What a Loss

Perhaps because today is Veterans Day, or because of last week’s All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, or maybe the recent passing of boxing legend Joe Frazier and rapper Heavy D have something to do with it, but I feel saddened. Since death is the theme, I’ve also thought about losses in historic preservation. Despite that every year we gain a group of “new” historic buildings (i.e. those reaching 50 years of age)—whether via official designation or recognition through historic resource surveys—those that are lost are not coming back. Not ever. What remains, if we’re lucky enough, is some sort of recordation in the form of photographs or drawings. Perhaps a bit of salvaged historic fabric. Maybe a historic marker or two.

The continued discovery of Mesker facades will also yield an ever-increasing number of buildings lost. It is the only statistic that is guaranteed to rise. Even as I cite the current figure of 165 extinct Meskers, I know it is incorrect. Many buildings were clearly pending doom at the point of discovery and only official confirmation stands in the way of moving them to the “lost” category. Plus there are hundreds of buildings that were gone long ago and we’ll never know anything about.

Below are some of the best Mesker facades that no longer exist. Where appropriate I’ve indicated the building’s significance and cause of demolition.

Smith Block, Wappinger Falls, NY. This impressive group of facades from 1895 was continually featured, along with glowing testimonials, on the covers of Mesker Brothers catalogs into the 1910s (shown is the 1898 edition). Only the far left three-story bay remains.
Paxton Theater in Paxton, IL. Facade by George L. Mesker & Co. Building burned in 2007.
One of many wonderful and impressive Mesker Brothers Iron Works facades in Cairo, IL. All but a handful remain. Photo from the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (1971-1975).
Durham Brothers Bank in Onarga, IL. Facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Photo from the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (1971-1975).
Durfey Block (1889) and its neighbor in Bradford, PA. Both facades by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Image courtesy of Bradford Landmark Society.
Chandler Block in Macomb, IL. Built in 1889 with facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Photo from the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (1971-1975).
New Haven Lodge in New Haven, IL. Facade by George L. Mesker & Co. Photo from the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (1971-1975).
Junction City Hotel & Opera House in Junction City, OR. Built in 1891 with facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works.
Rawlings House also known as Lafayette Hotel in Old Shawneetown, IL. Built in 1904-05 with a facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works.
R.W. McCartney Music Hall (Old Masonic Temple) in Metropolis, IL. Built in 1894 with facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Photo from the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (1971-1975).
605 Carlin St. in Morrisonville, IL. Facade by Mesker Brothers Iron Works. Photo from the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (1971-1975).
Valdez Bank & Mercantile Company in Valdez, AK. The building was featured in George L. Mesker & Company catalogs from 1908 until 1911. It was damaged in the 1964 earthquake and demolished by a local fire department couple years later. Image courtesy of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

9 thoughts on “What a Loss

  1. Roger

    I’m enjoying your blog about Meskers. I was sent a link to an historic photograph web site that includes a couple of pictures of storefronts from the 1930s-1940s. http://extras.denverpost.com/archive/captured.asp
    Number 30 shows a storefront with a cast iron column with a visible manufacturer’s name, but I couldn’t enlarge it effectively to read it. The column doesn’t appear to be a Mesker. I think I’ve seen Pullis Bros. (St. Louis) columns that have an oval-shaped manufacturer’s name, but it could also be one of the many more local or regional foundries.
    One shot in particular was number 57, which shows a large building and a number of smaller ones down the street in Dillon, Montana, that truly broke my heart. I was in Dillon during the summer and recognized the smaller buildings down the street in a picture that I took. I think there were four Meskers and a Scherpe & Koken in the middle. Although they had lost much of the original ground floors (the one closest to the large building had the dreaded Lincoln Log redo that is popular out west), they still had identifiable cast iron columns and upper story ornamentation. Nothing like the large building was extant. Sadly, the large building had lost its turret and ornamentation and was now clad in that horrible sheet-metal cladding that is popular for “modernizing” old buildings. You can see the abomination by looking at 4 North Montana Street, Dillon, Montana, in Google Maps Street View.
    Dillon, MT was on the railroad so it had many iron storefronts. Mostly Mesker Bros. of St. Louis, but also the aforementioned Scherpe & Koken, also from St. Louis. Unfortunately, most ground floors have been extensively (inappropriately) remodeled so that only the columns are visible. Luckily the upper floors and cornices still have more original features. If you go farther south on Montana Street, there is a beautiful half-block combo Mesker facade on the east side of the street.

    1. Thank you Roger. I’m glad that you find the blog interesting.
      Aside from any architectural treasures, the link you included has some amazing photographs in general. I do not recognize the column on photo#30 but it is not a Mesker column. As you mentioned, there were numerous cast iron makers across the nation. In St. Louis alone, aside from the Mesker Brothers, Pullis Brothers, and Scherpe and Koken, were Christopher & Simpson, Banner Iron Works, Union Iron & Foundry Co., Globe Iron Foundry, Victor Iron Works, Standard Foundry Co., and the St. Louis Architectural Iron Works. That’s quite a competitive environment!
      The Dillon, MT scene is magnificent. What happened there is sad and is unfortunately not uncommon. I dread the day when the modern sheet-metal cladding will also be considered historic.
      Thanks again and please feel free to share your discoveries, whether Mesker or not, anytime.

      1. Roger

        Glad to share the link. Yep, all of the photos are amazing. Thanks for providing those additional St. Louis foundries. I think I’ve stumbled across some of them in my travels. One thing that I’ve noticed about the Scherpe & Koken columns is that some are labeled as Koken only. I was wondering if you or anyone else is compiling a list of all foundries that made storefront components. Although the Meskers are wonderful, I think the other foundries show the diversity of this architectural style and really enjoy finding them.

      2. I too have noticed various names for Scherpe & Koken including Koken Graydon & Co and Scherpe, Koken and Graydon. Similarly, Pullis Bros columns could be marked with T.R. Pullis & Sons or T.R. Pullis & Bro. Or J. Christopher & Co instead of Christopher & Simpson. These various name iterations must reflect ownership changes within the companies. With additional research they could provide a timeline and a mechanism to date various designs and buildings.
        I am not compiling an official list of other foundries but am noting them as I encounter them. I agree that additional research is needed in this area. Where I draw a distinction between the Meskers and other companies is through the variety of materials they manufactured and sold. Cast iron, produced by foundries, and pressed metal are two very different technologies. Meskers were in a smaller class of manufacturers that could do both. The enormity of their operations and the surviving catalogs and other ephemera also make it easier yet more meaningful to research and contextualize their importance. Conversely, not a lot of information has been uncovered about many other foundries, most of whom were of local or regional significance. Ultimately, I consider looking for Meskers as means of discovery of other treasures, such as columns by local foundries or other materials altogether, such as transom prism glass patterns or terra cotta decoration.
        If you’d like I’d be happy to share my images of other columns and nameplates. Perhaps you can start a related ‘got koken?’ initiative?

  2. Roger

    Thanks for the additional info and insight. I was going to make a similar offer of my info on non-Meskers to you or anyone else who might be compiling it. If I wanted to discuss any of this in more detail or send photos to you, what is the best way to do it? I’m a bit of a geezer and don’t know the proper protocol. 🙂

  3. Pingback: “The Finest Cast Iron Facade in Natchez” – Preservation in Mississippi

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