Maplewood History: Whole Lotta Terra Cotta – Part 1

For much of recorded history it would have been inconceivable to build an important building and not include sculpture, relief carvings, and artistic paintings in the design.  This started to change early in the 20th century when buildings began to be created with little or no exterior ornament. I call this the crime of no ornament.

Many Art Deco (about 1920 – 40) buildings had interesting exterior sculpture-in-the-round (statues) and relief sculpture but the tide had turned.  By the end of WWII most new buildings had little or no ornament. A tremendous loss in my mind.  Architecture is a perfect place to display art.  I’d bet many folks would have little contact with sculpture if it weren’t staring down on them from some of our historic structures.

The type of ornament many of Maplewood’s historic buildings have is known as terra cotta.  It means cooked earth.  It’s made pretty much the same way as a brick.  Packed into a mold to form the shape, then removed from the mold and fired. Finally a glaze would be applied and fired to create a super, long-lasting, protective surface.

Several readers have mentioned that this is a subject they’d like to see commented on.  There is one in particular who I know will be interested.  He is my friend, the observant wanderer, Mr. Tom Bakersmith. These are for you, Tom.

 

The 1912 Maplewood Directory has W.F. Katzky, a pharmacist at 3101 Sutton. A. Schwartzmann operated either a grocery or a butcher shop out of 3103. This building has long been a favorite of mine. It's nearly impossible to get a good shot of it with all of the cursed wires in the way.

The 1912 Maplewood Directory has A. Schwartzmann operating either a grocery or a butcher shop at 3103 Sutton and W.F. Katzky, a pharmacist, at 3101 Sutton on the corner.  A hunch of mine that Katzky might possibly have been connected to the later Katz Drugstore turned out as hunches usually do to be completely wrong.  A quick internet search reveals that this Katzky apparently split for Oregon.  He seems to have done well in Portland operating a drugstore that apparently survived him. This building, constructed in 1900, has long been a favorite of mine. Sad that it’s nearly impossible to get a good shot of it with all of the cursed wires in the way.

The parapet is capped with terra cotta coping. That it still has its original wrought iron work is especially nice.

The parapet is capped with terra cotta coping. That it still has its original wrought iron work is especially nice.

The capital on this brick pillar is an example of some of the finest terra cotta in Maplewood. The pillar supports a brick arch over the entrys to the second floor apartments. The arch has a limestone keystone. The design of the capital looks like acanthus leaves topped with scroll work. Two architectural motifs that are positively ancient. Look closely at the top and bottom half round moldings. You can see the lines of a rake, a common clay tool that a worker used to score the clay in order to give it more texture.

The capital on this brick pillar is an example of some of the finest terra cotta in Maplewood. The pillar supports a brick arch over the entrys to the second floor apartments. The arch has a limestone keystone. The design of the capital looks to me like acanthus leaves topped with scroll work, two architectural motifs that are positively ancient. Look closely at the top and bottom half round moldings. You can see the lines of a rake, a common clay tool, that a worker used to score the clay in order to give it more texture.  Many of the grooves in the acanthus leaves were made by the sculptor’s fingers.  This is truly handmade.

In this image you can see the limestone keystone with a course of acanthus leaves right above it. this is about the only way you can get a shot without the damn wires.

In this image you can see the limestone keystone with a course of acanthus leaves right above it. This is about the only way you can get a shot without the damn wires.

Here's a nice straight on shot that shows how beautifully balanced the facade is. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get rid of that utility pole? anybody listening?

Here’s a nice straight-on shot that shows how beautifully balanced the facade is. Notice the round cast iron column on the right and the rectangular one on the left. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get rid of that utility pole? Anybody listening?

A great little wrought iron railing between the two doors to the upstairs apartments.

A great little wrought iron railing between the two doors to the upstairs apartments.  The walls and ceiling of the entrys are paneled as well.

A super cool triangular paneled ceiling on the corner entry.

A super cool triangular paneled ceiling on the corner entry.  I love the cast iron stuff on some of these old buildings like the round column on the right.  The smaller round column by the windows on the left, if I remember right, is wooden.

Someone else liked this building as much as I do. That would be Maplewood's own virtuoso watercolorist, Stan Masters. Courtesy of Carlene Masters.

Someone else liked this building as much as I do. That would be Maplewood’s own virtuoso watercolorist, Stan Masters. Courtesy of Carlene Masters.

This building which ought to have a name but doesn't is at the corner of Elm and Sutton. This image really doesn't have anything to do with it. I liked it because I thought it was a good symbol of our Maplewood frugality. I'm not sure we still have it.

This building which ought to have a name but doesn’t, is at the corner of Elm and Sutton. This image really doesn’t have anything to do with it. I liked it because I thought it was a good symbol of our Maplewood frugality. I’m not sure we still have that.

And finally an image of the "smile and wave" part of one of the history hikes ably led by the now semi-retired historian of St. Louis Coun ty and just about everywhere else, Esley Hamilton assisted by yours truly.

And finally an image of the “smile and wave” part of one of the many Maplewood history hikes ably led by the now semi-retired historian of St. Louis County, Esley Hamilton assisted by yours truly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Maplewood History: Whole Lotta Terra Cotta – Part 1

  1. There is a lot of wonderful building ornamentation in Maplewood.
    The 7100, 7200 and 7300 blocks of Manchester are a treasure. Scheidt Hardware is especially neat.
    Most of it is near the roof line, so it is not easily noticed by drivers who have to keep eyes on the road.
    But pedestrians just need to look up.

  2. I would be interested to know the story behind the terrain cotta lips that are affixed to the wall of the building. Maybe it’s best left as a mystery.

  3. My mom used to do custom drapery work for Mr. Seris and even continued after he sold the shop to two other ladies and then they moved to Webster Groves. I was in that upholstering shop many many times as a young girl with mom or dad delivering her work to Mr. Seris.

  4. Building owners here! We wanted to thank you, Doug for this great review of the architecture and the historical information. We always wondered what the corner unit used to be. There’s a ghost sign on the north side, but it’s not readable. I had always guessed hardware store!

    You may have noticed that we’ve replaced those upper plywood squares on the corner unit with windows. It’s nice, because it gives you a peek at the tin ceilings (another wonderful architectural element). We don’t know for sure, but we were guessing that they were windows originally.

    We were curious if you had any older photos of the building in your archives. Would love to see them if you do. You’re also welcome to come by any time if you want a tour of the interior.

    • Ben, we owe anyone a debt of gratitude who replaces plywood with windows. Keep up the good work. You are correct in assuming that I don’t have any vintage images of this building. The ghost sign is not that old. From memory it was a Century 21 Realty sign probably from the 1980’s. There could have been something older beneath that though. I will gladly accept your invitation to view the interior. Thanks.

  5. I bet the soon-to-be new residents would have loved to get their claws into some of that upholstery. It’s interesting from your pictures to see how many uses the storefront has had in a short period of time. I assume you would have posted any older pictures, but I wonder what it housed in the middle of the century?

    I’ve also noticed that this building has a fraternal twin over at Greenwood and Picadilly. Different ornamentation, but same builder probably.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ian. I haven’t noticed a relationship between this building and the one on Greenwood but I’ll certainly take a look. You’re absolutely right about the cats being a perfect fit with the Seris Shop which is a business that many long time residents including myself remember.

  6. Doug, I like this building, too, and I wonder about it whenever I walk past. One of the things that really gets me about it is a feature that you’ve mentioned, namely the little curved handrail in between the two set back doors. I don’t remember ever seeing anything quite like that rail before. Some days I decide it must be original to the building, and then some days I’m sure it must be a later add-on. Either way it’s an odd feature—maybe a little extravagant—and I think a singular design in Maplewood. Have you ever heard any other information about this?

    • Tom, It’s difficult to say without photographic evidence that the quarter round rail is original to the building. I tend to think it is mainly because of the other piece of iron work on the parapet. It’s decorative and not functional but hey we’re talking about terra cotta here. Terra cotta is both decorative and functional, of course, but a lot of it is purely decorative. I can’t recall seeing another railing like it. I always appreciate your comments. Thanks.

      • Yeah, there’s the ironwork appliqué directly above, but that doesn’t seem to me to be a sister to the railing. The rhythm of the curves are too different. The upper iron piece is bound to original, but I’m not altogether sure if it’s complete and intact. This calls for more pondering.