Thursday, July 2, 2015

1412 W. Morse, c.1915

The assessor estimates the date of this building to be 1910, but according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps it didn't appear on the block until some time after 1914.  This is a perfect example of some of the design trends that impact small commercial buildings.

L. Shure, 2015

The original portion of the facade is the terracotta band above the storefronts.  Back when it was popular terracotta was considered a perfect building material.  It could be molded in any style and could take a variety of finishes, from gloss or matte to speckled or marbled.  Maintenance and cleaning was anticipated to be simple.  Experience soon showed terracotta needed repairs just like any other material.  And the construction detailing was often too complex to be justified for small structures. It's prime period of use was really in the 1910s, when stock storefronts could be ordered right from a catalog.

Image I found online, which I have no right to use. 1950s?
Below the terracotta is a sign band of artificial stucco.  Typically this is a foam panel covered with a thin layer of cement.  It's cheap, looks OK when new, and is easy to pierce for signage and awnings.  Although this isn't a terrible material, it's often detailed incorrectly, allowing water to penetrate and destroy it from the inside.

Below the stucco are brick storefronts, probably from the 1980s.  I don't really understand why
commercial renovations close up storefronts or decrease the size of their windows.  If I can't see inside I'm not likely to go inside.  And many businesses then block those smaller windows with signage.  But I have to admit, pasting big rocks on storefronts has almost become a classic treatment.

A portion of this building was cut off to allow the new condo to the east to develop. That's why the coping on the east doesn't curve up, like the one on the west.  I also remember strange green shrubs at the parapet...  Were they real, or some kind of weird ornament?

OK, finally found a better photo of this building from 1982.  So that shrub was some kind of ornament... And much better image of the central medallion.
Better photo from the C. William Brubaker Collection at UIC- 1982


  1. I'll take a guess as to why the "shrub" & the medallion are gone.
    Water got behind the medallion & froze, causing it to separate from the cornice, so it was removed as a safety hazard. Much cheaper to repair without it & eliminate any future problems.
    Same goes for the "shrub", which is may be something similar to an acorn, although I do see a lot of stone urns on the tops of building fronts in the city.
    But the more I look at it, it also might be part of the building to the rear of this one.

  2. Thanks Clark St. Terracotta is such a tricky material that many owners prefer to remove it or cover it rather than repair it. But if well maintained it can be amazing stuff.

    1. Back when this was built, builders ordered terra cotta out of a catalog.
      Now they have to carefully take down good pieces & send them to one of the few terra cotta manufacturers around to duplicate it.
      I live near Sullivan HS & it took about a year to replace a lot of the damaged terra cotta there, one piece at a time.
      I often see a number of buildings with missing terra cotta pieces for months, while they wait for the replacements.

  3. Thanks Clark St. I've been looking for copies of those old terra cotta catalogs for years, with no luck.

    1. Here's a link to an old one Google digitized from the University of Michigan library.;view=1up;seq=22
      There are several more, just Google it.

  4. Thank you, very nice. I'm really looking for the catalogs that include the stock pieces and prices. I'm sure Midland had a million. With the increase in digitized resources there must be some out there...

  5. Here's a good once, but still no pricing...