In the 1920s, the Chicago firm of Rapp and Rapp designed hundreds of buildings. Theaters were its specialty. George Leslie Rapp, a member of Sigma Chi’s Kappa Kappa Chapter at the University of Illinois, and his brother Cornelius Ward (“C.W.”) were proficient at all three styles of movie theater décor popular in that era – the royal palace, the exotic (Oriental, Indian, etc.) and the atmospheric (clouds, stars, etc.) motifs.
Some of the buildings the duo designed included: the Paramount in New York City (pictured); the Chicago Theatre; St. Louis’ Ambassador Theatre; the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota; the Paramount in Seattle, Washington; and the Detroit-Leland Hotel. Some of the buildings have been renovated including the Rhode Center for the Arts in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the Michigan Theater in Detroit. The interior of the Michigan Theater was gutted and a parking garage is now where theater seats once were.
The Rapp brothers hailed from Carbondale, Illinois. The sons of a carpenter-architect, they were a talented bunch. George and C.W. formed Rapp and Rapp. Older brother Isaac Hamilton* moved to Trinidad, Colorado in 1889 and went into a short-lived partnership with another architect. When brother William Morris moved to Trinidad, the two formed a Rapp and Rapp partnership, too. A third brother Charles, moved to Trinidad, but did not join the firm. Isaac is known as the creator of the “Santa Fe style.”
George remained loyal to Sigma Chi. During the summer of 1908, the Kappa Kappa house was sold for $1,500 and moved off the lot. At the annual banquet after the 1908 Illinois-Iowa football game, George submitted plans for a new chapter house. The formal dedication of the house that George designed took place on October 30, 1909.
Several of George’s relatives were also Sigma Chis. Nephew Daniel Harmon Brush, Jr. was a Kappa Kappa; he was also involved in the architecture firm as was Mason Rapp, another Kappa Kappa. Major General Rapp Brush, Daniel H. Brush, Jr.’s brother, was also a fraternity brother from their chapter. During World War II, the Major General served in the 40th Division that helped recapture the Philippines. His son Rapp Brush, Jr., was a member of Sigma Chi at the University of Virginia.
Mason served as the consulting architect for the Sigma Chi Headquarters in Evanston. In the early 1960s, he lead the effort to rebuild and remodel the Kappa Kappa house. The expanded and renovated chapter house was dedicated on October 1, 1960. The four-story $253,000 addition included 10 new three-man and four new two-man study rooms, thus increasing the housing capacity to 79 men. The new dining room seated 95; other improvements were a stainless steel kitchen, new heating plant, complete electrical rewiring, new dormitory and guest powder room. The main floor was entirely refurbished.
While some of their designs have succumbed to the wrecker’s ball, the legacy of the Rapp Brothers exists in the buildings that have survived through the years. An internet search of their designs took me on an adventure, and had me thinking of another time and place when theaters were more than a square box with seats and a big screen.
* In 1903, Isaac designed the F.A. Prickett Building at 127 North Washington in Carbondale. Hair Brains is one of the current occupants of the building.