George Grant Elmslie


George Grant Elmslie was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland on February 20, 1871 and emigrated to Chicago in 1884. He began his apprenticeship in the office of William LeBaron Jenney, who is known for being the originator of the steel frame skeleton used in modern building construction. In 1887 he joined Frank Lloyd Wright and George Maher in the office of Joseph Lyman Silsbee. After Wright left to go to work for Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan in 1887 he recommended Elmslie to Sullivan. And two years later he joined Wright at Adler & Sullivan. That recommendation led to a 20 year association between Elmslie and Sullivan. Elmslie was Sullivan’s chief draftsman and ornamental designer. He detailed the ornamentation for Sullivan’s Wainright building in St. Louis, the Schlesinger & Mayer (currently known as Carson Pirie Scott) Department store in Chicago and the National Farmers Bank in Owantonna, Minnesota.

In 1909, after declining an offer from Frank Lloyd Wright to take over his Oak Park studio, Elmslie left Sullivan’s declining practice to join the firm of William Gray Purcell and George Feick Jr. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elmslie had met Purcell during Purcell’s short stay in Sullivan’s office in 1903. The firm was known for designing churches, residences and various types of civic and commercial buildings throughout California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and the Midwest. In 1913 George Feick Jr. left the firm, while Purcell and Elmslie continued their partnership officially until 1922. The new partnership of Purcell and Elmslie continued to design numerous banks across the Midwest as well as the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City, Iowa in collaboration with former Sullivan protégé William L. Steele. Over the course of a decade the firm executed over 70 buildings along with numerous other unrealized designs, making them the most productive of the Prairie School architects.

In private practice Elmslie concentrated primarily on commercial designs. As his commissions began to dwindle he sought work with William S. Hutton and helped him with the design of the Washington Irving, the Oliver Morton and the Thomas Edison Schools in Hammond, Indiana, and also the design of Thornton Township High School in Calumet City, Illinois.

Elmslie was awarded fellowship status by the American Institute of Architects in 1947. He spent his last years writing articles and giving an occasional talk.  Elmslie died on April 23, 1952 and was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.