The last word in modern construction

Greyhound Terminal (1939) in Evansville, Indiana. Photo from 2005, prior to restoration.

Greyhound Terminal (1939), 102 Northwest Third St., Evansville, Indiana. Photo from 2005, prior to restoration.

“Evansville’s new $175,000 Greyhound Terminal is not only the last word in modern construction but it is one of the most beautiful and imposing structures in this area. Contributing greatly to both of these outstanding points was the George L. Mesker and Company of Evansville.
Fireproof construction and strength are clearly denoted by the terminal. Both of these favorable points were taken care of by the local steel firm. It furnished all the structural steel work for the construction, including steel joists and steel windows.
Providing a note of beauty are the balcony guard rails, made of wrought iron in an artistic design. Work of this nature is a specialty of the George L. Mesker and Company for which it is widely known. All types of designs can be obtained in this work. The steel rails for the stairways were also furnished by the firm.
The steel frame windows are of a projected type built on modernistic lines to harmonize with the architecture of the building.
One of the more difficult jobs done by the firm was the preparation of a big steel beam which supports the huge Greyhound vertical sign. It had to be manufactured to exact dimensions. About three-quarters of the beam is concealed cleverly in the interior of the front structure, where it is strongly anchored. The sign rests on the extended portion which is also covered. This method of erecting the sign was necessary in order to conform with the general design of the building, stated W.J. Stumpf, general manager at George L. Mesker and Company.
The work on the Greyhound Terminal is a good example of the many types of iron and steel work done by the concern.”

This lavish praise, alongside a photo of the newly completed building, was published in the Evansville Courier on January 16, 1939 (“George L. Mesker & Co. Steel Work in the Greyhound Terminal”). The wonderful Art Moderne building, located at 102 Northwest Third Street (on the corner of Northwest Third and Sycamore) in Evansville, was designed by William Strudwick Arrasmith of the Wischmeyer, Arrasmith and Elswick architecture firm of Louisville, Kentucky, with Edwin C. Berendes of Evansville as associate architect. Arrasmith designed at least 50 Greyhound depots or stations around the country between 1937 and 1960, and while the Evansville terminal is typical of the streamlined style he employed for the depots during this period, it is the sole survivor from what’s considered Greyhound’s “Blue Period,” with sky blue-enameled steel panels that matched the color of Greyhound’s buses. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, while merely 40 years of age, signifying its importance as a “cohesive expression of the modernistic style” and “one of very few of this style remaining in the city.”

When Greyhound vacated the building in 2007, it was acquired by the City of Evansville. In 2011, Indiana Landmarks—formerly Historic Landmarks of Indiana, a statewide non-profit preservation advocacy organization—announced a partnership with the City (which contributed the building and $250,000) to restore and adapt the stylish terminal for its southwest field office and a retail tenant such as a restaurant, brew pub, or a farmer’s market. The preservation group had to raise the remaining funds of a million dollar project to remove asbestos and to restore the exterior, the glass block windows, and the vertical neon sign, believed to be one of only a handful nationwide featuring a running greyhound, courtesy of alternating neon lights. Additionally, the restored building is planned to be an anchor for the City’s new Bicentennial Park.

Restoration of the exterior began in July of 2014. All of the Greyhound station’s blue-enameled steel panels were numbered and tagged prior to removal for restoration off site. 1970s-era paint was removed from the enamel and each panel’s porcelain finish was evaluated. Workers stripped the original porcelain from salvageable panels and, where necessary, fabricated new ones before powder-coating all of them in colors to match the building’s subtle and elegant original scheme, which was not quite as bright as the subsequent paint (see the before-and-after comparison below). In December, more than 300 restored blue-enameled steel panels arrived on site for reinstallation, with high-tech insulation applied inside the panels. The insulation will help ensure against warping that can be caused by heat and will further protect the brick. In addition, workers have buried electric lines, installed glass blocks along the main entry and rear sections of the building, and installed restored steel window frames. At the time of this post, a number of the restored panels have already been reinstalled with the remainder of the work temporarily stalled due to cold weather. Interior restoration is not planned to begin until the structure’s final use has been determined, although demolition of 1960s-80s era modifications was completed in early 2014. Undoubtedly, the decorative elements such as Mesker’s wrought iron balcony guard rails will be preserved. To see several photographs of the terminal’s interior taken in 1960, see pages 30-34 of the Donahue Studios Buildings I Catalog. Several exterior photos taken in 2011 are available from Indiana Landmarks’ Flickr album.

Regrettably, neither the National Register nomination nor any of the numerous press releases or articles covering the building’s rehabilitation (see selected links at bottom of post) include any mention of Mesker’s role in the construction of this important building. Were it not for the original Evansville Courier article and a friendly eye of Dennis Au who shared it with me, this information would likely remain unknown. It is undeniably true that Arrasmith’s design and the building’s porcelain enameled steel walls, glass blocks, and a large animated neon sign effectively and adequately evoke the technological advancements and streamlined aesthetic of the late 1930s. I certainly admired the terminal for these reasons when I first saw it in 2005 while on a Mesker research trip, clueless about their involvement in this building. However, although admittedly less ‘sexy,’ the steel components provided by George L. Mesker & Co. are also important in conveying the character of the building and educating us about the available building technology and construction techniques. They are as “of the era” as the rest and it seems like a lost opportunity to highlight the work of one of the most important companies in Evansville’s history while parts of the steel structure, including the large sign framework remain temporarily exposed during the exterior restoration. Specific to Mesker’s history, the building adds to our understanding of the company’s evolution from a storefront manufacturer at the turn of the 20th century, to a structural steel engineering and building firm in the decades that followed. The Greyhound Terminal, which includes both structural and decorative metal elements, is an impressive example of the company’s work during this era. It also brings up a question whether “Storefronts of America” is still an adequate subtitle for this blog. Perhaps “Buildings of America” is more fitting.

Erroneous or incomplete historic accounts can be rectified. Perhaps reproducing the 1939 article and blabbing about it some more as I did is sufficient. The most important fact remains that the building has a future. Kudos to the City of Evansville and Indiana Landmarks for saving this incredible gem and giving it new life. I look forward to seeing the “last word in modern construction” once again on another trip to the Crescent City, but for the first time with my Mesker goggles firmly on.

Greyhound Terminal in Evansville, Indiana. Photo from 2005, prior to restoration.

Close up of the corner entrance with its large vertical neon sign. Photo from 2005, prior to restoration.

Concealed by the porcelain enameled steel panels and neon is structural steel framework by George L. Mesker & Co. Pre-restoration photo from 2005.

Exterior restoration began in July of 2014. Before turning blue, the building became temporarily black. Upon removal of the enameled steel panels, a black membrane was applied to the exterior to act as a vapor barrier and stabilizer for the deteriorated brick and mortar. The membrane will also protect the interior walls from moisture penetration. The exposed steel structure at the corner, as well as all steel windows, were supplied by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of Indiana Landmarks.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Close up of the temporarily exposed structural steel framework of the sign by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Another view of Mesker’s steel structure. These elements were unseen since the building’s construction in 1939. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

“The [Mesker] steel frame windows are of a projected type built on modernistic lines to harmonize with the architecture of the building.” Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Mesker also made vents and roof ventilators and it’s possible that the company supplied these for the Greyhound Terminal. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Steel roof trusses by George L. Mesker & Co. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

“Providing a note of beauty are the balcony guard rails, made of wrought iron in an artistic design. […] The steel rails for the stairways were also furnished by the firm.” Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Close up of the modernistic balcony guard rails fashioned out of wrought iron. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Side-by-side comparison of the former blue paint (left) and the more restrained, elegant historic color of the enamel (right). Image courtesy of Indiana Landmarks.

Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

January 13, 2015. Some of the restored porcelain enameled panels have already been reinstalled. Image courtesy of Dennis Au.

Selected articles, in chronological order:

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Comments
4 Responses to “The last word in modern construction”
  1. Map of Time says:

    It came as a relief when the Courier reported that restoration would begin. For awhile quite a few people were afraid that it would eventually be give up on and torn down. It’s looking good, I can hardly wait to see it completed.

  2. Dave says:

    That is quite a write up, and very interesting. Great job! It adds a new dimension to the Mesker story! And Dennis Au did a beautiful and valuable job of documenting the architectural elements.

    We all should be delighted, as you are, that the city chose to restore the station instead of tear it down, or let it fall down.

    BTW, if anyone wants to see the building as it looked in March of 2014, they just need to key in the address in Google Earth or Maps and do a street view. It is well worth the couple of minutes it will take!

    Dave

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  1. […] conclusion, just as Evansville’s Greyhound Terminal from 1939 is important in the evolution of George L. Mesker & Co., so does the Tower Building […]



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