Photography by Jeff Tryon
“Make no little plans. They have no magic
to stir men’s blood…” — Daniel Burnham
The magic mentioned by Daniel Burnham, the master-planner of Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893 and architect of New York’s Flatiron Building and Washington D.C.’s Union Station can be seen in architect Richard Taylor’s collection of “little” buildings, where a miniature of the Flatiron stands alongside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Building. When Taylor started his collection in the mid 1980s he had no idea that anyone else shared his passion for these small architectural collectables until he discovered two other collectors working within Hillier Architecture, where he also worked at the time. Although Taylor’s collection is currently approaching 500 individual buildings, the holdings of the most devoted collectors number well into the thousands.
“There is a group of dedicated collectors called the Souvenir Building Collector Society that gathers each year in a designated city to swap buildings, sell buildings, and tell “fish stories” about the rare one they recently found or about the one that got away. At one such gathering in Los Angeles, a famous movie producer attended the swap meet, cash in hand, and purchased only the best and rarest available from the sellers and was gone in 30 minutes.”
“Displaying the collection can vary from arranging by similar building types such as all office buildings, religious structures, world’s fairs, or sport stadiums. Or it can be displayed as a specific city with a miniature skyline. Grouping pieces by similar building scale with varying building types creates an illusion of a miniature metropolis with the added opportunity to position renowned contemporary buildings alongside historic landmarks.”
“I initially explored the local flea markets, antique stores, yard sales, and airport souvenir shops to find vintage pieces. I began getting up at 5AM heading out to the flea market with flashlight in hand attempting to beat the other collectors in the hunt. Soon I was planning vacations to Brimfield, Massachusetts, where the granddaddy of all flea markets is held three times a year. There I could find vintage buildings from dealers across the country and come home with six or eight unusual pieces to log in and ceremoniously install into my collection. Now, with the internet and eBay, I no longer get up so early or travel so far since buildings from around the world come to me on eBay.”
Taylor’s collection includes sports stadiums as ashtrays (pictured at right), skyscrapers, small town bank buildings, European cathedrals, world’s fair souvenirs, inkwells, desk organizers, and cigarette lighters. Many of the pieces are called still banks (no moving parts) while others are simply souvenirs from notable tourist attractions, including a few vintage pieces from The Grand Tour.
“My most sought after piece is the old Princeton University Palmer Stadium ashtray, which I once saw at an antique show in the 1990s and still regret passing it up as too expensive. Some pieces I purchased at reasonable prices have increased in value but most have gone the way of the Beanie Baby plunge. You do not collect as an investment, you collect for the thrill of the hunt and to build your collection. There have been times when the collection has been more stable and more valuable than my ever fluctuating 401K plan.”
“The first time that I paid over $50 at a flea market in central Pennsylvania for an unusual building, I stopped and asked myself ‘What are you doing? These have no real value.’ I then hurried on to the next table in search of another.”
Detroit’s 760,000 sq.ft. General Motors Headquarters building (1923), by Albert Kahn, now a State office building, is highly sought after. This building has a “double H” floor plan massing and fine detail in the casting.
As an architect, Taylor’s favorite replicas are Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax building (1944-51) in the shape of a cigarette lighter. These replicas were given to the attendees of the building’s dedication in 1947 and as Christmas gifts in 1948. The Maryland Casualty Company (1905-1911) in Baltimore is another favorite.