Romanesque on the Plains: The Look of Sioux Falls

By John Tierney
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Introductory note by James Fallows: Yesterday I discussed why the part of greater Sioux Falls that is visually least interesting, to put it politely -- the expanse of fast food joints and big-box malls on the town's periphery -- is connected to a quite interesting part of the city's economic history and current civic culture.

That in turn is connected to a theme I mentioned back in the first dispatch from this "East River" part of the Dakotas: Sioux Falls has made such a powerful and mostly positive impression on us largely because it so clearly represents a long-standing part of the essential American bargain. It is successful, and rough-edged -- a contemporary City of Big Shoulders, with lots of its economic machinery displayed rather than tucked out of site. A century-plus ago, one aspect of its economic boom was its role as quickie-divorce center. A generation-plus ago, it put itself on the financial-services map when South Dakota eliminated usury laws and drew Citibank and other credit-card companies to set up headquarters in Sioux Falls. There will be more to say about that phase of the city's history.

But in addition to the visible raw edges, like the huge slaughterhouse and the penitentiary that both sit right downtown, the city also has an extensive and remarkable architectural heritage. That is what John Tierney describes today, starting with the striking Richardson-style Romanesque buildings that define much of the look of downtown. The image at the top shows one of many buildings by the city's most influential architect, Wallace L. Dow. It's part of the state pen.


By John Tierney

It used to be that if you wanted to get a sense of what distant cities and towns looked like, you had to travel there yourself, view guidebooks and coffee-table photobooks, get hold of postcards, or endure friends’ slide shows and endless monologues. These days, it’s easy to learn the look of other places by turning to Google’s Street View, YouTube, and other Web resources.

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But it’s still helpful, if you’re trying to get a sense of a city’s architectural style and its most treasured structures, to have someone curate a selection of buildings and sites for you. So, in that spirit, for many of the cities that Jim and Deb will be visiting for the American Futures project, we’ll provide an amateur’s guide to notable buildings in town. Some of these will be Fallows photos; most will be from the Web.

Sioux Falls is a terrific city to begin this exercise because it contains many beautiful buildings, over 65 of them on the National Register of Historic Places. Carolyn Torma, an expert on South Dakota’s architectural treasures, explains in a 1989 article in the journal South Dakota History, that many of the grand buildings in Sioux Falls were designed in the late nineteenth century by Wallace L. Dow and Joseph Schwarz, architects who “celebrated the picturesque and the romantic,” working in “richly ornamented and colorful styles.” Torma explains:

Both employed in many of their buildings rusticated or rock-faced Sioux quartzite [a red/pink quartzite quarried in abundance in the Sioux Falls region], round-arched Romanesque [Richardsonian] details, and irregular floor plans. Further, the picturesque styles of the era – Romanesque, Stick, Shingle, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Gothic Revival, to name a few – made little attempt to reproduce faithfully their historical sources. Instead, designs were bold, almost freehand, interpretations.

Let’s look at some of the best of those Romanesque buildings with Sioux quartzite:

Old Minnehaha County Courthouse, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Wallace L. Dow

Style: Romanesque Revival

Date: 1893

More info: Converted into a museum in the 1970s.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Willoughby J. Edbrooke, with additions by James Knox

       Taylor (1911) and James A. Wetmore (1931)

Style: Romanesque Revival

Date: Constructed 1892-1895, 1911–1913, 1931

More info: Wikipedia

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Pettigrew and Tate Building, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Cross & Richard

Style: Romanesque Revival

Date: 1888-1889

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


First Congregational Church, Sioux Falls, SD

Style: Romanesque Revival

Date:  1907-1909

More info: First Congregational United Church of Christ and GoHistoric.com

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

 

So, clearly, architects working in Sioux Falls in the late 1800s and early 1900s were enamored of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. And they loved that quartzite!  

But there also is great diversity in the architectural landscape of Sioux Falls. Carolyn Torma’s instructive article, quoted earlier, tells us that in the period from 1913 to 1940, “several entirely new styles such as Prairie School, park-building Rustic, and Art Deco emerged.” She further notes, “By World War I, South Dakota architects had fully accepted the classical revival styles, . . .  including: Neo-Classicism, Renaissance Revival, Beaux Arts Classicism, Georgian, and Colonial Revival.” In the photos that follow, we’ll see examples of most of these styles in Sioux Falls.

 

Jorden Hall, University of Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Joseph Schwarz

Style: Gothic Revival

Date: 1908

More info: GoHistoric.com and Historic Campus Architecture Project

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

All Saints School, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Wallace L. Dow

Style: High Victorian Gothic

Date: 1884

More info: Jennifer Dumke, W.L. Dow: The Architect Who Shaped Sioux Falls, pp. 39-40; 52-54.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Carnegie Free Public Library, Sioux Falls 

Architect: Joseph Schwarz.

Style: Classical Revival, using pink Sioux Quartzite

Date: 1913

More info: Carolyn Torma, pp. 158-159; Susan Richards, pp. 2-9.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons


Orpheum Theatre, Sioux Falls, SD

Style: Elements of Prairie style and Neo-Classical Revival

Date: Original old building on right: 1913

More info: For history, see here and here.

Photo Source: City of Sioux Falls


Security Bank Building, Sioux Falls

Architect: E. Jackson Casse Company (Chicago)

Style: Neo-classical; first steel skeletal-frame building in Sioux Falls

Date: 1917

More info: Carolyn Torma, pp. 159-160.

Interesting non-architectural fact: John Dillinger, the Depression-era American bank robber, robbed the Security National Bank of $49,500 on March 6, 1934.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Shriver-Johnson Department-store Building

Architect: Firm of Perkins and McWayne

Style: Classical Revival

Date: 1918

More info: Carolyn Torma, p. 170; and Greetings from Sioux Falls

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons


Carpenter Hotel, Sioux Falls, SD

Date: 1912

More info: Now luxury apartments, with storefront businesses at ground level. See here and here.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Grand Lodge and Library of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Sioux Falls, SD (also known as the Sioux Falls Masonic Temple)

Architect: Hugill and Blatherwick

Style: Beaux Arts Classicism

Date: 1925

More info: Carolyn Torma, p. 166.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


South Dakota State Penitentiary Historic Buildings, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Wallace L. Dow

Style: Italianate, Second Empire

More info: Jennifer Dumke, W.L. Dow: The Architect Who Shaped Sioux Falls, p. 29.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons. Historical photos, here.


St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Emmanuel Masqueray

Style: Blend of Romanesque and French Renaissance

Date: 1918-1919

More info: Wikipedia and

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Central Fire Station, Sioux Falls

Architect: Joseph Schwarz

Style: Features a Mediterranean Villa Tower; Renaissance Revival Details

Date: 1913

More info: Carolyn Torma, p. 172.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


L.D. William Funeral Home, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Firm of Perkins and McWayne

Style: Mediterranean Villa, with Italian Renaissance Revival features

Date: 1923

More info: Carolyn Torma, p. 172.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


State Theatre, Sioux Falls, SD

Architects: Firm of Buechner and Orth

Style: Georgian, mixed with architectural details of the Renaissance Revival

Date: 1925

More info: Carolyn Torma, p. 168. Also, for a history of the State Theater and information about efforts to preserve it, see this issue of a newsletter from Preserve South Dakota, a historic-preservation organization.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons


Administration Building, Augustana College, Sioux Falls, SD

Architect: Firm of Perkins and McWayne, Sioux Falls

Style: English Vernacular Revival (sometimes called Jacobethan)

Date: 1920

More info: Carolyn Torma, p.170

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

_________________

Note to those interested in reading more about the architectural history of Sioux Falls, especially the period in the late 1880s and early 1900s when the visual identity of the city was being defined:

In addition to the useful articles cited above (Carolyn Torma and Alan Lathrop), there’s a new book coming on Tuesday, September 17, when the History Press of Charleston, SC, will be releasing Jennifer Dumke’s W.L. Dow: The Architect Who Shaped Sioux Falls. You can see parts of Dumke’s new volume through Google Books, here.

Some of Dow’s buildings that are shown above are the Old Minnehaha Courthouse, the South Dakota State Penitentiary, and the All Saints School.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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