Cornice Decoration designed by famed architect George Elmslie for the Edison Elementary School in Hammond, Indiana, 1931.


Thomas Alva Edison Elementary School
Hammond, Indiana


  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 Sullivanís chief draftsman and ornamental designer. He detailed the ornamentation for Sullivanís 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.  

George Grant Elmslie


Elmslie Cornice at Edison School

  In 1909, after declining an offer from Frank Lloyd Wright to take over his Oak Park studio, Elmslie left Sullivanís declining practice to join the firm of William Gray Purcell and George Feick Jr. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elmslie had met Purcell during Purcellís short stay in Sullivanís 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 protťgť 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.  

Terra Cotta Column Top
 Edison School

  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.



Terra Cotta Cornice Panel
Edison School

How they made the Terra Cotta Tiles

George Grant Elmslie worked with Sullivan to create highly decorate terra cotta tiles that were installed on the exterior of the Edison Junior High School in Hammond.  The clay mud had to be inserted and pressed into all of the fine crevices for each mold by hand. It was a highly labor intensive job that took hours to complete. If the tiles did not come out complete and correct, the job was done again. Thousands of Elmslie tiles were used on the facade of Edison School, Morton School, and Thornton Fractional (Illinois).  They were made for specific locations on each building. You can see the faint reference number on the side of the mold's exterior. When the tile is released, that location number will be scratched into the exterior of the tile to identify it for the men installing the tile.

This was a production line for Louis Sullivan's decorative tiles that populated the buildings of Chicago and the greater Midwest. Each worker was a skilled artist who patiently carved the designs based on the drawings and sketches of Louis Sullivan. This photo was taken in February 1912 at the American Terra Cotta Company in Chicago, long before Elmslie worked on Edison Junior High School in Hammond. It is presented here to show how the operation was done.



One finished product, a large ornamental design created by Louis Sullivan in 1912.