The R.T. Giles House
by Jager and Stravs
Richard L. Kronick
612 825 1605
"The commonest axiom of history is that
every generation revolts against its fathers
and makes friends with its grandfathers.“
-- Lewis Mumford
Mumford’s words certainly apply to the Vienna Secession and the other components of early Modernism. These people turned
their backs on historicist architecture, which was the normal way to do architecture at the end of the 19th century. The new
Modernists made an essentially Romanticist gesture: They wanted their architecture to reach back and connect with a more
elemental and spiritual force: Nature herself!
The Vienna building that came to be know as “The Secession” typifies early Modernism.
In terms of form, it is a composition of simple geometric volumes. Overlaid on these
forms are a restrained organic style of ornamentation – a stylized version of plant forms.
The pierced-work golden dome symbolizes the sun rising on a new world of architecture
Horta house and
Closely allied with the Secession was the Art Nouveau. This is
one of the great examples: Victor Horta’s house and studio for
himself. The hallmark of Art Nouveau is its sensuously curving
There were (and still are) two major modes of historicist architecture.
One is Classicism, here exemplified by Lord Burlington’s Chiswick House.
It borrows many of its forms from the Greek temple. Lord Burlington not
only designed in the Classical style; he wrote and was instrumental in the
English translation and publication of the work of the great Renaissance
architect, Andrea Palladio.
The Parthenon, Athens,
447 – 432 B.C.
The other main stream of historicist architecture was (and is)
Medievalism, here exemplified by Wells Cathedral and a
Gothic Revival house in Hampstead, a north London suburb.
Remodeled ca. 1180 C.E.
(1871 – 1959) Student drawings
Am. Red Cross uniform
John Jager was in school at the Imperial and Royal Polytechnic Institute in Vienna during
the time of the Secession’s greatest vigor – the late 1890s. Here we see the typical
Classicist drawing exercises he was required to do as a student – and which he did
exceedingly well. However, this is exactly the sort of thing the Secession was rebelling
against. He graduated from the Institute in 1898.
After WWI, Jager returned to Europe as a Red Cross volunteer.
St. Bernard’s Catholic Church,
St. Paul, 1906
Upon arriving in Minneapolis in 1903, Jager published his
manifesto: a booklet entitled Fundamental Ideas of Church
Architecture. The booklet makes it clear that he had fully
adopted the new Modernist principles. At the same time, with
help from his brother who was a priest, he received the
commission to design a new church for the Parish of St.
Bernard’s on St. Paul’s east side (179 W. Geranium). The building
contains no historicist references and is instead a marriage of
simple geometry with flowing Art Nouveau ornamentation.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral,
Hewitt & Brown,
Minneapolis, 1908-11 By 1909 to 1933, Jager was employed by the firm of Hewitt & Brown
Interior architecture by John Jager where he eventually held the position of Superintendent . While Edwin
Hewitt was on an extended business trip in Europe, Hewitt entrusted
the interior design of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral (Hennepin Ave. in
Minneapolis) to Jager.
John Jager brought is fiancee, Selma Erhovnic, to
Minneapolis in 1903. They were immediately
married and their only child, Katherine, was born
in October 1903. Selma taught fabric arts at the
Minneapolis School of Fine Arts (now the
Minneapolis College of Art and Design).
Selma Erhovnic Jager Katherine Jager
(1884 – 1974) (1903 – 1940)
In 1904, the Jagers purchased 20 acres on Minnehaha Creek. The land was just
inside the city’s southern border at that time. By the 1920s, John had laid out
and superintended the construction of Red Cedar Lane. Working for the W.P.A. Red Cedar Lane
during the Great Depression, Jager oversaw creation of detailed map of
Minneapolis. The map shown here is from that publication.
Before the creation of Red Cedar Lane, the Jager house’s address
was 5241 Upton Ave. So. After construction of Red Cedar Lane,
the addres s became 6 Red Cedar Lane. In the plans Jager drew
for his twin gates, he shows the gates in the style of Japanese Torii
– spiritual protection gateways.
Jager house, built 1904
Jager’s best friend, William Gray Purcell, moved away from the Twin Cities in 1916.
This prompted the two men to carry on a correspondence that was only ended by
Jager’s death in 1959 (Purcell died in 1965). Here is a typical page of Jager’s
musings sent to Purcell. It is part of their ongoing discussion and plan to write a
book that would cover etymology and art. The book was never published.
Typical page of
musings on one
sound – in this
At the bottom, he
says, “Language is
to me like geology,
is the origin, age,
what is old, what is
William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives,
University of Minnesota Libraries, Minneapolis MN
Carl B. Stravs (1882 – 1958) In 1906, Jager formed a partnership with Carl B.
Stravs, also a graduate of the Vienna Polytechnic
Institute. The partnership lasted just 3 years.
Stravs went on to design numerous buildings in
• Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire the Twin Cities.
• Studied engineering: Imperial and Royal Polytechnic Institute,
• 1902: Immigrated to Minneapolis
• 1905-09: Partnered with Jager
• 1911: Charles L. Pillsbury house, 2216 Newton Ave. So.
• 1912: Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house
• 1929: Stravs house, 4649 York
• 1935: Sumner Field homes, north Minneapolis
Carl B. Stravs:
Phi Gamma Delta
U of Minnesota campus, Stravs’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house on University
Ave. in Minneapolis is a good example of Vienna
1912 Secession architecture. Simple geometric volumes are
accented by sensuously curving elements. At the time,
such curvilinear elements were typically referred to as the
“plastic” elements of the building .
Carl B. Stravs: Stravs House -- 1929 Stravs designed this house for his family. The
4649 York Ave. So., Minneapolis exterior is clad with shingles, which probably
would not have been painted in Stravs’s own
conceptualization of the house.
Robert Tait Giles was a native of Gateshead on Tyne, England,
where he apprenticed as a stained glass worker. He showed
great promise and won a scholarship to the South Kensington
School of Art (later amalgamated with the Victoria and Albert
Museum). He immigrated to Minneapolis in 1903 and
immediately formed R.T. Giles & Co., an art glass business. This
was later absorbed by the Minneapolis office of Pittsburgh Plate
Glass, at which point Giles was named Director of the Art
Also in 1903, Giles married Isabelle Wheeler, who was a noted
art glass designer in her own right.
Robert Tait Giles, b. 1872
In 1908, Jager and Stravs designed a
R.T. Giles house, 4106 Vincent Ave. So., house for Robert and Isabella Giles.
Because the Gileses intended to operate
Minneapolis: west façade, a kiln in the basement of the house, the
entire structure was designed to be
presentation rendering by John Jager, 1908 fireproof materials. Walls and the main
floor are reinforced concrete.
R.T. Giles house: west façade, 2004
The Giles house as it looked in 2004.
The front entrance of the Giles house exemplifies the
early Modernist preference for simple geometric forms.
In contrast, the fireplace is encrusted with a complex
glass mosaic design, perhaps by the Gileses themselves.
R.T. Giles house:
front entrance and fireplace