John H. Edelmann (1852–1900)

John H. Edelmann was a partner in the short-lived firm of Johnston & Edelmann, best known for nurturing a young Louis Sullivan. Johnston & Edelmann designed the 1873 King School (on Harrison Street, near Western) and five other elementary schools – including the Ward School on South Shields Avenue, now a Chicago landmark – in the rebuilding push following the Great Fire of 1871. Described in a Chicago Tribune article of March 1, 1874, these three-story, center hall-plan school buildings, designed in the then-popular Italianate style, featured four rooms per floor, each with large windows on two walls to maximize natural light and ventilation.

Edelmann was raised in Cleveland, where he received a limited formal education in his heavily German neighborhood, but apparently acquired some architectural training. Edelmann moved west to Chicago shortly after the Great Fire. In 1872 and 1873, he served first as a draftsman at the firm of Burling & Adler, where he met Joseph S. Johnston, and then as a foreman in William LeBaron Jenney’s office, where he met Louis Sullivan. In 1874, Edelmann joined Johnston (who had by then left Burling & Adler’s office for private practice) in the new firm of Johnston & Edelmann. (Sullivan acted as their apprentice). In addition to the six public schools mentioned above, Johnston & Edelmann designed Chicago’s Moody Tabernacle (since razed), among other structures, and a competition entry for Plymouth Church, also in Chicago.

In 1875, Edelmann assisted Burling & Adler with the reconstruction of St. James Episcopal Church, and by 1876, the firm of Johnston & Edelmann had dissolved. Thereafter, Edelmann moved back and forth between Cleveland and Chicago, working either independently or for others, including with Adler, Burling & Adler, and Adler & Sullivan. In 1887, Edelmann relocated his practice permanently to New York City, where he became active in Socialist-Anarchist politics and died in 1900.

Architectural historian Charles E. Gregersen has conducted extensive research on Edelmann, some of which is referenced in the above discussion. Gregerson produced an unpublished article in 2008 entitled “John Herman Edelmann as Louis Sullivan’s ‘Benefactor,’” which is available in the collections of the Burnham Library of the Art Institute of Chicago).

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