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

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tile Advertisements in the Paris Métro


On December 5, 2017 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted individual landmark status to two buildings of the Empire State Dairy Company complex. The buildings, 2840-2848 Atlantic Avenue (between Schenck Avenue and Barbey Street), in the East New York section of Brooklyn are "a complex of a Renaissance/ Romanesque Revival style and Abstracted Classicist style with Secessionist details, dairy buildings designed by Theobold Engelhardt and Otto Strack and built in 1906-07 and 1914-15.

This is the Atlantic Avenue facade of the main factory building (built 1913-15 designed by Otto Strack) with loading bay (possibly more recently added) and the two tile murals separated by three window bays. It is missing the original clock tower. The section at the left is a toxic waste site and needs remediation. (2012 photo: Michael Padwee)

"The [larger] Empire State Dairy Company building is an unusually ornamented industrial building whose equal is not found anywhere. According to experts, [...the tile] murals [on the Atlantic Avenue facade] are the largest, extant majolica tile panels created by the American Encaustic Tiling Company. The murals, now over a century old, depict a bucolic Alpine scene in which a woman leads a cow and a calf to water; on the other, a man leads a bull to water. The people proudly display their animals within a sun-drenched, lush landscape of water, meadows, pines and mountains, harkening to the agrarian beginnings of the dairy industry.  It is likely that the architect Otto Strack was paying homage to his country of birth, Germany, and that the rare Secessionist application employed here was inspired by Strack’s studies in Vienna.

A picture post card from 1907 of the first  building in the complex built by Otto Strack and Theobald Engelhardt. (Courtesy of Brian Merlis and Rick Gomes' East New York Project)

"The first building constructed as a part of this complex dates to 1907, and was designed jointly by Otto Strack and Theobald Engelhardt. Mr. Engelhardt was a prolific Brooklyn architect of German-born parents, whose architectural legacy is inextricably intertwined with the former German communities and brewing industries in Brooklyn. How Strack wound up on this commission is a mystery, as he was a prominent brewery architect in far-away Milwaukee. It is quite possible that the common link of the brewery industry made these two German architects cross paths and eventually led them to build together this once in Brooklyn. Overall, this building is a rare example of architectural style and artistic aesthetic, and emblematic of the burgeoning industry in East New York in the early twentieth century." (from a general email sent by the NYC Historic Districts Council on December 4, 2017.)

The Landmarks Commission noted that toxic waste remediation would have to be completed by the new developers/owners of this East New York property. The developers wanted the LPC to only give partial landmark status to the larger building, which would allow them to raze the building where remediation was needed. This was denied by the LPC.

I would like to especially thank Zulmilena Then and the members of "Preserving East New York" and Susan Tunick and "Friends of Terra Cotta" for their organizing efforts that helped bring this result about. Among other things, about a thousand "Help Save Us" pictorial postcards were sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission demanding that the buildings be saved.

Tile Advertisements in the Paris Métro

We’ve all seen billboard-style ads in our subway systems--usually graffitied or torn. But, once upon a time, in the Paris Métro, some ads were incorporated into the tile walls--they were, themselves, painted and glazed ceramic tiles. Most are gone, but some do remain in boarded-up areas of “ghost” stations.

The Croix Rouge “ghost” Métro station. (Photo credit: Samuel Marshall, as found in http://sewerfresh.com/posts/252/Demolition-of-the-Paris-Metro)

The underground Paris Métro was a system built by two rival companies in the early 1900s, and was fortunate to have in competition two artistically-oriented architects: Hector Guimard, the winner of the first concours de façades de la ville de Paris in 1898--an architectural competition organized by the City of Paris, and the designer of the beautiful art-nouveau Métro entrances for the CMP lines; and Lucien Bechmann, who used tile work to decorate the Nord-Sud stations.

“With the Métropolitain railway opening in 1900, the Compagnie du Métropolitain de Paris [or CMP], the originator and operator of the Métro’s first lines, decided it needed a dramatic street level presence to entice people into the Métro. It commissioned Guimard, at that time best known as an architect of Art Nouveau residential buildings such as hotels and apartment blocks… . Guimard delivered on the Compagnie du Métropolitain de Paris’s desire for dramatic entrances to its underground railway lines. 167 station entrances were to [...have] Guimard entrances (86 survive, according to present day Paris Métro operator RATP…).(1)

Guimard was an architect who built in the art nouveau style and was a modernist of his times. He “strongly believed that the modern architect must assume the responsibility for designing every element of a commission, from facade to doorknob[,...i.e.,] the creation of Gesamtkunstwerk, that is, total works of art. […] For Guimard, the design philosophy that informed Gesamtkunstwerk enabled him to merge the functional and decorative aspects of his architecture into unified ensembles. Iron, whether wrought or cast, was elevated to new heights of decorative possibility. ...Because of the artistry of its conception and fabrication, Guimard’s ironwork dwells on an equal aesthetic plane with more costly adornments.”(2)

Guimard designed three types of art nouveau Métro entrances--cast iron balustrade entrances, glass-covered entrances, and pavilions.

       “The ballustrade entrances are the most
        well known today through their greater
numbers. Art Nouveau of the whiplash-
        style drew its inspiration from nature, 
        and its curves can be traced back to
        plants and flowers. In the ballustrade
        entrances to Paris Métro stations, the 
        link is very clear. The ballustrades
        themselves are of a repeating stem or
        vine pattern, interspersed with floral
        cartouches, while the Metro maps
        are illuminated by floral lights… . 

A “typical” balustrade entrance. (ImageVia Pixabay licensed under CC0 1.0 (Public Domain) via https://www.archdaily.com/870687/ad-classics-paris-metro-entrance-hector-guimard/598b309bb22e38939200092c-ad-classics-paris-metro-entrance-hector-guimard-image“Guimard’s ballustrade entranceways were “...surrounded by railings decorated with escutcheons.” Guimard had his entranceways made from modular parts so they could be made and assembled quickly and easily. After 1903 this was done by the Saint-Dizier foundry. (Claire Cass, “Escutcheons from Paris Metro Painted Cast Iron Circa 1900-1950”, Hector Guimard: Architectural Elements (Exhibition Catalog), Jason Jacques Gallery Press, New York, NY, 2007, unpaginated)

       “...The glass canopy entrances were
       larger and offered a degree of protection
       against bad weather. ...The actual
       designs...followed the general pattern of
       taller ballustrades supporting a glass
       roof formed of a fan of iron spokes
       holding panes of frosted glass.

The Abbesses Station glass canopy on Place des Abbesses in Montmartre. (https://travelfranceonline.com/abbesses-metro-station-art-nouveau-paris/) “Constructed like the Crystal Palace out of interchangeable, prefabricated cast iron and glass parts, Guimard created his métro system in opposition to the ruling taste of French classical culture...Guimard's system flourished, emerging overnight like the manifestation of some organic force, its sinuous green cast-iron tentacles erupting from the subterranean labyrinth to support a variety of barriers, pergolas, maps, hooded light fittings and glazed canopies.” (Kenneth Frampton discussing the glass canopy entrances of Guimard in Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture 1851-1945, New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1983, p106)

The third type of above ground entrances were the pavilions, which 

       “...were the closest the Métro came to 
       having Art Nouveau street level 
       buildings. With their stacked roofs, the
       structures quickly gained the nickname

The Place de la Bastille pavilion with its art nouveau “M” entrance. (Public domain. Scanné par Claude_Villetaneuse - Collection personnelle; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Magasins_R%C3%A9unis_171_-_PARIS_-_Station_du_M%C3%A9tropolitain_-_Place_de_la_Bastille.JPG)

None of these survive.

Although the CMP’s lines began to open in 1900, complete with Guimard’s Art Nouveau entrances, “[the] Nord-Sud [i.e., the Société du Chemin de Fer Électrique Nord-Sud de Paris] came along several years later with a plan to build three lines. Lines A and B opened in 1910 and 1911. [These became Lines 12 and 13 after the CMP took over the Nord-Sud network in 1930. Line C was not built by Bechmann.(4)] In taking on Guimard and the CMP, the Nord-Sud employed architect Lucien Bechmann… . [Bechmann] had studied at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, and had been responsible for some notable buildings around Paris. But it’s also highly probable that the reason he got the job of designing the stations for the Nord-Sud was because his father was the Nord-Sud’s chief executive.”(5)

A terminal or transfer station with a tiled green border and molded, corner “NS”es around the station name. (Photo by Clicsouris (Own work (Photo personnelle)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The CMP used bevelled white tiles for the walls and ceilings of their Métro stations, which were mainly manufactured by the factories of the Boulenger Company located in Choisy-le-Roi, and by La Faiencerie de Gien.(6) 

From a 1904 catalog of Hte. Boulanger & Cie, Faiencerie de Choisy-le Roi.

According to transport historian Daniel Wright, Bechmann went much further than the CMP’s bevelled, white wall tiles in the CMP stations and underground ticket halls. Bechmann created large station-name signage using color-coded tiles--“Green detailing was for terminal stations, and those where you could interchange with other lines. Brown was for ‘ordinary’ (non-interchange) stations...”(7)

Bechmann also color-coded the station ceiling tiles. (Par Clicsouris — Travail personnel (Photo personnelle), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4912982)

and Bechmann used color-coded borders for advertising panels and direction instructions. In addition, Bechmann used molded faience tiling for the Nord-Sud station monograms and other border tiling,(8) much like some of the faience used in the New York City subway system by Heins and LaFarge.

       “Several things make Nord-Sud stations 
       easy to identify: their wrought 
       iron railings which eschew Art
       Nouveau curves to better blend in with
       Paris buildings; their classic floral 
       motifs on pillars decorated in ceramic.
       The exterior Nord-Sud signs were made 
       more visible, written on a red
       background in lettering which heralded
       the arrival of Art Deco. Inside stations,
       passageways were rounded and free of
       canted walls and angles. Walls were
       covered in beveled white tiles adorned 
       with a wave-capped frieze, whereas in
       Paris Metropolitan (CMP)stations,
       motifs were diamond or star shaped.
       These were honey colored in one-line
       stations, green in transfer stations, and
       blue in others, including Madeleine.
       Designs varied depending on the
       craftsmen (Boulenger or Gien). Ceramic
       artists Gentil and Bourdet(9) were
       commissioned to create the most
       spectacular decors, including street-
       facing station entrances that resembled
       those of buildings (e.g. Vanneau), as
       well as the Saint-Lazare rotunda and 
       Sèvres-Babylone entrance.”(10)

The tiled Rotonde ticket hall in Gare Saint-Lazare built in 1912. (Photo: j.bratieres; http://philo-ferroviaire.forumactif.org/t2336-rotonde-gare-saint-lazare) “Clad in ceramic tiles, columns with sort-of-Corinthian leafy capitals support a groin-vaulted roof over the circular ticket hall. The tiling on the columns is quite outstanding. Rectangular white tiles run vertically, separated by smaller orange-brown mosaic tiles, while the white tiles at the top of the columns are decorated with stylized green flowers.” (Daniel Wright, “When Two Tiles go to War (Bechmann’s Nord-Sud stations, Paris, France)”, The Beauty of Transport blog, December 4, 2013/June 15, 2016, p. 8; https://thebeautyoftransport.com/2013/12/04/ when-two-tiles-go-to-war-bechmanns-nord-sud-stations-paris-france/

“The vaulted ceiling rests on eight pillars with capitals covered with Art Deco ceramics by Gentil and Bourdet.* The rotunda, pseudo-Gothic style and art deco mixed, testifies to the care taken to the decoration of this exchange room today at the intersection of the lines 12,13 (old line B) and 14.” (http://palagret.eklablog.com/agression-publicitaire-dans-le-metro-dior-empoisonne-la-rotonde-saint--a125065286) *Gentil and Bourdet were known for their mosaic tiling. (see “Mosaïques de Gentil & Bourdet”, Céramique Architecturale Décorative blog, 23 novembre 2014; http://ceramique-architecturale.fr/autour-dun-ceramiste/mosaiques-gentil-et-bourdet)

It was only by serendipity that I discovered that some advertisements in the Paris Métro were made to be more permanent than others. At an antiquarian book fair I stumbled across a group of colored maquettes of proposed ads from the Faïenceries de Sarreguemines Digoin et Vitry-le-François ceramics factory. I was told that these ads were to be made with painted tiles and inserted into the Métro stations’ walls. One of the two drawings that I photographed seems to be color-coded in brown border tiles for a non-interchange station.

A maquette of a color-coded advertisement for “Henri Marthe”, c. 1930 from the Faïenceries de Sarreguemines Digoin et Vitry-le-François. (Courtesy of Michael Padwee; I have not been able to identify “Henri Marthe”.)

The Faïenceries de Sarreguemines Digoin et Vitry-le-François has a long history in the ceramics industry. The company began by the founding and combining of small factories in the Saarland in the late 1700s. After the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the land reverted to German control with the annexation of Alsace Moselle. Paul de Geiger, who was administering the German factories, decided to build a factory on French soil in 1876 in order to lower the price of his exported products to France. The construction at Digoin (Saône et Loire) of this new production unit began in 1877, and a new warehouse was built in Vitry-le-François (Marne). In 1880 Paul de Geiger began manufacturing “céramique du bâtiment”, all types of ceramics for construction, and by 1899 the Digoin factory was producing sanitary ware and tile stoves. In 1913 the company split into separate German and French sections.(11) Then, World War I intervened.

The cover of a 1933 catalog of faience tiles manufactured by Faïenceries de Sarreguemines Digoin et Vitry-le-François. (From the company website)

According to the official history of Faïenceries de Sarreguemines Digoin et Vitry-le-François, “At the end of the First World War, on March 8, 1920, the two groups (French and German) formed a new company: "Faienceries de Sarreguemines Digoin and Vitry-le-François" in Paris… . The Cazal family managed this company until the Second World War. The faience factory… now undertook great works of development of canals and railways. ...The production of tiles intensified and in 1929-30 a tile store [showroom?] was built… . ...Currently, the Digoin plant is one of the world's leading producers of hotel tableware.”(12)

The Stella Polaris was a well-known cruise ship that was commissioned in 1927, and remained active as such through the 1930s and after World War II. The Stella Polaris was ordered by the Bergenske Dampskip-sselskap, or Bergen Line, of Norway in 1925, and built by the Swedish shipyards of Götaverken in Göteborg. The Stella Polaris soon earned a reputation of being a superb cruise ship. (http:/www.thegreatoceanliners.com/stellapolaris.html) This maquette was prepared in early 1931 as a “Proposed Draft Badge to Les Sables D'Olonne”, and as such may have been made for an above ground station where trains left for the seaside resort of Les Sables D’Olonne, rather than a Métro station. (Courtesy of Michael Padwee)

Although we do not know if the Henri Marthe and Stella Polaris tile ads were ever used, there is still existing evidence that tile ads were used in the Métro system at some time in the past. Mark Ovenden, the author of an excellent design history of the Paris Métro, Paris Métro Style in Map and Station Design, wrote, “In the eerie empty passages of the long-closed St. Martin [station] are several beautiful examples of full 3D [i.e., relief] ceramic moulded ad. panels. These only existed in a handful of stations.”(13) Mr Ovenden was kind enough to send some photos of tile ads in the St. Martin Station.

An ad for Maizena in the St. Martin station. (Courtesy of Mark Ovenden)

A Santogene ad in the St. Martin station. (Courtesy of Mark Ovenden)

Mr. Ovenden further wrote in an email, “there were quite a few examples of advertisements made from ceramic tiles placed on the Paris Metro system, so your dealer was correct in that assumption… . The ones that survive are generally those in closed or abandoned passages for example at St. Martin station where some stunning examples were sadly vandalised in recent times but there are lots of photos of them so thankfully they might be able to be restored one day.”(14)

A vandalized relief tile panel in the St. Martin station. (Courtesy of Mark Ovenden)

An alternative explanation for the tile ads in the St. Martin station was given in 2010 by an unofficial explorer of the Paris Métro’s abandoned stations:

       “Of Paris' abandoned stations Saint 
       Martin is the largest and the most well 
       known. It's the only abandoned station
       to be dual layer[ed] and to have two
       different lines running through it - 8 and
       9. In addition to its size Saint Martin is
       well known for the 1940's
       advertisements it contains.

       ‘[...The Maizena ad and others in St.
       Martin,] circa 1948,[…]have never been
       seen by the public. Note that there is no
       graffiti, in Paris that means one of two
       things: they are in a very public place
       and surrounded [by] security cameras...
       or they are very hard to access. In this
       case, they are very hard to get to…

       ‘After the war the metro advertising
       business was in bad shape, so during the
       station’s brief reopening it was decided
       that the station would be used as a
       showcase for what companies could buy
       in the way of public advertising in the
       [city’s] metro. However, the [St. Martin]
       station closed soon after, and the ads 
       were never used for their intended 

       ‘[...These] ads are for real products, and
       I believe "Maizena" (a brand of corn
       flour) is still in production. These are
       examples of semi permanent type ads
       for which a company would pay an
       annual fee. They are made of hand
       painted ceramic tiles, which explains
       why they appear in such good condition
       after 50 years.’"(15)

Today, some ads and Métro system signs have tile borders, but there is no evidence that ads are still made from painted tiles as they were in the 1930s and 1940s. 

Tile instructions in Station Pasteur. (Real photo picture post card in the Public Domain, via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_-_Station_Pasteur_du_Metropolitain.jpg)


1. Daniel Wright, “Iron Flowers (Guimard”s Metro Entrances, Paris, France)”, The Beauty of Transport blog, August 7, 2013, pp. 2-3; https://thebeautyoftransport.com/2013/08/07/iron-flowers-guimards-metro-entrances-paris-france/

2. Claire Cass, “Hector Guimard: Architect and Designer”, Hector Guimard: Architectural Elements (Exhibition Catalog), Jason Jacques Gallery Press, New York, NY, 2007, unpaginated.

3. Ibid., pp. 3, 5, 6.

4. http://metro.paris/en/place/sevres-babylone-station 

5. Daniel Wright, “When Two Tiles go to War (Bechmann’s Nord-Sud stations, Paris, France)”, The Beauty of Transport blog, December 4, 2013/June 15, 2016, p. 2; https://thebeautyoftransport.com/2013/12/04/when-two-tiles-go-to-war-bechmanns-nord-sud-stations-paris-france/

6. Françoise MARY, “LA CERAMIQUE ARCHITECTURALE DE CHOISY-LE-ROI”, pp. 20-21; “En 1902, la faïencerie écoule environ 100 000 m2 de carreaux, et ajoute à sa longue liste de réalisations la plus grande partie des revêtements des gares du Métropolitain. Elle aurait ainsi fourni les deux tiers des carreaux, le tiers restant émanant de la faïencerie de Gien*, et inventé un moule en caoutchouc qui s’évasait à la pression pour extraire plus facilement ses carreaux format 7,5 x 13 cm à bords biseautés, dits carreaux métro. Ces fameux carreaux émaillés blanc semblent apparaitre sur les murs en 1902, deux ans après les premières stations équipées en carreaux plans, puis viennent les frises et les reliefs toujours visibles à la station Austerlitz, sur la ligne 10 ; les encadrements d’affiches publicitaires de la ligne Nord-Sud apparaissant vers 1910. Les travaux faisant l’objet de marchés, GENTIL & BOURDET réussissent aussi à en remporter, vraisemblablement après 1910 en proposant des carreaux de grès imprimés bien reconnaissables.”  

* La Faiencerie de Gien also won a contract to supply bevelled white wall tiles for the Métro in 1906. (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fábrica_de_porcelana_de_Gien

7. Ibid., p. 6.

8. Ibid.

9. “The architects Alphonse Gentil and Eugène Bourdet met at the Beaux-Arts in Paris where they were students of Victor Laloux, creator of the Orsay train station. In 1901, they founded the Gentil & Bourdet Company, their own ceramics factory in Boulogne-Billancourt. They completed their first buildings in the city of Nancy which was the home of Eugene Bourdet. ...Gentil and Bourdet realized that mosaic could serve modern architecture, both for exterior and interior cladding. Their architectural training allowed them to develop a greater sense of aesthetics than their competitors. They made decorative mosaics for many architects… .” (A google translation of http://levez-les-yeux.elena-joset.fr/la-mosaique-du-hall-du-journal-la-depeche-toulouse/les-mosaistes-gentil-et-bourdet-mosaique/

10. http://metro.paris/en/place/sevres-babylone-station 

11. http://www.sarreguemines-passions.eu/index.php/les-manufactures/presentationuc/20-historique-uc-sdv

12. A google translation of “A l’issue du Premier conflit mondial, le 8 mars 1920, les deux groupes (français et allemand) se réunissent en une nouvelle société : 'Faïenceries de Sarreguemines Digoin et Vitry-le-François', le siège de cette nouvelle société est situé à Paris 28 rue de Paradis. La famille Cazal la dirigera jusqu’à la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

La paix revenue, la faïencerie parfait les transformations interrompues par la guerre et entreprend de grands travaux d’aménagement des canaux et des voies ferrées. En 1922-23 est construit le grand bâtiment de la direction rue Poincaré. Cet immeuble est actuellement occupé par la mairie et le musée de la faïence de la ville. La production de carrelages s’intensifie et en 1929-30 sera construit un grand magasin de carreaux et en 1930-31 les bâtiments construits en 1880 seront rénovés et agrandis.” from http://www.sarreguemines -passions.eu/index.php/les-manufactures/presentationuc/20-historique-uc-sdv

13. Mark Ovenden, Paris Métro Style in Map and Station Design, Capital Transport Publishing, Harrow, GB, 2008, p. 86.

14. Email from Mark Ovenden to Michael Padwee dated September 14, 2017.

15. http://sewerfresh.com/posts/252/Demolition-of-the-Paris-Metro. I believe the information about abandoned stations on the Paris Métro came from members of this Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/pridian.net/.


I would like to thank Daniel Wright, who writes The Beauty of Transport blog about transport design, transport architecture, and transport's influence on art and culture; and Mark Ovenden, design historian, author of books about transportation maps, the design of metro systems, and a BBC4 documentary about Johnston and Gill Sans type faces.  I would also like to thank Samuel Marshall for the use of his photo of an abandoned station, and the unknown explorers of the Paris Métro who shared their experiences and photos of the "ghost" stations.



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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:

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