Monday, August 30, 2010

Then and Now: "Old Gray Heads," part two -- Elizabeth Close

"Then and Now" is a series by Alan K. Lathrop, curator of the Manuscripts Division at the University of Minnesota Libraries from 1970 to 2008. He is author of Minnesota Architects and Churches of Minnesota.

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Elizabeth Close and her late husband, Winston Close, were partners in an architectural firm in Minneapolis for many years. Close Associates, as it was called, is still in business, now under the ownership of Gar Hargens.

Elizabeth Close was born Elizabeth Sheu in Vienna in 1912. She grew up in a home filled with culture, where visiting artists were frequent guests. Young Elizabeth became interested in architecture at an early age and attended the Technische Hochschule (Technical High School) where she took a degree in the subject. In 1935 she fled Vienna because of the increasing Nazi influence and came to the United States. She studied at MIT's architecture school, then moved to Minneapolis and joined her new husband in practice.

Charlie Nelson and I chose Elizabeth Close as one of the speakers in the “Old Gray Heads” series because, by the 1980s, she had amassed an impressive array of outstanding buildings in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. She and Winston designed the University of Minnesota's Ferguson Hall (pictured), as well as numerous residences, several of them in the area of Falcon Heights known as University Grove. “The Grove,” as it is familiarly known, is a neighborhood adjacent to the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota in which many faculty and administrators erected houses on property leased from the University on a long-term basis. The Closes themselves built a house there as well.

We held the meeting in the mansion that housed the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota and I remember Elizabeth sitting in a large chair in a comfortable drawing room near a warm fireplace on a cold December evening, holding forth with stories about her life and about architects she had known. Among her memories was of growing up in a house designed by the distinguished Viennese architect, Adolf Loos, and of the cultural richness of her childhood home. Loos’ drawing for the house hung on a wall in her office.

Years later I had the pleasure of helping the Northwest Architectural Archives obtain digital copies of some valuable materials that Elizabeth made available, including a guestbook that held the signatures of the visitors to her parents’ home, including Richard Neutra, the poet Ezra Pound, and the noted author, John Gunther. These digital copies are now part of the collections of the Archives and open to researchers. She also gave me a tour of her home in University Grove.

I shall always cherish my acquaintance with this gracious and talented person who contributed so much to the architecture of our community.

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Alan K. Lathrop is author of Minnesota Architects (2010) and Churches of Minnesota (2003).

Also in the Then and Now series:
-"Old Gray Heads," Part One: Roy Thorshov.
-Fine architecture in Winona, MN.
-Art deco treasures in the Twin Cities.
-The Guthrie Theater(s).
-The Metropolitan Building.
-The Hollywood, Uptown, and Varsity theaters in Minneapolis.

Want to know the architectural history of your favorite Minnesota building? E-mail suggestions about content you would like to see here to sattl014@umn.edu.

Images in this post are from Creative Commons.

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