rare depression-era northwestern terra cotta plates added to bldg. 51 musuem terra cotta collection

exceptionally rare early 1930's northwestern terra cotta company portfolio (one of four volumes) consisting of 12 plates devoted to "modern style" terra cotta ornament. the majority of the plates feature designs from notable buildings in chicago (i've included a few examples). 

while i'm thrilled that i finally acquired a volume from this set (i've been searching for several years), i hope a copy of the "sullivanesque ornament" portfolio becomes available.

shortly after these portfolios were published, northwestern's operations in chicago declined alongside the construction industry during the great depression, and was eclipsed by modernist curtain walls of glass, exposed steel, and concrete. in 1965, northwestern terra cotta co.'s only remaining plant in denver closed.

courtesy of the bldg. 51 archive.

northwestern terra cotta corp. grew out of the firm true, brunkhorst & co. composed of john tank, john brunkhorst, gustav hottinger, henry rohkam, and john r. true. all from chicago terra cotta works, the first factory opened in 1882 in the chicago lincoln park neighborhood on clybourn and wrightwood. adorning the face of great buildings of its time, including the rookery, the tacoma building, the home insurance building, the reliance building, the marquette building, the great northern hotel, and the heyworth building to name of few, the northwester terra cotta company produced a skyline of beauty and charm.

 

the company’s architectural, handmade terra cotta encompasses every product from extruding ashlar and shapes to ceramic veneer, chimney pots, tanks, tabletops, and “garden furniture” such as benches, vases, bird baths, garden border, decorative tiles. officers overseeing this production included h.j. lucas (president, general manager), rodney h brandon (vice president), arthur h. kaeppal (vice president, treasurer), burnette purcell (vice president, general superintendent), alphonse h. kaeppel (secretary), and e. w. reynolds (assistant secretary, assistant treasurer). under their direction and supervision, the company not only adorned the face of many stunning buildings, but contributed innovations to the field. the tacoma building’s work required the careful study and development of a technique of skeleton construction as applied to the facades of a high building. the shelf’s angle bolted or riveted to the outside face of the columns, directly supported the brick and terra cotta facing of the building at each story. these red hot rivets beaten into place held the steal of the tacoma building together. this construction was the direct result of the terra cotta co.’s  use of the shelf-angle system for supporting terra cotta bays for alder and sullivan for the auditorium and adopted by engineer paul mueller.

after 75 years, the company entered clay production in fountain county indiana with over 160 acres and 29 kilns for production. this new production was overseen by officers h. j. lucas (president, general manager), burnette purcell (vice-president),, herman f pronger (vice-president), arthur h kaeppel (treasurer), e.w. reynolds (secretary), and emery m pronger (superintendent).

FURTHER READING:

AFTER 10 YEARS OF SEARCHING, BLDG. 51 MUSEUM ARCHIVE SECURES ORIGINAL 1910 NORTHWESTERN TERRA COTTA COMPANY CATALOG

SHOWCASING ORNAMENT THROUGH A NORTHWESTERN TERRA COTTA COMPANY EXECUTIVE'S RESIDENCE

CITY OF CHICAGO BUILDING TERRA COTTA: A VISUAL STUDY OF ORNAMENT FROM THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE TO THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Leave a Reply

Sorry, you must be logged in to post a comment.