A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Art Deco Commercial Architecture: Montgomery Ward’s Mid-Size Department Stores and Child's Restaurant Exhibit

Have a great summer. We'll be back with a new article about the Childs Restaurants and polychrome terra cotta on September 1.

 Art Deco Commercial Architecture: Montgomery Ward’s Mid-Size Department Stores

“Piggly-Wiggly, A & P, Kress, Woolworths, Montgomery Ward, and many other stores once made the difference between a backwater town and one whose star was ascending. ...While relics of most of the old chain stores were long ago stuccoed over or obliterated, Kress stores[, for example,] are still easily recognizable by their distinctive nameplates[...,]”(1) and Montgomery Ward stores by their distinctive “Spirit of Progress” terra cotta murals.

Until 1928 Montgomery Ward operated solely as a retail catalog sales outlet. However, by 1926 Montgomery Ward could no longer only sustain itself through retail catalog sales, and the company made a decision to expand into direct retail sales. Montgomery Ward either bought or rented buildings, or built stores in many small cities and towns throughout the country. Those buildings that were bought, rented or built were usually designed or remodeled according to architectural plans created by in-house Montgomery Ward architects. In fact, I believe that Montgomery Ward had architectural plans for a specific type of store, with variations, that were given to local architects to complete. This type of architectural pattern usage--albeit for one commercial enterprise--itself--could be considered the commercial side to Montgomery Wards’ popular sales of residential architectural plans.

 7 Canal Street, Westerly, Rhode Island is a three-story brick and terra cotta building with three bays on the ground and top floors, and four brick pilasters rising to the roof line. (Photo credit: Michael Padwee)

I was originally drawn to the Montgomery Ward retail stores when I was in Westerly, Rhode Island a few years ago with my wife. We drove through the downtown area and I sighted a tile mural on one of the buildings.

Detail of the building at 7 Canal Street, Westerly, Rhode Island with its Montgomery Ward logo. (Photo credit: Michael Padwee)

At the time I saw this building, it was in the process of becoming an arts center. I took photos and only later discovered that the building was built as a Montgomery Ward retail store in 1928. While searching for information about the building and the mural, I discovered that there was a twin to this building in New London, Connecticut. And then, I found references and photos to many more, similar buildings throughout the United States.

123 Bank Street, New London, Connecticut is a three-story, terra cotta clad building, also with three bays at the top floor and four terra cotta pilasters rising to terra cotta finials. Two green terra cotta tile panels are on either side of the “Spirit of Progress” mural. (Photo by Jim Steinhart © 2013 courtesy of TravelPhotoBase.com)

753 S. Main Street, Del Rio, Texas. This store was built in 1929 by Max Stool. “Max’s most lasting impact on Del Rio was his success at bringing national chain stores and significant downtown architecture to Del Rio. On the 700 block of South Main Street, alongside his own store, Max Stool made it possible for four of the country’s largest companies to establish their local storefronts: Woolworth, Kress, Montgomery Ward, and J.C. Penney.” (http://vvchc.net/marker/Stool%20narrative.html; Photo credit: Google Maps)

An article about the building at 753 South Main Street, Del Rio, Texas gives us more information about the construction of these stores. It “was opened as part of the Ward company’s transition from a strictly mail order business to one that sold product out of storefronts. The mail order company started in 1872; founder Aaron Montgomery Ward went into [the] storefront business ‘reluctantly’ in 1926. Having made that decision, Ward targeted his stores at communities of 10,000 to 15,000. During 1928 the company built 208 stores and in 1929 built 288. ...The Great Depression followed the stock market crash of 1929, and Ward opened only 49 stores in 1930. After this time most new Ward stores were opened in much larger cities while stores in smaller markets were subject to closure from the 1930s through the 1970s.”(2)

The former Montgomery Ward store and attached office building at 3 Monument Square, Lewistown, Pennsylvania. This building was remodeled in 1984, but the bands of green terra cotta tile panels on the store building still exist, as do the “Spirit of Progress” mural and the two vertical decorative terra cotta murals on either side of the “Spirit”. (Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User: Pubdog (Public Domain).)

The Lewistown, Pennsylvania Montgomery Ward building is described in the National Register of Historic Places: “The [former Montgomery Ward] building [on Monument Square] is a fine, intact example of the restrained Art Deco style used by a number of chain stores in the 1920s and 1930s. ...Some of the Art Deco architectural details [of this Lewistown, Pennsylvania Montgomery Ward store (1928--extensively remodeled in 1984)] include two-story bay windows and pilasters, bands of glazed terra cotta panels and a female figure holding a torch. This image was a standard Montgomery Ward logo known as the 'Spirit of Progress.' An identical panel is located on the former Montgomery Ward building in Stroudsburg, PA. The original drawings for the Lewistown store indicate the panel was made by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company expressly for Montgomery Ward.”(3) The architects for this building were G. Frank Witman and John B. Royer of York, Pennsylvania.(4) As I mentioned above, architects like these local architects may have been given Montgomery Ward's in-house architectural plans and commissioned to either build or remodel the building to fit those specifications.

Many of the Montgomery Ward stores of this era (1928-1932) had a number of architectural elements in common. They were usually constructed using brick and/or terra cotta. They were two to three stories in height with an enlarged top floor. They were usually three bays wide with vertical brick or terra cotta pilasters ending in finials or another ornamental element. All had terra cotta tile panels, usually near the roof line and/or under the top floor window bays. Most, if not all, originally had a terra cotta mural of the “Spirit of Progress” high on the facade. You knew a Montgomery Ward building by this logo. 

How did this “Spirit of Progress” logo come about, though?

Augustus St. Gaudens’ Diana I in the foundry. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Diana_1st_Version.jpg)

Montgomery Ward’s terra cotta “Spirit of Progress” is actually the third iteration of the original. The first, “Diana, Goddess of the Hunt[,] was commissioned by New York’s Madison Square Garden’s architect, Stanford White[,...as] a weather vane for the famous hall [in 1891]. He asked his friend, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to design it.

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville (L), La Giralda, with its weathervane, “Faith” (R). (Photo credits: (L)By Ingo Mehling - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37545220; (R)Kate’s Travel Tips blog, August 22, 2015; https://katestraveltips.com/2015/08/22/the-golden-triangle-of-andalucia-seville-cordoba-granada/

“The tower at [Madison Square Garden] was modeled after La Giralda, the Bell Tower in Granada, Spain which also sported a weather vane called Faith. Diana was fabricated at the W. H. Mullins shop in Salem, Ohio, she was 18 feet tall and weighed 1,800 pounds, yet she was perfectly balanced and could move gracefully with a light wind.”(5) This statue was found to be too large for Madison Square Garden, and a second, smaller Diana was made for the Garden. Diana I then found its way to the top of the dome of the Agriculture Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1892.

A replica of Diana II, the Madison Square Garden-Tower Diana, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Photo credit: By Postdlf from w, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2675510)

Diana I and Diana II each found a new home. After Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925, Diana II was placed in storage until 1932 when it was donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and placed on its dome. “Executives from Montgomery Ward toured the Agriculture Building [at the Chicago World's Fair,...] bought [Diana I] and had it stored in the Columbian Museum (Fine Arts Building, now the Museum of Science & Industry) until their Tower Headquarters was built in 1899 [in Chicago]. It is uncertain whether Diana was sent back to Mullins and was refurbished or if a new statue was made from a new design.” In 1900 Diana I was installed on the top of the Montgomery Ward Tower and given the name “Progress Lighting the Way for Commerce”.

The Montgomery Ward Tower with Diana I. (PPC courtesy of cardcow.com)

In 1899, “[a]rchitects for the new Ward Tower, Richard E. Schmidt and Hugh Garden envisioned a statue-weather vane on top of their new structure. Schmidt hired John Massey Rhind a Scottish sculptor to design the final statue. [However,...]Rhind [may] only [have] designed alterations to transform [...the original] Diana, [and] therefore he would not have been [given credit as] the sole creator of [the Spirit of] Progress.” Montgomery Ward only stayed in the Tower building until 1908, but the statue remained. Diana I was dismantled in 1947 along with the tower when the tower was deemed unsafe.(6) 

The final Spirit of Progress statue on the top of the new Montgomery Ward tower. (Cropped from a photo by Steve Brown & John Verkleir - https://www.flickr.com/photos/proxyindian/7160867125/in/photolist-ah61Bz-9ZRwKT-cc9yAS-bUMjji-ebeyxc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32105107

In 1928 Montgomery Ward expanded its Administration building at 619 West Chicago Avenue in Chicago by adding a new four-story tower, and the company president, George B. Everitt wanted a statue on the new tower. He “commissioned an artist to design one[... . In] September, 1929 The [new] Spirit of Progress[, a new figure in flowing, knee-length gown with the a torch in her right hand and a caduceus in her left hand,] was placed atop the white stuccoed Art Deco tower. ...For years the identity of the artist was unknown, making the story of [the latest] Spirit’s origin as much [...of] a mystery as that of [the original Tower's] Progress. [According to reports from his relatives,] it is probable that Spirit was the work of sculpture-architect Joseph Conradi. ...Later reports[, however, including] captions for photographs taken in 1929 by the foundry, American Bronze Company,...list the artist as George Mulligan, son of sculptor Charles James Mulligan (1866–1916).”(7) The full story is still not known.

Four ex-Montgomery Ward buildings--(clockwise from UL) Souix City, IA, McMinnville, OR, Muscatine, IA and Lewiston, ME. The Muscatine, IA store (LR) has retained much of its original Montgomery Ward facade.(8)

There seem to be at least two types of Spirit of Progress terra cotta panels. Those in Westerly, Rhode Island, Lewistown, Pennsylvania and New London, Connecticut, among others are made of curved-cut terra cotta tiles and the Spirit figures have white, flowing gowns. Those murals in Beeville, Laredo and Del Rio, Texas, among others, are made with square terra cotta tiles, and the Spirit figures have orange, flowing gowns. There are also differences in the figures and the globe-objects at the bottom of the panels. The differences in the panels could mean that either the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company made two different “Spirit” designs, or two different companies were commissioned to make the panels.

Beeville, Texas “Spirit of Progress” (Photo credit: Texas Escapes, http://www.texasescapes.com/SouthTexasTowns/BeevilleTx/BeevilleTexas.htm

Hillsboro, Tesas “Spirit of Progress” (Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, April 2008 via http://www.texasescapes.com/TOWNS/Hillsboro/Hillsboro.htm)


I would like to thank Rhode Island preservationist Dory Ann Skemp for her help contacting others in Rhode Island preservation circles; also, thanks to the online magazine, Texas Escapes, for the use of photos, and to Jim Steinhart at Travel Photo Base World Image Collection for the use of his photo.


1. Johnny Stucco, “How to Explore a Small Town”; http://www.texasescapes.com/TOWNS/How-to-Explore-a-Small-Town.htm
2. Doug Braudaway, “Montgomery Ward Building, 753 South Main Street, Del Rio, Texas 78840”, p. 2; http://vvchc.net/histproj/Montgomery%20Ward%20Building.pdf.
3. http://www.monumentsquarecenter.com/history. html; Forest K. Fisher, "Progress Lighting the Way for Commerce: The Montgomery Ward Building on Monument Square”, Mifflin County Historic Society, September 2013, pp. 1, 3. A search for information about these drawings, as well as other information linking the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company to these murals, was unsuccessful.
4. National Register of Historic Places Register Nomination Form, Montgomery Ward Building, 3-7 W. Market Street, Lewistown, Pennsylvania, July 18, 1984, p. 3.
5. “The Spirit of Progress Story”; https://chicagology.com/goldenage/goldenage015/spiritofprogress/comment-page-1/#comment-240547, p. 2.
6. Ibid., pp. 2, 3, 4, 5.
7. Ibid., pp. 6, 7, 8.
8. Souix City, Lewiston and Muscatine photos from Google Maps; McMinnville photo from “Historic Mac - Montgomery Ward Building” (http://www.historicmac.com/montgomery-ward-building).


New Exhibit: Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building

"The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2017 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, is "Neptune Revisited: Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building, Last of Coney Island's Boardwalk Palaces." A selection of original polychrome pieces from the Childs Restaurant Building will be on display along with archival photographs, ephemera, and an illustrated timeline of the history of the building and its restoration.

"Childs Restaurant Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk has a remarkable history that spans nearly a century. Completed in 1924, and originally the flagship location for the Childs Restaurant chain, the building has served as a candy factory, a book warehouse, and a roller rink. The fireproof building also acted as a firebreak during the disastrous fire of 1932, stopping the flames and saving the amusement area from destruction. Childs survived years of isolation at the westernmost fringe of Coney Island's amusement zone as everything else around it closed down and was demolished.

"The landmark building's colorful, nautical-themed terra-cotta façade, marble columns, and multi-arched entranceway, have charmed and mystified Boardwalk visitors for nearly a century. One of the most striking images on the building is a medallion of King Neptune with gold crown and trident, rising from the sea, dripping with seaweed, and gazing out as if serving as guardian of the Boardwalk. The Childs Building, now connected to the adjacent Ford Amphitheater, recently underwent a magnificent, multi-million dollar restoration and has once again reopened as a restaurant. Last May, prior to the opening of the Amphitheater, Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson made a short film about the building's history and future, which may be viewed here.

"The building's restoration included replication and replacement of the beautiful but seriously damaged terra-cotta decorations that covered the facade. Hundreds of replications were lovingly hand-painted and hand finished by the Boston Valley Terra-Cotta Company in Buffalo, New York. Visitors to the Coney Island History Project can now get an up-close view of many of the original polychrome terra-cotta pieces that were removed, including the King Neptune medallion and a medallion showing an image of the Boardwalk and building that was hidden away for decades on an interior wall of the restaurant.

"The Coney Island History Project exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. We're located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk.

"View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse, from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Among the rare treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the 'World's Playground.' The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to 'the Island' was 5 cents!"



"Tessellations: Islamic Tile Patterns and M.C. Escher"

"Grant's Tomb, the Community and the Gaudi-esque benches of Pedro Silva" AND A request for help

"A Factory As It Might Be" and the 2016 Ortner Preservation Awards
read more... 

The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company and the Beginnings of Polychrome Terra Cotta Use

Bits and Pieces: The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and following up on the James N. Gamble House and the Charles Volkmar Overmantle Mural

Art Deco Buildings and Their Lobbies: the Chrysler Building, the Film Center Building and the Kent Garage/Sofia Brothers Storage Warehouse


The Heart of the Park: Bethesda Terrace and its suspended Minton Tile ceiling

A Landmarks hearing was held on July 19, 2016...

Two Restorations: The City Hall Subway Station and the Tweed Courthouse

Egyptian, Moorish and Middle Eastern Ornamentation Used In Art Deco Terra Cotta in New York City, and Empire State Dairy Update
Wall Murals in Brooklyn: A Mini Survey

Inside Prospect Park: The park's Rustic, Classical and other Internal Architecture

Herman Carl Mueller in Titusville and Trenton, New Jersey; A Charles Volkmar Discovery in Clifton, New Jersey

A Book Review and New Discoveries and Updates-II: Jean Nisan, Ceramic Tile Artist

Polychrome Terra Cotta Buildings in Newark, New Jersey

New Discoveries-I: The Tiled House of Jere T. Smith

Introducing the Stained and Dalle de Verre Glass Art of Robert Pinart

Bits and Pieces: Polychrome Terra Cotta- and Tile-Clad Buildings

Socialist and Labor Architecture and Iconography in New York City

Bits and Pieces: Two Mosaics--Hamden, CT and Manchester, NH

The Renaissance Casino and Ballroom Complex in Harlem: Another Tunisian Tile Installation Headed for Demolition

Clement J. Barnhorn and the Rookwood Pottery

The Woolworth Building

The Mosaic Art of Hildreth Meière

Lost Tile Installations: The Tunisian Tiles of the Chemla Family

The Grueby Children's Murals on East 104th Street

The Experimental Lustre Tiles of Rafael Guastavino, Jr.

Bits and Pieces: Two "E"s--Eltinge and Elks; and more about Jean Nison

The Ceramic Tiles and Murals of Jean Nison

Pleasant Days in Short Hills: A Rookwood Wonderland

Architectural Ceramics in the Queen City

Isaac Broome: Innovation and Design in the Tile Industry after the Centennial Exhibition

"Immigration on the Lower East Side": A Public Arts Mural Created by Richard Haas

Movie Palaces-Part 2: The Loews 175th Street Theatre

Béton-Coignet in New York: The New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company

Michelin House, London

Movie Palaces, Part 1: Loew's Valencia Theatre

An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part II

The Tiles of Fonthill Castle

An Architectural and Ceramic Tour of Istanbul - Part I

Tiled Facades in Madrid

Nineteenth Century Brooklyn Potteries

Ernest Batchelder in Manhattan

Leon Victor Solon: Color, Ceramics and Architecture

Architectural Art Tiles in Reading, Pennsylvania

Charles Lamb and Charles Volkmar

Kansas City Architecture - II

Kansas City Architecture - I

Westchester County--Atwood and Grueby

Modern Houses in New Caanan, Connecticut

PPG Place, Pittsburgh

Aluminum City Terrace, New Kensington, Pennsylvania

Newark's WPA Tile Murals: “Fine Art is an Important Part of Everyday Life”

Public Art Programs in New York City: The CETA Tile Murals at Clark Street

Concrete and Tiles-I: Moyer, Mercer, Murosa

The Café Savarin and the Rookwood Pottery; Chocolate Shoppe Rebounds

Architectural Ceramics of Henry Varnum Poor

Herman Carl Mueller and the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle

Meet Me at the Astor

The Mikvah Under 5 Allen Street; "Historic Hall" Apartments Revisited

London Post-3

Some Moravian Tile Sites in New York

London Post-2

London Post-1

Brooklyn's International Tile Company

Subway Tiles-Part III, the Squire Vickers Era

Subway Tiles-Part II, Heins and LaFarge

Subway Tiles--Part I, Guastavino tiles

Trent in New York-Part III, Historic Hall Apartment House

American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part II, Artists' Tiles

Trent in New York-Part II, a Dey Street Restaurant

American Encaustic Tiling Company-Part I, Tile Showrooms

Trent in New York-Part I, The Bronx Theatre

Fred Dana Marsh's Tiles


About this blog:

This is a non-commercial, educational blog. Content is compiled/written by Michael Padwee and all opinions expressed herein are my own, or quoted, and are offered without intending to harm any person or company.

I fact-check as carefully as possible before posting and try diligently to cite sources of text and photos that are not my own.

I reserve the right to edit content—either add or delete material—as I see fit.

If you find a broken link on this blog, please contact me at mpadwee'at'gmail.com.

I do not accept anything of value to write about products or businesses. If I recommend a product or a company, it is strictly not for profit.

Permission is granted to link back to this site. In fact, link backs are appreciated.

Offensive comments or spam will be deleted. I reserve the right to decide what is considered offensive.

I am not responsible, nor will I be held liable, for blog comments. Writers of comments take full responsibility for their content.

I reserve the right to remove comments asking for appraisals or trying to sell items. (Click on "comments" in the section below to leave a comment.)

No comments:

Post a Comment