How about some wood with that?
Beyond metal, the Mesker companies offered nearly everything else needed to erect an entire commercial building façade, dubbed a “house front” and evoking 19th century nomenclature that referred to business entities as commercial houses. While their stamped and cast metal offerings intended to provide instant architectural pretense to the entire building, the storefront with its large display windows necessary to showcase goods and to bring in daylight, was of utmost importance to merchants. Thus, the storefront (milled of wood in the 19th century and in the first decade of the 20th) was not an afterthought but the genesis, the very reason for imbuing the rest of the building with panache, in order to lure the customer closer to the wares inside. Both Mesker companies provided this necessary wood work and glass— Mesker Brothers Iron Works as a matter of course, while George L. Mesker & Co. as an option, at additional cost. This helps to explain why there are more wood storefronts by Mesker Brothers but perhaps why Mesker Brothers sold more facades in general; the all-inclusive pricing was a major point of the company’s competitiveness.
Mesker Brothers Iron Works
Mesker Brothers Iron Works used “best selected white pine, kiln dried, and measur[ing] in finished state 1 ¾ in. thick. All Moldings are worked solid on frames; Panels are all raised; Tenons well glued, and Second Story Sash pinned and glued; Show Sash, Store Doors and Transoms are fitted with loose beads for fastening in glass—proper play is allowed for glass.” A single molding and raised panel design was economically extended and multiplied to suit any storefront dimension and arrangement with ceiling height ranging from 11 to 16 feet. To further improve an efficient and economical storefront construction, Mesker Brothers patented an improvement to vestibular storefronts (i.e., with recessed entrances). This simple invention (patent #460,478) made the width and depth of the vestibules adjustable without changing the size of the side vestibule sashes, which were held in place by removable stops, placed at the back of the outer columns and in the front of the inner columns or posts of the vestibule. The millwork shown in each catalog facade design was included in the cost, as were the upper story windows where applicable. The only up-charge was for polished plate glass.
For those interested in reconstructing a Mesker Brothers wooden storefront, provided below are several close up details of the profiles and moldings, as well as a diagram of the bulkhead with approximate dimensions. As per the catalogs, the widths and number of raised panels varied in order to accommodate various openings but the vertical dimensions and spacing aside from glass remained fairly constant. With the exception of the bottom sill plate, the bulkhead height was around 20 inches. For an authentic finish, wood storefronts should always be painted and never varnished as it is sometimes fashionable to do in present day restoration projects.
George L. Mesker & Co.
George L. Mesker & Co. also offered wood storefronts and glass but at an additional cost, and did not devote much catalog real estate to show various designs. All of the various catalog renderings and façade combinations, however, were based on their own storefront designs, discretely suggesting to customers that the smart choice was to buy Meskers’ entire façade assembly from sidewalk to sky. Judging by the not insignificant number of surviving Mesker wood work, this indeed was a popular option. Mid-1890s catalogs show but a couple of different types and by the turn of the 20th century, they were reduced to a single design that could be adapted to various configurations. The bulkhead design was deceivingly similar to that of Mesker Brothers but not identical (see side-by-side comparison at end of post). The company had its own planing mill to make the doors, transoms, and display and sash windows. In regards to wood species, they initially used “select Northern white pine, free from knots and sap.” In 1903, the catalog indicates a switch to Louisiana red cypress while subsequent editions omitted mentions of materials and specific designs altogether. Glass was obtained at trade prices from glass manufacturers. As with Mesker Brothers, double strength A glass was standard but polished plate glass for display windows was also available. Naturally, Mesker guaranteed accuracy and ease of construction for its fronts but especially when all façade components, including woodwork and glass, were procured.
Note: Additional information and more detailed measurements will be appended to this post as they become available. Please feel free to provide additional info and corrections.