The Van Allen Building

Van Allen building at 5th Ave S and S 2nd St 1907


Van Allen Bldg 1915

The Van Allen Building Designed By Louis H. Sullivan 1913-1914

Transcriber Note: Articles appear in ascending order, by year.


From: The Clinton Herald; March 5, 1913, P. 6
Transcribed by a Clinton County IaGenWeb volunteer.


Was Formerly the Cherry Building, Erected in 1870 – Other Buildings Will be Razed About April 1 When Building Will Begin.

Workmen have commenced the work of dismantling and razing the west building on the property owned by J. D. Van Allen & Son at the northwest corner of Fifth avenue and Second street, preparatory to the erection of the modern new store building which will be built by the firm and occupied with an up-to-date store. Store rooms in the corner building are occupied by tenants who have leases until April and the work of tearing down that building will not be commenced until after that date. The erection of the new structure, it is expected, will be started about then.

The west building on the property, however, is being torn down at this time in order to provide for the building of the party wall for the Van Allen building and the F. W. Woolworth building just west. The old building on the Woolworth property is also being razed. In the destruction of the old buildings, some Clinton landmarks are making way for new and modern structures. The Van Allen building now being razed was formerly the Cherry block and was built about 1870, while the building on the corner was erected n 1868. The Woolworth building, formerly owned by the Siddle estate, was also an old one.

New Van Allen Building Will Be Modern and Complete in Details
The Clinton Herald; April 30, 1913, P. 7

Architect rendering 1913Description of the New Store to be Occupied by John D. Van Allen & Son Given – Will Have Bargain, Rest Rooms and Other Features.

A splendid four-story store building is to rise on the site of the old building, at Fifth avenue and Second street, now razed and the construction of the new structure for John D. Van Allen & Son is now under way. The Herald herewith presents a picture of the handsome building as it will appear when completed and below is a description of the store made by representatives of the architects.

Van allen construction summer 1913John D. Van Allen & Son’s new store building now in process of construction at Fifth avenue and Second street is to be up to date in all respects, and arranged with reference to the future growth of the business. It will be built at present four stories and basement, but is planned for seven stories and basement.

The building site is 86 feet in Fifth avenue and 90 feet in Second street, with a wing along the west line, 22 feet wide running north 140 feet to the alley. The entire site will be covered by the new building.

The plan of the building is unique in the respect that counters, showcases and aisles were laid out first for the best results, and the columns were then placed where they would not interfere with this working arrangement. This plan has led to unusually wide spacings of columns, with resultant airiness of interior affects.

The stairway and passenger elevators are located at the north wall directly opposite the Fifth avenue entrance.

construction 1914Bargain Rooms.

There are also two entrances in Second street. Each entrance is sheltered by an overhanging canopy. The front half of the basement, and extending the full width under the Fifty avenue sidewalk, is to be used as a bargain salesroom, reached by elevator, main stair, and a special stair in the southeast corner. The remainder of the basement will be used for utilities, such as locker rooms, toilet rooms, fan room, boiler room, coal storage, etc.

In the first floor, the receiving and shipping will all be done at the alley in the rear, and all under cover. All receiving will be taken care of by a high-speed electric elevator, and packages for delivery will be sent from each floor to the shipping room, by a spiral conveyor, as well as by the freight elevator. The remainder of the first floor will be devoted entirely to merchandising.

Louis H SullivanRest Room.

A half-flight up from the main floor in a mezzanine in the north wing will be installed a ladies’ rest room, check room, and other conveniences.

The basement and first floor will be provided with an up-to-date system of ventilation. The fresh air supply will first be filtered, then passing through the tempering and reheating coils, will be forced by an electrically operated high-power fan through ducts and registers to all parts of the basement and first floor. This fan will deliver 15,000 cubic feet of fresh air per minute, which means a complete change of air in the basement every eight minutes and in the main floor, every fifteen minutes. The main blast fan will be supplemented by a powerful exhaust fan, which will draw the air from all toilet rooms throughout the building changing the air every five minutes. The main floor is arranged to accommodate the general dry goods, notions and men’s furnishings.

Upper Floors.

The second floor is to be a salesroom for women’s ready-to-wear clothing. In the northeast corner of this floor, adjacent to the passenger elevator, will be the main office.

The third floor will be devoted to carpets, rugs, bedding, draperies, fort, convenience and safety of curtains, etc.

The fourth floor will be used for purposes to be decided upon later.

The floor space of the building will be approximately 45,000 square feet.

On the second, third and fourth floors, a workroom will occupy the wing at the north. An electrically operated passenger elevator will take patrons to all floors, including the basement. Provision is made for a second passenger elevator, in case of need. All elevators run in fireproof enclosures, with steel doors at each floor.

The stairway will also be in a fireproof enclosure with automatic fuse lock doors at each floor thereby providing a safe passage by stair as well as by elevators and limiting the possibility of fire to each floor only.

Historic American Building Survey Drawings

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Thoroughly Fireproof.

Every precaution has been taken to make this a thoroughly fireproof building. The main construction is a steel frame, the plastering is on wire cloth, and a complete automatic sprinkler system will take care of every part of the building. All partitions are fireproof.

In short nothing has been overlooked that will provide for the compatrons, as well as the facilities for doing business, and the health and well being of employes.

The electric lighting system will be modern and complete in every way. All exits will be indicated by red lights. And, as an extra precaution, gas lights are provided.

The plumbing and drainage are up to the best sanitary standards. There will be a bubbling fountain at each floor, for drinking water.

The trim of the interior is to be all in hard woods, artistically finished. Special attention will be given to the show rooms for window display. The basement will be finished in white enamel, the main floor in mahogany, and above in red gum.

There will be a complete intercommunicating telephone system, as well as trunk lines for general use.

The exterior of the structure is of a simple, dignified and refined design. The materials are Roman brick of a soft, mottled brownish tone, with terra cotta to match. All openings will be filled with polished plate glass.

In fine, the desire has been to provide the city of Clinton with the best retail dry goods store that architectural genius and a spirit loyal to the city and its future can devise.

The Clinton Herald, July 30, 1914, P. 5.

But Now Housed in Splendid New Modern Four Story Steel Construction Building – Is Completely Fire-Proof – Formal Opening Later.

J. D. Van Allen & Son and their clerks are home again – back on the old corner, northwest corner of Fifth avenue and Second street, where the firm was long in business. They were greeting old friends and patrons, however, in a brand new building, the most modern structure of its kind in the city.

Removal of the stock from the temporary quarters in the Howes block, occupied while the new building was under construction, was completed through night work Wednesday. In fact the removal process has been under way for days and days and nights and nights. Not all of the fixtures have been transferred, but they will be in the course of a few days.

Everything in the new store is in as ship-shape as possible, enough so that it is possible to transact business, but the formal opening will not take place until later when everything has been put in its place and the store is in the spick and span condition that it is the intention to maintain.

Admire New Building.

Many old friends called Thursday to admire the handsome new home of the dry goods firm. The erection of the modern four-story building has been under way for fifteen months, ground being broken in May, 1913. For months prior to that, however, the work of dismantling the old building had been in progress. Unseasonable weather conditions greatly delayed the work but the firm now has a building of which it is justifiably proud.

It is of steel construction, entirely fire-proof, with the latest pattern elevators. The fixtures are Clinton-made. In fact so far as possible, the building throughout is a “Made in Clinton” structure. Owing to the fact that the steel is heavier than usual in building, on account of the large store-rooms on each floor without intervening walls, the construction was necessarily slow. Only one life was lost in its erection, an unusual record.

Remodel Howes Block.

Even before the firm had removed from its quarters in the Howes block, the remodeling of that building was under way. The basement, first and second floors are to be entirely remodeled. There will be store-rooms in the basement and on the first floor and office suites and quarters for a business college on the second floor.

Owing to the illness of ex-Mayor E. M. Howes, it was impossible to secure definite plans for the work. The basement, however, will afford quarters for a barber shop, pool room and other similar enterprises. On the first floor will be quarters for a cigar store to be operated by Walter Ray and Frank E. Lee, a restaurant and other stores.

The Clinton Herald, September 29, 1914, P. 4


Every Convenience for Shoppers and to Facilitate Service Contained in Four Story Structure – Is Entirely Departmental.

“Clinton’s Shopping Palace” or “Shoppers’ Paradise” might well designate the splendid new merchandising establishment of John D. Van Allen & Son with its modern facilities for comfortable shopping, its rest room, day nursery, supervised play room for the children while mother or father or both are bargain hunting, its well lighted departments, pneumatic cash carrier service, automatic air changing fans, elevator service, free telephones, closely departmentized system, variety of wares, drinking fountains, fire protection and a thousand and one other things that make it a place of enchantment for the shopping public.

Like an Aladdin’s fairy place, the wonderful four story building rears itself from the corner once occupied by one of Clinton’s oldest and least modern buildings. Had not Clinton people, themselves, witnessed the change, marking with interest the progress, it would hardly seem possible that only seventeen months ago the work of razing the old building was begun, May 1, 1913, marking the beginning of that work. During May and June the cleaning away of the building was in progress and Contractor Dan Haring then began the erection of the new structure, which was occupied July 25, 1914, although not ready for the formal opening until now.

And had it not been that fate intervened, the building would have long since been completed. It was September 5 before the steel arrived and well remembered are the difficulties experienced in the excavations when rain many times threatened to effectually stop the work for long periods, how electric pumps were worked and every effort made to hurry the work. But despite the delays and the hamperings by man and nature, the building now stands a monument to its owners and builders, one of the modern structures in the city. Furthermore, it is a Clinton made product practically throughout, even to the fixtures.

Is Complete Store.

To become thoroughly acquainted with the store in all its little details, to know just why the air is so pure, the lighting so good, the fire protection so complete, the service so prompt and courteous, the delivery system so pleasing, etc., is a full day’s job and it would be a pleasing one at that. But the store’s patrons have no necessity for paying attention to details. They are all worked out by machinery and employees and system. For the patrons it is sufficient to know that all of those accommodations and more are at their fingers’ tips when they enter the store.

There is system on every hand, working so smoothly that no one can realize that it is the answer to the whys and wherefores of the easy shopping experience in the store. All of the wares are departmentized and patrons soon learn just where they can find exactly what they want and furthermore they will surely be able to find what they want form the cheapest to the most expensive article, from dry goods to art goods, wall paper, decorative material and pictures, from men’s haberdashery to the daintiest of dainties for the chubby little cherub in the cradle at home.

Wonders of Store.

Hints of the wonders of the store are to be seen in the outside of the building, a substantial structure, simple, staunch, with straight lines but imposing in its very simplicity and indicative of strength and solidity, like the firm it houses and whose coat of arms it bears. The show windows, too, carry the same impression, solid and substantial with mahogany backs and mirror ends, lighted at night with a perfect lighting system, displaying the goods to the best advantage. And the windows of the upper floors, all large enough to admit the maximum of light, are simply adorned with nest curtains, bearing the Van Allen monogram. It is a distinctively Van Allen building.

Of entrances there are three, one especially for patrons of the men’s haberdashery department and two for the general public use, a large double-door entrance from Fifth avenue, the main entrée to the building and other on the Second street side. Over show windows are the latest pattern awnings, which disappear in to the building, itself, while the entrances are canopied. Gaining entrance to the first floor, patrons may descend to the basement by two stairways or the elevator and may ascend to the upper floors via an easy stairway or the elevator.

Entering the store at night, they will find it lighted to perfection with the new Type C 400 watt lights in the most modern lighting system. Over all exits, at the elevator entrances and at the stairways they will find red exit lights, one lighted with electricity and one with gas. From the ceilings interspersed with the myriads of light fixtures are the sprinkler system outlets, from which in event of fire would pour hundreds of gallons of water, fed from the great tank on top of the building. They are set to open when the temperature reaches a certain point. In addition there are numerous hydrant connections outside and inside the building for fire hose, while the elevator shaft is entirely enclosed.

The remarkable purity and cleanliness of the air, no matter how crowded the store may be, is noticeable. It is due to the fact that in the basement is a fan room equipped with apparatus, which takes fresh air from outside the building, filters it through double strength cheesecloth screens and distributes it about the building at the rate of 15,000 cubic feet of fresh air every minute, giving a complete change of air every fifteen minutes on the main floors and every eight minutes in the basement. An exhaust fan on the fourth floor draws all of the dead air from the toilets and various rooms throughout the building.

Mechanical Equipment.

But the above are only a few of the mechanical wonders of the building. The basement is chock full of them and of other facilities in addition to the big merchandising room. From the rear stairway and elevator, patrons find themselves in a lobby, with the engine room to their right, wash rooms and locker rooms for men employees, to the right and in front, while on the left is the decorator’s room and toilet, locker and rest rooms for the women employees, the rest room to be so arranged that the employees in the lunch hours during the winter and on rainy days may find recreation of many kinds, enjoying their luncheons in the room, reading, etc. The toilets throughout are completely sanitary, well ventilated and have concealed tanks.

Entering the engine room is found the monster switch board, controlling the electrical current used in the building. Here, too, is the motor automatically operating the pneumatic tube cash carrier system, the carrier traveling at the rate of 40 feet a second between the various departments and the cashier’s office in the basement. The motor operates at variable speeds, so arranged as to use the minimum amount of electrical current for operating the system always at the same speed. As more carriers are fed into the tube, the motor is accelerated, the power necessary ranging from 1.3 horse-power to 8 horse-power.

Then in the basement is the plant for furnishing hot water throughout the building and the vacuum steam heating plant with its two monster boilers. Into the basement, too, empties the waste paper chute, carrying the waste paper from all floors. It is baled in the basement and then disposed of. In addition the engine room contains a coal room, filled from the alley in the rear of the building, an ash room, where the ashes are loaded into buckets and hoisted to the alley to be carried away. Finally the engine contains an apparatus for heating the water in the fire protection tank on the roof, so arranged that the temperature of the water in the tank is automatically recorded in the basement.

Basement Wonders.

From the rear stairway and the elevator exit in the basement, patrons pass through the lobby and through an arcade, on either side of which are show window cabinets, six in all, electrically lighted and displaying some of the basement bargains. Into the main basement room, entrance to which is gained directly by the front stairs.

Just now this room is the domestic department and carries sheetings, muslins, cotton bats, tennis flannels, percales and a complete toy counter. Incidentally it will be the wonder of wonders for the small folks for in one corner is the children’s playroom, a commodious section, fenced off, with seats about it. In the center is a bog pond on which to float toy boats. There will also be toboggan slides and other amusement devices and the whole will be presided over by a care-taker. Here the children can be left to enjoy themselves until the shopping is finished. In another corner is the cashier’s department, the terminus of the cash tube system.

First Floor.

On the first floor there is a great variety in the offerings. For the men there is a men’s department with a separate entrance from Second street: Here will be found all kinds of furnishings and haberdashery, in fact everything for the male shopper except clothings, hats and shoes. In this department it is aimed to carry the most nobby supplies.

For the women shoppers, there will be found the following departments:

Wash goods, white goods and dress ginghams.

Plain and fancy lines.

Gloves and umbrellas, the gloves in a special and complete case, saving space and facilitating selection and the umbrellas in a special dust-proof case, completely glass enclosed.

Ladies’ neck wear, laces and trimmings.

Ladies’ hosiery.

Plain and fancy combs, mesh bags, pocket books, vanity boxes, brushes, hat boxes, toilet articles.


Handkerchiefs and ribbons.


Dress goods.

Knit underwear.




Here also, is located the first of the janitor’s sinks to be found on every floor. A pipe shaft in a separate compartment makes it possible to repair any pipe in the shaft or to make any necessary changes in the piping of the building without tearing up walls or floors.

In the rear of the first floor is the delivery and truck room, shut off from the alley by a steel curtain. In this room incoming goods are received, unpacked, placed on the freight elevator and taken to the fourth floor, where they are checked and marked. Here also is the delivery room, deliveries to be systemtized with two deliveries daily north and two deliveries daily south. Everything must be checked and signed for, insuring against mistakes.

Mezzanine Floor.

Ascending to the mezzanine floor, a bubbly drinking fountain is found and it is learned there is one on every floor. The mezzanine floor is entirely given over to the comfort of patrons. Here is a check room where wraps and bundles may be checked. Two free telephones for the public, one for each company, toilet, wash room, retiring room in the nature of a day nursery to contain a crib and couch. Finally in the well-lighted rear is the spacious rest room, equipped with chairs, tables, writing desks and other facilities.

Second Floor.

The second floor, entirely carpeted, whereas the first floor is tiled, is given over to ready to wear goods and the general offices. The departments carry sweaters, knit goods, ladies’ waists, muslin underwear, corsets, and infants’ complete outfits. Then there are dust-proof stock rooms, so arranged, that the stock can be easily reached to be exhibited on the backs of special chairs. Mirrors like panels from the stock room wait separating the main storeroom.

Set in between the stock rooms is an evening room for the ready to wear department. In this room patrons may see how garments will look under the artificial light at night. It is surrounded with mirrors and brilliantly lighted. The infants’ outfitting room is all in white and distinctive in design, occupying the south-east corner. Here is found every garment, etc., needed for the little ones. The floor also contains the fur section where are shown to advantage everything in the fur line. In the rear are the work and fitting rooms for the ready-to-wear and corset departments.

Third Floor.

On the third floor is the millinery department, the art and fancy goods section and sections for pictures, picture frames, mouldings, wall paper, etc., in charge of Frank S. Moses. On this floor too are found draperies, art demins, cretonnes, drapery material, rugs, trunks, bags and suit cases, blankets, comforters, and suit cases, blankets, comforters, bed spreads and pillows. In the rear is the work room for the drapery, window shade and millinery departments.

Fourth Floor.
The fourth floor is being prepared for future use, one-third for reserve stock and two-thirds for selling spaces, the stock to be determined later. In the rear of this floor, Mr. Moses has his work-room and here also is located the suction fan to draw the bad air from the building.

History Of Firm.

How the “House of Van Allen’s” Came Into Being.

This is how the “House of Van Allen’s” came into existence.

John D. Van Allen, senior member of the firm, was born in McHenry county, Illinois, in the little village of Crystal Lake. Some forty years ago, then a mere boy, he started out to fight the battles of the world. His first job brought him $1.50 per week and he put in his spare moments at night school to fit himself for positions still higher. And if the truth were known he was early in life a familiar figure at the savings bank window.

His career was not of the mushroom or chance variety. He was determined to learn the trade of merchandising with A. T. Stewart & Co., then the largest dry goods store in the United States. As the result of hard work and application to his duties he gained raped promotion. He was not built to be cringing or supplicating but was straight forward and independent with his employer then as he is with business associates today.

And he has a good backing for his spirit of independence. He produces the goods. It has often been said that all customers look alike to John D. Van Allen and that he plays no favorites. The smallest tot can do as well at his store as its mother and the servant girl is accorded the same courtesy and fair dealing as her employer. The wife of the millionaire takes her turn with the wife of the man in her husband’s employ, while the dollar of one buys no more than the dollar of the other. This independence is attributed to his makeup. He was born that way, just as some men are born homely or good looking.

Step by step he advanced until he became traveling salesman, one of the youngest on the road. In 1892 he came to this city with his wife and two children, looking for a location to settle down and make a home. He bought into a small dry goods store with Mr. Abbott, the firm becoming Van Allen & Abbott, located in Fifth avenue with a floor space of about 2,000 square feet. Afterward Mr. Van Allen bought out his partner and in 1895 sold an interest to Fred Rixon, annexing another room with an entrance from Second street.

The firm then became Van Allen and Rixon, 204 to 206 Fifth avenue with a floor space of 4,000 additional square feet. Later Mr. Van Allen desired to spread out. So he bought out his partner and added a room of 5,500 square feet, making a total of 11,000 square feet occupied by the store which was then operated under the name of John D. Van Allen. Nine years ago Mr. Van Allen’s son, Fred H. Van Allen, became a member of the firm and a few years ago, the building occupied by the store was purchased, later razed and the splendid new building erected.

During all of his father’s merchandising and expending in Clinton, Fred h. Van Allen had been going through school and college to prepare for his career. After the completion of his college term, he spent a year with Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago and had two years experience with one of the largest houses in New York, so he was well equipped to take up the duties of a member of the firm when on February 1, 1905, the firm became John D. Van Allen & Son.

The Clinton Herald, October 1, 1914, P. 5

Building and Splendid Stock of J. D. Van Allen & Son on Display – Orchestra Dispenses Music and Visitors are Presented With Carnations.
Fully ten thousand visitors attended the public reception and formal opening of the new building and store of John D. Van Allen & Son, Wednesday afternoon and evening, it is estimated that were impressed with the wonders of the big four story and basement store building, filled with a splendid stock of bargains and rare offerings. The formal opening will continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Throughout the reception hours, Wednesday from 3 to 5:30 o’clock in the afternoon and 7 to 9:30 o’clock in the evening, music was dispensed by an orchestra and carnations were presented to the visitors. No sales were made, the clerks and other employees joining with the proprietors in courteously answering questions and explaining the store’s wonders.

There was a wonderful display of merchandise to add to the wonders of the building, itself, some of the very finest goods on the market were spread on the counters and otherwise displayed while the various departments fairly shown with the brilliancy of their offerings. The building was and lighted throughout and people were thoroughly acquainted with its facilities.

The firm was the recipient of congratulations by the thousands from patrons, friends and business associates. One of the pleasing features of the day was the presentation of a huge bouquet of roses from the employees.

Clinton Has Its Own Architectural Wonder
The Clinton Herald; January 4, 1971, P.11

Even though not a New York or Chicago downtown, Clinton is another location for the architecturally-minded.

Actually the exact location is on the corner of 5th Ave. S., and 2nd St., now known as Petersen’s, but originally the Van Allen department Store.
The story behind the creation of Clinton’s architecturally unique building is currently featured in the January issue of “The Art Institute of Chicago” magazine.
The story began in 1910, with the firm of John D. Van Allen and Son, well established in the dry goods business in Clinton, decided to expand their selling power with the construction of a $100,000 store.

The project became a reality as correspondence between the Van Allen firm and famed architect Louis H. Sullivan of Chicago began in October, 1910.

Sullivan was noted for his then avant-garde designs, a radical departure from the baroque of Victorian days.

But problems arose as the proposed drawings drifted into the $147,000 price range plus continuous revisions in exterior and interior construction layouts.

Cost of the building was whittled down to $126,226.56 plus $6,311.33 for architect’s fee and steel and concrete construction was abandoned and the “slow-burning” system was substituted.

Floor joists were supported by steel columns and girders while the columns, girders and ceilings were plastered on wire cloth for fire protection.

The layouts were revised and refined from May through October of 1912, until the Van Allen Company selected a local man, Daniel Haring as builder.

Construction started in February of 1913 when test pits were sunk, and thus uncovered another problem – a bed of quicksand – which called for revision of the building’s foundation plans.

The dry goods building, consisting of four floors with attic and basement, was completed in 1915.

The finished product had the exterior façade features of decorative terra cotta ornaments with slender mullions extending from the second floor window to the attic ending with an outburst of foliage.

The large show windows are accented with vertical sections of black marble which extend upward to the horizontal decorative band below the second floor.

A broad strip of black marble surrounds the base of the second floor below the first brick course, while the upper three story windows are framed in terra cotta.

Letters of correspondence between the Van Allen family and Sullivan were recently donated to the Burnham Library of Architecture by John B. Van Allen, grandson of the store’s founder.





Van Allen Building A Landmark
The Clinton Herald; Saturday January 17, 1976, P. 1

By Tom Alex, Herald Staff Writer – the Petersen Harned Von Maur Building, originally the Van Allen department store, will become Clinton’s first National Historic Landmark.
The building will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources said that means the structure, designed by Louis Henry Sullivan (1856 – 1924), is of national significance and will take its place in the history of our nation.

The announcement is expected to be made officially within a week.

Sullivan was one of America’s great advocates of modern architectural style; an outspoken critic of the imitation of historic styles which dominated architecture in the later 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The Van Allen Building was his 117th building, according to Hugh Morrison, author of “Louis Sullivan, Prophet of Modern Architecture.” He designed 124 buildings in his lifetime. Two structures completed prior to the Clinton project were the People’s Savings Bank in Cedar Rapids and St. Paul’s Methodist Church, also in Cedar Rapids. The two which followed his work in Clinton were the Henry C. Adams building in Algona and the Merchant’s National Bank in Grinnell.

The bank in Grinnell, now called the Poweshiek National Bank, also will be declared a National Historic Landmark. One of the buildings in Cedar Rapids also was under consideration, however sources said the building there apparently had undergone too many changes since its original construction.

Sullivan also is remembered for being the employer of another famed architect. Frank Lloyd Wright was his pupil.

Sullivan’s theory of functionalism, which brought out the first skyscraper concepts, was not widely accepted during his lifetime, according to publications about his career.

He had few commissions during his twilight years. But during those years, Sullivan designed at least five of his last projects in the state of Iowa.

Many of his creations were designed in partnership with Dankmar Adler, some of which include the Auditorium in Chicago, skyscrapers in Chicago, St. Louis and Buffalo. In them he brought out a style which he said represented modern functional needs, like his masterpiece – the Carson Pirie Scott store in Chicago. Sullivan’s partnership with Adler ended in 1895.

The firm of John D. Van Allen and Son in Clinton was well established in the dry goods business in 1910 when the owners decided to extend the firm’s selling power with the construction of a $100,000 store. It was in that year that correspondence between the firm and the famed architect began, but the proposals hit a snag when cost figures drifted into the $147,000 price range. There were continuous revisions in exterior and interior construction layouts.

In 1913 the Van Allen Building was begun. The cost was whittled down to $126,226 plus $6,311 for architect’s fee. Steel and concrete was abandoned for a mill construction or “slow burning system” of heavy wooden timbers. The floor joists were supported by steel columns and girders while the columns, girders and ceilings were plastered on wire cloth for fire protection.

Following revisions and refinements from May through October, 1912 the firm chose a local man, Daniel Haring, as the builder.

Construction was not long begun when one of the first problems surfaced in the form of a sand-water or “quicksand” bed. It was discovered when test pits were sunk at the 5th Avenue South and 2nd Street location.

Four floors with attic and basement were completed in 1915. The finished product had the exterior façade feature s of decorative terra cotta ornaments with slender mullions extending from the second floor window to the attic ending with an outburst of foliage. Large show windows were accented with sections of black marble extending upward to the horizontal decorative band below the second floor. A broad strip of black marble surrounded the base of the second floor and the upper three story windows were framed in terra cotta.

Petersen Harned Von Maur Inc., Davenport, announced its purchase of the Van Allen store on Jan. 17, 1968.

Sources said it normally takes a coordinated effort to establish a National Historic Landmark. This was not the case in Clinton. Representatives from Washington D. C. sought out the two landmarks which are to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. They said this puts the Van Allen Building “in the same ballpark with the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City.”

Architect Has Mission To Save Van Allen Building
The Clinton Herald; Thursday, October 13, 1988

Lynne Darr, Herald Staff Writer – Crombie Taylor, a noted architect and architectural historian from California, is a man with a mission.

That mission is to save the Van Allen Building, designed by world famous architect Louis Sullivan. If Taylor’s mission is successful, all of Clinton will benefit.

The loss of a major department store in the old Van Allen building was sad news indeed.

Sadder still, has been the building, considered one of Sullivan’s greatest works, sitting empty for the past year and a half in downtown Clinton.

Questions in the community have ranged from: “What will become of it?” and “Who will buy or rent all those floors, particularly when the trend is to shopping malls?” to “Is it a white elephant that’s outlived its usefulness?”

White elephant, indeed!

Taylor, internationally-known in his field, recently moved to Clinton, and said the building is a “treasure,” and one of America’s great pieces of architecture.

It is his hope to save the building.

It is his dream and his intent for the Van Allen building to house the permanent exhibition of the works of Louis H. Sullivan.

It is also his intent to create a facility that would showcase and promote the cultural arts, including exhibits, dance, the performing arts, creative activities and writers’ workshops.

A facility, according to Taylor, that will draw people from all over the country. “People who will come and spend money. The community, however, must be ready for them,” he said.

Taylor, a retired professor in the department of architecture at the University of Southern California, and, among other noteworthy accomplishments, is also a former director of the Institute of Design in Chicago.

He has, for most of his professional life, been a devoted fan of Sullivan’s.

Almost 20 years ago Taylor traveled to Cedar Rapids to photograph the Sullivan Bank. “It was in disgraceful condition,” he said. “It had been remodeled terribly. It was very, very shoddy with formica counters. They had torn out the white marble!”

It was then, Taylor said, he decided to travel to Clinton to see what Sullivan’s Van Allen building looked like.

He liked what he saw. It hadn’t been remodeled yet and the old oak counters were still there.

“It is one of Sullivan’s most completely untouched buildings,” he said. “It’s a masterpiece and is one of his last.”

As the years went by, Taylor and his wife, Hope, continued to maintain homes in California, Chicago, and in England and he remained devoted to Sullivan’s designs.

Some of Taylor’s work throughout those years involved the restoration of the ballroom in the Auditorium Building in Chicago, another great work of Sullivan’s aided by world-famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I’d been out of the country,” Taylor said, “and it wasn’t until last spring that I heard Sullivan’s Clinton building was for sale with the potential of it being threatened or mistreated by a new possibly unsympathetic occupant. I was very concerned and I came to Clinton.”

Since that time, the architect has been busy. Very, very busy.

Because of decades of association with world-famous architects, Taylor knows the enormous interest and following that Sullivan-designed buildings have.

He also has spent years working with various foundations that underwrite the cost of architectural restorations.

That combination makes Taylor a knowledgeable man indeed, and a man with a mission in Clinton, Iowa.

“A foundation needed to be established”, he said. “The Van Allen Foundation has a nice ring it,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye.

According to Taylor, a foundation allows for not only the initial purchase price, but for the cost of fund raising, restoration and the obvious on-going expense of staff, maintenance and operation.

“Substantial sums of money need to be raised to guarantee the continuity of the activities.”

He added the money is not easily come by and takes “everybody’s shoulder behind it, but any group that doesn’t set its goals high enough and raise enough money at the beginning, is doomed to falter and eventually fail,’ he said.

Taylor, who is committed to the monumental project, showed his commitment in a very “real” way several months ago when he purchased the stately home of the late George Curtis, grandson of one of the early business magnates in Clinton.

Taylor is presently in the process of restoring the large home to its 1939 elegance. He is anxiously awaiting the arrival of his furniture from both England and California.
“This is all still in the planning stages,” Taylor explained, regarding his plans for the Van Allen building.

“There are a series of stages, and it all takes time. It takes years to develop, but it doesn’t ever start without encouragement.”

Taylor has established a temporary organization, the ‘Richard Nickel Committee”, named after an admirer and photographer of Sullivan buildings, and is testing the waters of fund-raising across the country for a project.

The committee has signed a one-year option to buy the Van Allen building while the various aspects of the project are developed.

Taylor, who has spent many hours photographing buildings in Clinton, talking with city officials, and of course, the Van Allen family, feels the community has much to offer, but has much to do to prepare for an attraction of the nature of the cultural center and museum.

“We must not only save the Van Allen building,” he said. “We must save Clinton, and I do mean save. Not one more fine old building must be torn down. I wish the city would not allow any new commercial construction until the existing buildings in the downtown area are restored and occupied.”

Taylor mentioned the post office as a case in point. “That’s a magnificent building. It was painful to hear that plans are in place to replace it. It should be retained with expansion at the present site. It’s distressing to hear the post office would even contemplate leaving it. I’m surprised the citizens will permit it.”

Taylor said his concern is that once the post office moves from its present location, the building will ultimately be demolished. It’s a beautiful, classic style building, but it would not be economically feasible for anyone else to occupy it.”

Taylor also mentioned the old railroad station. “What a delightful building,” he said. “What a great city hall that would have made, and how much money could have been saved!”

He also mentioned the old Burpee building, as one with great potential, and added that Clinton’s “architecture and charm must be retained.”

A cultural center, like Taylor hopes will become a reality in the Van Allen building, “gives an image of culture to this community. It’s that image you want to send to potential business and industry that may be thinking of relocation. The development of culture is critical for a city’s economic development.”

“But, oh my,” Taylor said, “there’s so much to be done. But we’ve begun, haven’t we?”

Building A Masterpiece – the construction of the Van Allen
The Clinton Herald; October 4, 1991

The process of translating the Van Allen Store into an actual building was the responsibility of Clinton contractor Daniel Haring, a native of Pennsylvania who had established a construction firm in Clinton at the turn of the century.

Initially specializing in the construction of residential porches, Haring’s business rapidly expanded to the point where his firm was involved in the construction of many of Clinton’s largest and finest buildings. Among the substantial buildings erected by Haring’s firm were the Wilson Building, the Presbyterian Church, the YMCA, the former First National Bank and the Ankeny Building.

In taking the contract to build the Van Allen store, Daniel Haring became one of the principal figures in the exacting task of creating a masterpiece. Working under the watchful supervision of Louis Sullivan as well as that of Jon and Frederick Van Allen, Haring was responsible for coordinating the diverse trades and materials needed to construct the building. The precision of Sullivan’s design combined with day-to-day problems encountered on-site made Haring’s task a challenging one.

Haring’s contract began with the demolition on the site which was formerly occupied by the Van Allen firm. With the debris cleared away, work was started on digging the basement and foundations.

The project posed several problems to the contractor, who brought about unique solutions. First was the presence of quicksand in the southwest corner, which brought Sullivan to the worksite to supervise construction of a floating raft of creosoted railroad ties upon which the concrete foundation would be poured.

Another problem brought about by the presence of the Mississippi River was the preparation and pouring of the concrete footings for the eight columns. The contractor quickly learned that the footings would have to be dug and poured in one day to prevent water from seeping back into the space. Work would begin at 7 a.m. and continue until 8 p.m. in order to hand dig the base and pass the dirt by bucket brigade while a worker hand-pumped the water from the site. Next, the forms would be prepared and the concrete poured.

Because of the hours involved in completing each column, Haring had an evening meal brought to the site for his workers.

Reportedly, Louis Sullivan himself supervised this difficult foundation work, chain-smoking cigarettes while seated on an available nail keg.

Many aspects of the building’s construction required precision assembly of materials in a manner similar to erecting a giant puzzle. Each piece of steel provided by the Clinton Bridge and Iron Works for the supporting frame was marked with an identifying code that corresponded to a detailed drawing showing the exact location for the installation of each piece. Similarly, each individual piece of ornamental terra cotta on the façade was marked with a number corresponding to an installation diagram which had to be carefully followed by the masons. The terra cotta itself was manufactured in Crystal Lake, Ill., and shipped to Clinton in box cars, carefully packed in hay to prevent chipping and damage.

After the completion of the Van Allen store in September 1914, Haring’s construction firm continued to operate under family management. The firm dissolved in 1981 upon the retirement of Daniel Haring’s grandson, Richard Nason.

During the recent restoration of the Van Allen building, Nason provided valuable family recollections and materials which have assisted in the renovation process, continuing the presence of the Haring family in the creation and perpetuation of this important structure.

Van Allen Restoration Started Years Ago
The Clinton Herald; Thursday May 29, 2003, P. 6A
Grand Opening of historic building is 4 to 6 p.m. Friday.
By Scott T. Holland, Herald Staff Writer

Clinton – Though the history of the Van Allen building reaches to its construction in 1914, the story of its redevelopment began nearly 15 years ago, following some two years of vacancy.

Petersen Harned, a retail chain operating Von Maur stores, pulled out of downtown Clinton and vacated the Van Allen Building on May 2, 1987. The doors were locked several months before Oct. 12, 1988, when the Clinton Herald ran a story titled “Architect has mission to save Van Allen building,” and pictured architectural historian Crombie Taylor, who hoped to revive the building as a testament to, and showcase for the works of , its creator, American architect Louis H. Sullivan.

“It is also his intent to create a facility that would showcase and promote the cultural arts,” the story said, “including exhibits, dance, the performing arts, creative activities and writers’ workshops.”

Taylor estimated some 50,000 people would travel to Clinton annually if the Van Allen building could serve as the hub of a historic downtown with much more to offer than nearby Galena, Ill. In 1988, riverboat gambling in Clinton was still three years away and there was talk of Amtrak service to the Gateway area. America was less than a month away from electing the first President Bush.

The Van Allen Foundation, initially headed by Taylor, took out a one-year option to buy the building from the Van Allen trust. Interior demolition work began, with the goal of stripped away much of the interior, largely to prevent a devastating fire.

“I’m amazed the city allowed this to stand empty with all the partitions,” Taylor said. “It’s really a hazard. It could have gone up like that! I was surprised there isn’t a building code.”

Taylor spoke to area historical groups, and a small Louis Sullivan museum was erected in the first floor of the building by June of 1989. At that time, a small group of architects planned to purchase the building and preserve it as a testament to American architectural history, viewing it in the same vein as Andy Warhol paintings, then selling for millions of dollars.

On April 25, 1990 Ann Moran and Edward Howes were named co-chairs of the steering committee “charged with raising between $350,000 and $400,000 for the restoration project by July 1. The money was needed to purchase the building before July 1, the day the Foundation’s option to purchase, twice extended, would officially expire.
The group asked the city to buy the building for $250,000 and then lease it to the Foundation. A $60,000 grant had already been received from the state historical society. At the time, with gambling regulations passed by the state legislature and the city looking for other tourism options, Taylor outlined a floor-by-floor plan for the future of the building.

The basement would be used for a logging exhibit, geared towards educating all ages on Clinton’s historical involvement with lumber mills. The first floor would hold an upscale cafe as well as a gift and book store. The second floor would contain museum like exhibits dedicated to Sullivan. Exhibits would also reach the third floor, but those would focus on sciences and humanities, mostly on a rotating basis. The fourth floor, known for its impressive view of the Mississippi River, would seat up to 400 people for banquets, receptions, concerts, lectures and even ballet.

Though the structure itself was for sale for only $250,000, some experts valued the building’s terra cotta ornamentation at $750,000. Van Allen trust members had indicated the ornamentation would be sold and the building demolished if the July 1 deadline was not met.

A week before the council was to hold a public hearing on the $250,000 question, a Clinton Herald straw poll revealed several downtown merchants and shoppers in favor of the civic center plan, as well as one employee of Kline’s department store who thought the building should be razed for a parking lot. An unidentified individual, unknowingly predicting the future, said the building should be converted to “penthouses”.

On May 22, 1990, the council voted unanimously to purchase the building. Half the money came from Clinton Business Development Program moneys, the other half from a parking reserve fund. Current city councilman Darrell Smith, serving then on the council before his election to mayor, said the purchase of the building was against his philosophy but he could not let such an opportunity pass the city by.

The purchase by the city put the burden of restoration and maintenance costs back on the Van Allen Foundation. The day after the vote, Gov. Terry Branstad spoke to Republican supporters at the building and congratulated the council for its actions.

In mid-June of 1990, almost $400,000 had been secured, including the $250,000 from the city, the $60,000 state grant and $91,000 raised privately. The Clinton County Board of Supervisors added $8,000 to the pot on June 24. On July 13 an emotional flag-raising ceremony heralded a new beginning for the Van Allen building. The Foundation soon began “selling” each of the building’s 45,000 square feet in 12-by-12 inch chunks. For $10, supporters would be given a certificate of honorary ownership in the historic structure.

Fundraising efforts culminated near the end of August when a $10,000 contribution from Champion DairyPak put the total donations in excess of $500,000. With money received and reconstruction ongoing, the building was open for various events, including frequent visits from prominent architects offering discourses on the history of the building.

Taylor was hospitalized and underwent triple-bypass surgery in California. However he was part of the dedication ceremonies in Oct. 6, 1991, when the building was officially reopened as a civic center and museum, the ceremonies replete with all the pomp and ceremony expected of such an occasion.

At the festivities, Mayor Elizabeth Snyder said “Today marks an occasion unparalleled in Clinton’s history. It is an occasion for celebrating, for looking back with satisfaction and pride, and for looking forward with hope and faith in the future.”

In November, the Foundation obtained a $45,000 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust of Muscatine to establish a summer internship program in architectural conservation.

Nearing 1992, the Foundation received a major blow when Taylor suddenly resigned his post. “Citing a vast difference in philosophy,” according to the Herald, Taylor said “the board had indicated a lack of confidence in his judgment on several matters, and that certain restrictions were being placed on him.”
Within weeks, reports indicated an amicable agreement had been reached between Taylor and the Foundation board. In November of 1992 he was honored by the American Association for State and Local History for his work on the building. At the time, it was noted that more than 7,000 people had visited the Van Allen since the rededication 13 months prior, many attending the 60 events held in the time frame.

Eventually, Taylor announced that he and his wife Hope would be leaving Clinton. On Jan. 17, 1993, slowed by his heart bypass operations and a cancer diagnosis, the couple moved to Charlottesville, Va. Taylor left with good feelings, giving a public vote of confidence to co-executive director Bob Soesbe, currently an at-large member of Clinton’s city council. In March 1993, Indra Brewer was named co-executive director, an elevation from the administrative secretary and executive assistant posts she had held since January 1992.

On Sept. 26, 1995, a Herald headline read “Needed: White Knight’ to pull town out of dark.” It led to a story detailing the report of a North Carolina consultant Joseph Golden, who offered the following dictum on the Van Allen building’s role in a declining downtown area:

“It has to be centrifugal, it must sweep outward to a wide and diverse audience. Does it fill the genuine needs of the larger community rather than special interests? If it can’t provide a useful service – don’t do the damn project!”

Golden said there was an acceptance of defeat in Clinton, an acknowledgement of loss of control and a lack of caring. A story written in the same edition detailed the resignation of volunteer coordinator Sheryl Villa. Echoing remarks made by Crombie Taylor in 1991, Villa said working conditions and agreements associated with her role were left unfulfilled.

Towards the end of the decade, potential suitors for the building were sought in November 1999, the city adopted a plan to sell the Van Allen for $1, also pledging $300,000 for parking and a limited tax abatement for 10 years. Heartland Properties, a division of Alliant Energy, was the principal investor at the time. The company brought in Community Housing Initiatives to develop the building into first-floor retail space and 19 apartments.

Renovation costs over the past four years have been pegged at $2.2 million. The descendants of John D. Van Allen have been on private tours of the building, an opportunity also afforded to Gov. Tom Vilsack. The work of the last three and a half years will come to fruition with Friday’s open house, which will be presented with less panache than the 1991 festivities.

Crombie Taylor died May 24, 1999, in his California home due to congestive heart failure, months before the first plan to “save” the Van Allen building a second time came to the surface. But it is common conjecture that the recent project would not have seen the light of day had Taylor not given such effort to preserve the building 15 years ago.

Van Allen Building article from Clinton Herald 2003
The following story was written for a 2003 special section celebrating the rebirth of the Van Allen building, the first of three prominent downtown Clinton buildings redeveloped by Community Housing Initiatives of Spencer.
By Scott T. Holland
Associate Editor

It has been called the most important historical building in Iowa. And through no small amount of effort, the Van Allen building soon will be reborn in downtown Clinton.

The building has been many things since its construction, which lasted from 1914 to 1916. Technically known as the Sullivan building, so named for its famous architect, Louis B. Sullivan, its common name refers to the tenants for which it was built, the Van Allen and Son Department Store.

Located at the corner of Fifth Avenue South and Second Street, the four-story structure housed Van Allen and Son for more than half a century, before it was leased in 1968 to Von Maur.

It was those 70 years as the area’s largest retail facility that the building became known in and around Iowa. But in truth, the store inside the building has never been as historically important as the building itself.

Sullivan is renowned as a leader of American architecture. He taught Frank Lloyd Wright, the country’s best known building designer. The Van Allen building is unique for two reasons. One is that of all the buildings Sullivan designed (several of which were banks), it is the one built most closely to its original plans.

Secondly, some 150 letters between Sullivan and John D. Van Allen have been saved, offering an insight into the minds of two men working together to create a lasting piece of American history.

A good deal is known about Van Allen himself, including his 1892 arrival in Clinton to acquire a partnership in an existing dry goods store occupying 2,500 square feet on the future site of the historic building. The three-story building, in which Van Allen had eventually occupied 11,000 square feet, had to be demolished to make way for Sullivan’s creation, which was built from 1912 to 1914. Construction was headed by Daniel Haring, a Pennsylvania man whose other Clinton works include the Wilson and Ankeny buildings, First Presbyterian Church and the Clinton Family YMCA.

In late 1988, rescuing the building became the key project of architectural historian Crombie Taylor, a longtime Sullivan admirer. Though the building reopened in late 1991 as a museum and cultural center, its permanent future was not permanently cemented until the recent past.

The city, interested in preserving the building for its historical value had acquired the building. In 2001, an agreement was reached between the city, Heartland Properties and non-profit developer Community Housing Initiatives to overhaul the building.

The first floor would be given to retail space, eventually determined to be the new home of Wagner pharmacy, a fixture in the downtown Clinton scene. The remaining floors would become apartments, furnished with furniture and appliances from other Clinton businesses.

That vision is soon to become a reality. Wagner is soon to open (doubling the space of its present location) and many of the 19 apartments are rented. CHI’s experience with the city has been so positive it is looking for another Clinton project to give the same treatment.

The building also will contain a small museum dedicated to the history of the building and its famous architect. Now, nearly 90 years after the building was conceived, it stands as a testament to a community devoted to remembering its past and planning for its future.