A History of the Van Allen Building

The Van Allen building was built from 1912-1914 in Clinton, Iowa. It was designed by Louis Sullivan, a pioneer in American architecture.

Commission & Construction

The Van Allen Building, also known as Van Allen and Company Department Store, is a four-story building in Clinton, Iowa designed by Louis Sullivan and commissioned by John Delbert Van Allen (October 5, 1850 – December 30, 1928). Constructed 1912–1914 as a department store, it now has upper floor apartments with ground floor commercial space.

The exterior has brick spandrels and piers over the structural steel skeletal frame. Terra cotta is used for horizontal accent banding and for three slender, vertical applied mullion medallions on the facade running through three stories, from ornate corbels at the second-floor level to huge outbursts of vivid green terra cotta foliage in the attic.

There is a very slight cornice. Black marble facing is used around the glass show windows on the first floor. Mr. Sullivan was an stone walls are made of long thin bricks in a burnt gray color with a tinge of purple. Above the ground floor all the windows are framed by a light gray terra cotta. Mr. Van Allen’s granddaughter, Mary Jane Case (1917–2004), has described how her grandfather related to her that Mr. Sullivan would sit on a keg of nails across the street from the building when it was under construction and direct the work on the building.

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Facts About the Van Allen Building

  • Location: Clinton, IA
  • Address: Northwest corner, 5th Ave. & South 2nd St.
  • Construction Date: 1912-1914
  • Materials: steel, terra cotta, brick, marble, glass
  • Commissioned by: John Delbert Van Allen

Rather unusually, Van Allen and Sullivan planned the building around intended use of the interior space. The men carefully laid out floor plans and designed displays, showcases, and aisles before creating plans for the building itself. The main floor of the new store was for general dry goods and men’s furnishings.

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