Archive for the ‘Art Deco Style’ Category

Carrara Glass

October 23, 2009

A lot has been happening lately that has gotten in the way of me writing here, so I’m posting this entry while I finish up some longer ones…

[Jones Dept. Store, 108 Sunset Ave; the building now houses Republican Headquarters. To its right is Baker’s Shoe Store.]

[The squares of black glass are striped with duct tape to prevent breaking.]

Late this summer as we moved back into my office at 19 S. Fayetteville Street, I found a workman removing the last pieces of broken tile from the entrance of the restaurant next door.

[Broken black Carrara glass, looking like a mirror.]

That wasn’t just any tile, however; it was a half-inch-thick reflective glass, technically called “pigmented structural glass” and called here locally “Carrara Glass”. Asheboro’s Sunset Avenue was once covered with the stuff. The photo at the head of this post shows Jones Department Store (probably taken in the early 1960s), and not only that store but the storefronts to both sides are covered in black Carrara Glass.

[The round dollops of glue visible on the back of the panel below kept the tile adhered to the brick wall.]

Pigmented structural glass seems to have been first produced in 1900 by the Marietta Manufacturing Company as a “substitute for marble.” Marietta’s product was called “Sani Onyx,” and was used as a hygienic lining for refrigerators. Penn-American Plate Glass Company rolled out a white and black product in 1906 they called “Carrara Glass,” named for the glass’s close resemblance to marble mined in the Carrara quarries of Italy. Before 1910 Libby-Owens-Ford Glass began production of their own version called “Vitrolite.” The first prominent interior use of pigmented structural glass was in New York’s 1913 Woolworth Building, where architect Cass Gilbert sheathed the restrooms with Carrara Glass.

Pigmented Structural Glass hit its popularity height during the 1920s and 30s, when it became synonymous with the streamlined Art Deco and Art Moderne architectural styles. From the sleek Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, to storefronts all across American Main Streets, Carrara Glass and its siblings fit the bill for slick, streamlined, shiny, materials suitable for interior and exterior use. Asheboro’s Belk Department Store, the largest commercial building built downtown in the 1930s, used Carrara glass exclusively on its façade (destroyed in a 1962 fire).

The many smaller Asheboro storefronts which exhibited Carrara Glass in various colors and shades (though Black and White were always the most popular) speak to the versatility of pigmented structural glass for updating older commercial buildings. By 1940 the commercial buildings in downtown Asheboro were all between 25 and 40 years old; as they were remodeled, each began to sport modernized street level facades using chrome, stainless steel, and Carrara Glass. This transformation was encouraged by New Deal programs from the Federal Housing Administration which granted low-interest insured business loans for remodeling, and structural glass veneers became synonymous with a desirable “modern look”. This uniform Art Deco “look” or design style grew out of a “Modernize Main Street” competition sponsored in 1935 by the Architectural Record magazine and Libby-Owens-Ford Glass, and judged in part by architect Albert Kahn.

Almost all of Asheboro Carrara glass has been lost in the last 20 years; those Art Deco/ New Deal remodeled facades have been been remodeled again and again. Though the original buildings have been preserved and reused, the “contemporary” style familiar to several generations of county residents has vanished.

For much more information, see the National Park Service Preservation Brief on “Preservation of Historic Pigmented Structural Glass” and “Our Vanishing Vitriolite”.

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Randolph Hospital II

January 24, 2009
Randolph Hospital Postcard circa 1940

Randolph Hospital Postcard circa 1940

I discovered one more postcard view of the original Randolph Hospital building before 1945, and I just had to share it, since the original is one of my favorite Randolph County buildings.

In my first post about the hospital I mentioned the relationship of the old building to the new addition, and last week I took a few pictures of that.

Original Wing undermined by Loading Docks

Original Wing undermined by Loading Docks

But as I said, the McCrary Wing added in 1951 really changed everything, and the postcard is a good comparison.   The monumental stairs were destroyed and the main entrance and lobby was reoriented to the original ground floor level.  The crest on top of the original center block was partially re-used, but the most geometric sections of the Art Deco design were not replaced, along with the plaque inset into the front of the steps.  This simplification of the original 1920s/Chrysler Building-style Art Deco reflects the refinement of the style into the more streamlined “Art Moderne” of the late 30s and 40s.

Original entrance

Original entrance

1950 Revision

1950 Revision

But I especially wanted to call your attention to the end of the County Home post where I spoke about the Decline in Pride in Front Yards.  Sadly, the hospital now ranks right up there with the worst of them.  Even when the 1951 wing was altered the relationship of the building to Fayetteville Street, lowering the entrance and moving it closer to the street, yes, but still the building largely retained its monumental position atop the ridge between Fayetteville and Ward streets.  Its ‘front yard’ was landscaped in a park-like setting, with maple trees that framed the building.  The front entrance remained the primary entrance, and the semi-circular ambulance driveway along the south end of the building was retained until a new emergency room was built decades later.

Yard with Maple Trees replaced by Parking Lot

Yard with Maple Trees replaced by Parking Lot

Since the 1970s the primary entrance has been hard to find; the McCrary Wing entrance still LOOKED like where to go, but it was locked; the real patient/visitor entrance was hard to find on the North Side, and the western Emergency Room entrance on White Oak Street was adopted as the primary street address but only provided a circuitous route to the patient lobby and cafeteria.  The new 2008 entrances to the Cancer Center from Fayetteville Street and the Outpatient Center on the north provide two more monumental entrances to confuse the casual visitor.

Cancer Center and Outpatient Entrance- from the northeast

Cancer Center and Outpatient Entrance- from the northeast

Emergency Wing from the west

Emergency Wing from the west

It’s interesting that the hospital has now spent about 30 years running away from its original Fayetteville Street entrance, only to end up with a new Fayetteville Street entrance (indeed, there are now 4 major entrances on 3 out of four sides of the hospital’s block of streets).  I believe this just goes to show that logical orientation is determined not by the needs of an institution, but by the expectations of the public.  Citizens passing by on Fayetteville Street, the de facto main street of Asheboro, expect the hospital to be entered from that street.  I am glad that the building is once again responding to public expectations, especially since the hospital additions constitute, along with the 2002 county courthouse, the only Class-A office building design and construction in Asheboro since the 1960s.

Randolph Hospital

January 4, 2009

I’m guessing that this wonderful postcard of Randolph Hospital was printed from a photograph taken about 1938 (based on the size of the maples trees planted after the building was completed in 1932).

When I put together my Architecture book in the early 1980s, I illustrated (on page 194) the original 1931 perspective drawing of this façade, and the entry (D:9, p. 234) includes an aerial photograph taken from the southeast. All illustrate the original monumental entrance steps to the second floor, which was originally the main floor for patients and visitors. The first, or ground floor, entered behind and under the steps, was the location of the kitchen, the operating rooms, and the “Negro Wards.”

From the south...

From the south...

This arrangement was entirely altered in 1951, with the demolition of the stairs and the erection of the “McCrary Memorial Wing.” From that time until 2007, this eastern façade barely changed, even down to the surviving maple trees. Alas, in 2007 not only the trees, but the original nurses’ quarters (out of sight in this photo to the left), were leveled and the entire hilltop paved for parking as part of the construction of the new outpatient treatment wing. That wing by itself is a strikingly beautiful addition to the long-neglected Fayetteville streetscape, re-establishing the hospital’s presence there after years of reorientation toward the Ward Street Emergency Room entrance. The upper Art Deco limestone trim of the 1932 wing received some overdue masonry repointing, but the least successful part of the new construction is the transition between the two buildings- a nest of underground loading docks and MRI bays that detracts from both the old and the new wings.

The 1931 design is, in my opinion, Flannagan’s local masterpiece. He went on to design the McCrary Recreation Building (1948 ) and Asheboro High School (1949) as well as the hospital additions, but none has the pure Art Deco flavor of the original hospital. The beautiful carved limestone cap over the original entrance was reused to crown the façade of the McCrary wing, but the sculptural plaque terminating the sidewalk front of the steps was not evidently re-used. Its present location is unknown, but it was one of the earliest examples of street art in Asheboro.