One morning early in 1923, James Edward Flanders presented himself to the State Board of Architecture of the Northern District of the state of California. The purpose was an examination for certification to practice architecture in that state. Almost ten years had passed since he ended a long career that began in Chicago in 1871, a career that had taken him to Minnesota in 1875, then to Dallas in 1876, San Diego in 1887, back to Dallas in 1890 and, finally, to Hollywood in 1913.
During the years that he practiced architecture in Texas, the profession was not a regulated one. In 1886, Flanders joined with others in the field, working to raise the ethical and professional standards of those who assumed the title of architect. There were a number of men throughout the state who professed to be architects although many were trained only as contractors or superintendents. Flanders was one of twenty-two charter members of the Texas State Association of Architects (TSAA) and served on the executive committee when it was formed in 1886. Almost ten years later, he was instrumental in obtaining Texas's first charter from the American Institute of Architects.
Most nineteenth century architects learned the trade through apprenticeships as there was virtually no opportunity in the United States for formal architectural training. Flanders began his career in Chicago in 1871. In that state, the University of Illinois did not establish a school of architecture until 1868. Even then it was only a small, struggling department. The chairman, and only professor, resigned his position in 1872 to profit from the demand for architects after the Chicago fire of 1871. This left the school without a qualified instructor and it did not confer its' first degree until 1873. The University of Michigan did not begin offering architectural training until 1875. Even though the school had the backing of the prominent Chicago architect William LeBaron Jenney, the department was terminated after only two years.
Flanders began his career with only a brief apprenticeship in Chicago. When he moved to California over forty years later after a long and successful career in Texas, he found himself in a state that required all architects to be licensed. Even though he had retired ten years earlier, Flanders felt compelled to apply for certification. On May 3, 1923, James Edward Flanders was awarded certificate No.1255. At the age of seventy-four, he became certified to practice architecture in the state of California.
JEF was born in Chicago, the eldest of the eleven children of Charles Clark Flanders and Isabella Walmsley. Isabella was only nineteen and a recent arrival from Stalybridge, England, a village on the outskirts of Manchester, when James Edward was born on June 17th, 1849. His father, Charles, was a seventh generation American from New Hampshire. He traced his lineage back to Stephen Flanders who immigrated to Salisbury, Massachusetts prior to 1638, probably from Belgium. The Flanders family lived on the southwest side of Chicago at 139 Johnson Street and Charles supported them working as a carpenter. In 1870 his two sons, James and his younger brother Thomas, were both employed learning the trade of weaver. However, the work did not suit the taste of either and the following year Thomas returned to school and James joined the minor architectural firm of Schmid and Zucker as a draughtsman. He had received no previous architectural training and what prompted this decision is only conjecture.
William McDonald, in his book Dallas Rediscovered speculated that Flanders may have met and been influenced by Daniel Burnham, a man who would later design many of Chicago's finest buildings. Both likely attended Chicago's only high school at the same time in the latter 1860's. It's also possible that Flanders decision was the result of his relationship with his cousin John James Flanders. John James, who was JEF's senior by less than two years, lived just a short distance away at 315 Third Street and the two were probably friends. He also became a draughtsman in 1871 for the architect T. V. Wadkier. A year later he joined the organization of W. W. Boyington and the following year he moved again, this time to the firm of Burling, Adler & Co. All four of these men soon played prominent roles in the development of the style of architecture that became known as the Chicago School. Adler later became a partner of Louis Sullivan. John James's association with Dankmar Adler is no doubt responsible for the Flanders family genealogy attributing him with "the first skyscraper in Chicago. . ., the first to put in deeply sunken construction work for big buildings; the first to use the cassion foundation and the first to install ventilation systems in public buildings. . . " Although John James may have lacked the credentials for these innovations, they were accomplishments of Adler, he did however become an accomplished architect and, for eight years, was the architect for the School Board of the City of Chicago. By 1874, he had joined with another architect to form the partnership of Furst & Flanders, in Chicago
During the years that James Flanders was growing to manhood, Chicago itself was also maturing, carving a cosmopolitan corner out of the mid-western prairie. Events of the 1860's became the news that made their way into the newspaper headlines and into the character of the young Flanders. These were the years that the Civil War raged and many young men just a few years older than JEF joined one of the many regiments formed in Illinois. Chicago was the site of the Republican national convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. Four years earlier, the Democrats had held their national convention there. On May 1, 1865, the funeral train of Lincoln made its' final stop in Chicago before reaching the destination of Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln's casket was carried to the Cook County courthouse where he lay in state. In 1868, the Republicans again held their national convention in Chicago, this time in the grand and posh surroundings of Crosby's Opera House where the Civil War hero, General U.S. Grant, received his party's nomination for the presidency.
By 1871, the city had reached a population of over 300,000. It stretched for six miles along the western bank of Lake Michigan and reached inland for three miles. The buildings were still mostly wooden structures. Those that were made of brick or stone were seldom more than three or four stories tall. Residences with lawns and trees still dotted the downtown business district. James E. Flanders was twenty-two and was employed by the architectural firm of Schmid & Zucker as a draughtsman. Robert Schmid who had recently terminated another partnership with H. Rehwoldt began what proved to be a brief affiliation with Gerhardt Zucker. They conducted their business from two offices at 137-1/2 Madison Avenue, near State Street, in the center of the cities business district in an area known as Pope's Block. On October 9th of that year, the remodeled Crosby's Opera House was scheduled to unveil its' elegantly redecorated interior at a performance marking the beginning of the concert season. The city was still in the midst of a drought that had begun three months earlier. Building fires were commonplace occurrences as the dry wood buildings yielded to the smallest hint of flame. About nine o'clock, Sunday evening, October 18, in a barn behind the house at 137 DeKoven, just a few blocks east of the Flanders home at 139 Johnson, the big fire, the Great Chicago Fire, began.
Chicago is known for its' north wind that blasts across Lake Michigan and into the city, but on that October evening, the wind was from the south and it drove the flames northward toward the downtown area and, within a short time, the fire was declared out-of-control. For thirty-six long hours, the city burned. Many stories of agony and courage, despair and fortitude, desolation and compassion came to pass during those hours as the fire swept through the homes and businesses of the city. On Tuesday morning, a rain began to fall that hastened the end of the conflagration. Afterwards, according to one historian:
"…the people of Chicago surveyed their ruined city. The destruction that they saw was staggering. Three hundred were dead, 100,000 without shelter, a swath four miles long and two-thirds of a mile wide, 1,687 acres, had been burnt across the city. Almost $200 million in property had vanished. Records, deeds, libraries, archives, and art galleries were all lost. Little survived in the vaults of the cities banks. In the destruction of the Federal Building alone, …more than $1,000,000 had been incinerated." .
JEF found that his place of employment and the buildings for blocks around were completely destroyed. Photographs of the ruins of the city look not so much like the remains from a fire but more like the ruins of a city devastated by bombing. Brick and stone buildings had fallen before the force of the flames. In large areas of the city, no structure survived. Thousands of tons of rubble filled the streets. More about the fire
Before the fire, Chicago had been a boomtown. The spirit of the people that had made it so survived the fire. As the ruins cooled, the city set out to rebuild. People quickly began to conduct business from makeshift facilities in homes and hastily constructed shanties. They found a way to meet their immediate needs. Then, it was time to begin rebuilding in earnest. Townspeople began unloading lumber at the railheads and "architects flocked to Chicago, drawn by the rare opportunity to remake a city". Schmid and Zucker allowed the circumstances to dissolve their brief partnership. Zucker later opened his new office at 68 W. Madison while Schmid selected a location at 41 W. Lake Street. Flanders did not rejoin either of his previous employers but rather took stock of the situation, proclaimed himself an architect and assumed his role in the monumental task of rebuilding Chicago. No records of JEF's architectural commissions during this time have been found. He listed his occupation as 'architect' but he apparently did not open an office. On several occasions during the next few years, JEF worked from his residence and this is probably what he did in 1872. The family home survived the fire and yet was only a few blocks from the western boundary of the destruction. It was well positioned physically for Flanders to solicit and secure modest commissions and return there to work.
Before the fire, Chicago was the home of about fifty architects. By 1874, this number had swollen to over one hundred and ten, and the rebuilding of the city was virtually complete. There were more architects than the market could bear and they were looking about for commissions. Flanders was still a beginner in a field that included many established practitioners, men of the caliber of Dankmar Adler, William LeBaron Jenney, Daniel Burnham and Otto Matz. Conditions were not promising for a budding young architect on his own. But, for over three years, Flanders had experienced the rare occurrence of the rebuilding of a city. The structures were of the latest styles and the newest construction methods were used to build them. They were designed by a collection of architectural talent whose names still dominate the history of American architecture of that period. The movement became known as the Chicago School of Architecture. For Flanders, that what it was. His time spent with Otto Schmid and the three years experiencing the rebuilding of Chicago gave him the architectural background he needed to move forward.
JEFs' position in the supply chain conceivably prevented him from competing in Chicago's over abundance of architectural talent, talent that would soon determine the direction of the genre in America. He abandoned his practice there after only a few years and moved to Minneapolis, another city with a lively construction market, probably in 1875. The first record of his presence there is in 1876. He lived and worked on the second floor of the First National Bank of Minneapolis at the corner of Washington Avenue and Hennepin Avenue
However he later recalled that the temperature there on Thanksgiving day, 1875, fell to several degrees below zero and this convinced him that he should look for a warmer climate. Perhaps the extreme cold was his reason for leaving but it doesn't seem likely that, for a native of Chicago, this would be the sole motivation for abandoning a new venture. Again, and presumably still searching for success, JEF looked elsewhere. Within a short time, he was corresponding with Judge A. B. Norton, the postmaster of the growing town of Dallas, Texas. Norton was a curious character and a man of conviction and cunning. He was an "elegant gentleman of the old school" and a man of words. He owned and edited the Norton Intelligencer a local editorial tabloid. He followed his term as postmaster with a tenure as United States Marshal of the Northern District of Texas. At one time, Norton, a Kentuckian, vowed he would never again cut his hair or beard until Henry Clay was elected President, a vow that undoubtedly caused him a great deal of inconvenience. This could explain later accounts of him as a striking figure with "long hair and flowing beard, almost as white as snow". No one knew how old he was, not even his wife or sons. When asked, he replied that his body was born before the war but his heart was younger than the generation that had grown to manhood since Appomattox. The 1875 Dallas City Directory published this account of Norton and his paper, the Norton Intelligencer:
"This paper is the property and reflex of that elegant gentleman of the 'old school', Judge A. B. Norton. As a journalist its' editor has long been a center light in the editorial corps of the state. He is always pointed in his expressions and not infrequently yields to the impassionate wooing's of the muses and then he grows grand in the presentation of his thoughts to his readers. Judge Norton is a characteristic Texan, immutable in his devotion to principle and as a partisan still clings to the branches of the 'old Whig' party as they appear engrafted in the platforms of the different factions that have succeeded it in the rush and revolutions that have fallen upon the country since its' disorganization. The Intellingencer is always readable and, under the editorial control of its' proprietor, can be nothing less than spicy."
Judge Norton's correspondence to Flanders undoubtedly carried the touch of a master writer and it is not surprising that he succeeded in enticing Flanders to come to Dallas, a rapidly growing city of 12,000 people with only one other architect.
THE CHICAGO FIRE
This photograph was taken on the corner of State Street and Madison - just a block or so from Flanders place of employment at Schmid & Zucker.
Illustration courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society