented or discussed in architecture books)

Maybe the Indianapolis Terra Cotta Company had the molds available for use?

Sidney bank image from the website maintained by Mary Ann Sullivan:  http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/sidney/sidney.html

In any case, it is an interesting building and though not a Sullivan original, a commanding presence in the small town and a fascinating attempt to convey strength and security for a bank without resorting to the usual Greek temple forms.

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