the "white city" lives on through company that contributed to its construction

as covered in a previous blog, the bldg. 51 museum recently collaborated with the decorators supply company to make a limited edition of ornament originally from adler & sullivan’s c. 1889 auditorium theater. in fact the fabricator of these domes is historically important in their own right, a company that has spent the last century crafting ornament for structures throughout the city. the decorators supply company traces its history to just six years prior to the auditorium’s construction, when in 1883 simon strahn and richard foster partnered to establish a “carving and guilders business” (according to an 1890 lease) that would go on to fabricate “artistic decorative accessories” for the columbian exposition. by that point the company was well-known for its cast ornamental plaster and created the mouldings that would adorn buildings and halls famously showcased as the “white city.”

the original factory time clock is proudly displayed near the company's entrance door.

in a visit this week to the decorators supply, i found the ‘white city’ alive and well within the factory walls. the image gallery that follows captures how ethereal the space is, a portal where time seems to stand still. oddly enough, i felt very calm, at home in the sea of ornament. the “white city” is long gone, but it is easy to see where the name was derived, being surrounded by such clean and intensely white plaster elements. the experience of touring the factory felt as close as one can get to wandering the world’s fair over 125 years ago.

decorators supply is one of the city’s oldest continuously running businesses, their work creating a continuum between multiple generations. in 1893, the exposition attracted droves of world class artists, sculptors, carvers, and craftsmen to the city. this rich talent pool, comprised of german, italian and polish artisans, were tapped by decorators supply to create original molds, some of which are still used to this day. in fact, the company can re-make almost anything they ever created, drawing on a catalog of 25,000 products that comprise a significant living history.

the following images were taken on the day owner bill denis generously offered a personal tour of the entire facility, including what i dub "the vault," which is a heavily fortified room containing hundreds if not thousands of original hand carved wood models dating back to the time the company was still in its infancy.

the last installment of images was taken while bill and i were in the vault looking through several drawers containing the original hand-carved hardwood models made during the late 19th and early 20th century. most of the models are no longer used, but can easily be brought back to life if one were to make a mold for replication. in fact, the limited run of auditorium theater grilles i ordered required a new mold taken from the model to ensure the replicas were flawless in design and detail.

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