Story of enframement

Cawker City, KS. The IOOF Building (Spirit Spring Lodge No. 159) in the foreground features a Mesker Brothers galvanized sheet-metal façade that utilizes a rare window enframement motif. Image courtesy of flickr member flowercat.

A minor variation among the many designs for galvanized upper story facades offered by the Mesker Brothers Iron Works was a composition incorporating an enframement or a decorative border around a group of windows. The rectangular frame was of a standardized design featuring a wide band of a repetitive plant-like motif with an outer egg-and-dart molding and square rosettes or medallions, in each of the upper corners. The enframement wrapped around a group of two or more windows but only on three sides, the entire ensemble resting atop the lintel cornice of the storefront below. The motif appears to have been introduced in 1896, at the same time as the “dolphin panel,” and indeed the two elements were used in conjunction. Unlike the popular Baroque dolphins, however, the enframement showed up in just two designs per catalog (1898 and 1906 editions). As with the dolphins and several other Mesker Brothers ornaments, inspiration for the enframement seems to have been found in printed plates from numerous American publications on Classical and contemporary architecture collected by Bernard Mesker. The surviving plates with his annotations are proof.

One such note was inscribed over a residential design by architect M.J. Dimmock from Richmond, VA, and reproduced in the January 29, 1887 issue of Building magazine. “Embossed window frame” in a small wall dormer was among several aspects of this building that Bernard liked, the others referencing a “rockface column” between upper story windows, and an “embossed cornice between 2nd and 3rd stories.” Although Dimmock’s window frame appears to have a rockface finish, the overall idea is the same.

Another note, “carved frame around window,” can be found on a sketch of an office building for Richter, Schubert & Dick (The Merrill Building), by Van Ryn, Andree & Lesser, Architects, Milwaukee, reproduced in the July 11, 1891 edition of the American Architect & Building News. The carved frame around the top floor windows bears much resemblance to the design eventually developed by Mesker Brothers, especially due to use of repetitive ornament. (The Merrill Building, as built, however, did not incorporate the rectangular window border, with the design of the top floor windows changed to round arched openings; the impressive building was razed in 1930).

Perhaps most reminiscent of the Mesker Brothers enframement, at least in a drawn format, are “window borders” on the facade of the S.K. Ward Residence in Washington, D.C., by Hornblower & Marshall Architects, shown in the May 7, 1887 issue of Building. Although the drawing and available photos of the completed building lack detail, the similarity in overall proportions and motif repetition are nonetheless striking. (Photo of the completed building was reproduced in the April 4, 1891 issue of American Architect and Building News, but a legible copy is not available).

While only a handful of “enframed” Meskers have been identified to date, the motif’s inspiration, found in seemingly unrelated designs by America’s well-known late 19th century architects, provides an interesting linkage between the architectural trends of large urban centers and their Main Street counterparts, the latter often mass-produced and disseminated by the likes of Mesker Brothers.

Note on photos: Most of the known designs utilizing the window enframement are pictured in this post (yes, there are THAT few). There are two additional examples, which could not be shown due to photographers’ sharing restrictions. They can, however, be accessed through the following links, and they are from Newport, VA, and Ellis, KS.

Design for a Residence, Richmond, VA, by architect M.J. Dimmock. Reproduced in January 29, 1887 edition of Building. Annotations by Bernard Mesker (“Embossed window frame” at left). Image courtesy of David Mesker.

Design for a Residence, Richmond, VA, by architect M.J. Dimmock. Reproduced in January 29, 1887 edition of Building Budget. Annotations by Bernard Mesker ("Embossed window frame" at left). Image courtesy of David Mesker.

Sketch of office building for Richter, Schubert & Dick (Merrill Building) in Milwaukee, by Van Ryn, Andree & Lesser, Architects. Reproduced in July 11, 1891 edition of American Architect and Building News. Annotation by Bernard Mesker. Image courtesy of David Mesker.

Sketch of office building for Richter, Schubert & Dick (Merrill Building) in Milwaukee, by Van Run, Andree & Lesser, Architects. Reproduced in July 11, 1891 edition of American Architect and Building News. Annotation by Bernard Mesker. Image courtesy of David Mesker.

Residence for Mr. S.K. Ward, Washington, D.C., by Hornblower & Marshall, Architects. Reproduced in May 7, 1887 edition of Building. Annotation by Bernard Mesker. Image courtesy of David Mesker.

1898 catalog

Design No. 524 (left) in the 1898 catalog of Mesker Brothers Iron Works features an enframement around the upper story windows. The motif appears only once more in the entire catalog (design no. 727 below).

Design No. 727 from the 1898 Mesker Brothers catalog features the enframement on the side elevation, at far left.

60 N. Main St, Monroe, UT. The enframement is further emphasized through color. Image courtesy of Yelp.com user C.M.

Michelborough Building, 115 E. Washington Ave, Navasota, TX. Another enframement and dolphin panel pairing but here the dolphins are upside down. Image courtesy of Roger Waguespack.

B.Z. Building (1897), 113 S. Main St, Palmyra, MO. In this design, in order to accommodate a very narrow spacing between the windows, the dolphin panels are replaced with columns, very similar to the window frame in the sketch of the Merrill Building. Image courtesy of flickr member When lost in…..

119-121 E. Market, Red Bud, IL.

119-121 E. Market, Red Bud, IL. Here the enframement extends to the very edges of the facade, losing some of the obvious quality of a frame evident in the earlier examples.

Detail of the upper story façade shows the top of the enframement design, which was repeated on the sides. Here, the corner medallions have been replaced with square rosettes.

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