Chicago owes much of its early reputation for architecture to the designs and ornamentation of Louis H. Sullivan (1856—1924). Still standing and on every architectural tour are the magnificent Auditorium Building (1886—90) at South Michigan Avenue and East Congress Parkway; the former Schlesinger and Mayer department store (1898—99 and 1902—04, later Carson Pirie Scott & Co.), at South State and East Madison streets; and the tiny Krause Music Store (1922), whose facade survives at 4611 N. Lincoln Ave. Remnants of the 1893—94 Chicago Stock Exchange Building at 30 N. LaSalle St. (where attorney Pearl M. Hart had her office until the building's destruction in 1972) are displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago. A few tombs of early movers and shakers and dozens of other projects survive. Sullivan also is known for his writings and his pre-eminent student, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sullivan's biographer, Robert Twombly, documents his position that “there is a good deal of evidence—some personal, some architectural—to suggest that Louis Sullivan may have been homosexual.” The point in exploring his sexuality (as is the case for author Henry Blake Fuller, other 19th-century Chicago figures, or even Ernest Hemingway) is how their sexuality affected their work. While Twombly may seem to go a bit overboard in noting Sullivan's “ejaculatory imagery” with geometric male forms exploding into female decoration, most critics yield that his ornamentation is “female.” Some even note a “lack of manliness” in his work. Sullivan moved to Chicago in 1873, joined all-male athletic clubs, enjoyed Greco-Roman wrestling, “lovingly drew men's bodies” and moved in circles of all-male friends. He studied architecture in France for two years and returned to Chicago in 1879 during the post-Fire building boom.
In 1899 he married at age 43. The marriage lasted 10 years (no children), and it is generally assumed that his wife was having an extramarital affair for at least the last five years. About the time he married, Sullivan resumed boxing (à la Hemingway), no doubt to exude an air of machismo.
In a phrase reminiscent of Harriet Monroe's eulogy for her friend Henry Blake Fuller, Twombly notes that Sullivan “did not let people get too close,” that he refused to ”reveal himself or let others know who he was inside.”
Copyright 2008 by Marie J. Kuda. Source: Louis Sullivan: His Life and Work, by Robert Twombly, University of Chicago Press (1986).
From Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, edited by Tracy Baim, Surrey Books, 2008.