The Details

Bathroom Sinks

An original TEPECO sink

An original TEPECO sink

Our bathroom sinks were made by the Trenton Potteries Company (TEPECO,) located in Trenton, New Jersey.  Trenton Potteries was actually an 1892 merger of five local firms, Crescent, Ideal, Empire, Enterprise and Equitable. With the exception of Equitable, all of them specialized in vitreous (impervious to water) china sanitary ware. The addition of tunnel kilns in 1922 allowed them to switch from pressing clay into a mold to the slip casting method. Slip casting involves pouring a mixture of water and clay into a mold that absorb moisture and was most likely used on our sinks. Chicago based, Crane Company acquired a controlling interest in 1923 and five years later bought out the company, closing all but two of the original factories. Crane is still in business today.


A Sloan Valve toilet Flushometer

A Sloan Valve toilet Flushometer

The story of our toilets is more interesting than one would think. After the advent of indoor plumbing, toilet inventions became very popular. Between 1900 and 1932, over 350 patents were granted for new water closet designs. Pipe-fitter, independent contractor and perennial inventor, W. E. Sloan was among them. With a self-educated knowledge of hydraulics, the Royal Flushometer, a revolutionary, yet simple combination of water pressure and a diaphragm was created in 1906 and the Sloan Valve Company was started. Getting acceptance and making sales was more difficult than the creation. In the first year, he made one sale, the next year, he doubled sales. Finally, in year three, he sold 150 Flushometers and the company has sold millions since. Through persistence, Mr. Sloan proved to builders and owners they could save money on water, maintenance and vandalism for only the slight added cost of a larger pipe size during construction. Mr. Sloan died just short of his 93rd birthday and the company he founded is still privately held and the largest manufacturer of Flushometers in the world.


Speakman Company Showerhead

Speakman Company Showerhead

The original showerheads supplied with our houses were manufactured by the Speakman Company of Wilmington, Delaware. The 1931 patent drawing illustrates that model. The picture is a later version.

Speakman was founded by brothers, Allen and Joseph Speakman in 1869 as gasfitters, steamfitters and plumbing contractors. In 1880, the partnership was dissolved and Allen took over total control. The company turned to manufacturing out of necessity in 1898 when it was unable to locate needed brass fittings for a contracted job. By 1901, 42 employees worked in the brass shop and foundry. Son, Wilard A. Speakman assumed control of the company in 1905 upon the death of his father. For the next twenty years the company experienced major growth while it became known for its well engineered showerheads, protected by U.S. patents.

 Beyond its prominence in the plumbing industry, Speakman has become known for its early adoption of employee welfare policies that included profit sharing and bonuses. In 2003, the Guinness Book of World Records listed a 91 year old employee of the firm as setting the record for longest service to one company at 75 years! Who knows, perhaps this gentleman was responsible for making some of our original parts!

Bathroom Cabinets

United Metal Box Company Bathroom Cabinet

United Metal Box Company Bathroom Cabinet

Our bathroom cabinets were manufactured by the United Metal Box Company. Founded in 1919, the Brooklyn, New York firm also manufactured electrical boxes, clothes hampers, apartment mailboxes and steel kitchen cabinets. Lured by the Greater Pottsville Industrial Development Corporation, as they sought to bring more manufacturing jobs to the area, in 1956 United moved to Pottsville, Pennsylvania. At that point, they began to develop line of waste receptacles. In 1966, they were sold to Colonial Products Company of York, Pennsylvania, a manufacturer of wooded kitchen cabinets. Four years later, Wickes Lumber Company acquired Colonial. With no interest in the “metal” portion of the business, that business was sold to Sam Weiss and Milton Greenberg who formed United Receptacle, Inc., which is still owned and operated by the Weiss family today. The business now centers on waste receptacles manufactured of fiberglass, steel and aluminum with over 6000 distributors, worldwide.

Door Knobs

Sargent & Company Interior Door Hardware

Sargent & Company Interior Door Hardware

Our interior door hardware was manufactured by Sargent & Company. The Sargent family entered the wholesale hardware business in 1810 in New York City and soon thereafter acquired an interest in one of their suppliers, The Peck and Walter Manufacturing Co. of New Britain, Connecticut. Three brothers eventually bought full ownership in 1857 and in 1864 they moved the factory to Water Street in New Haven in buildings formerly owned by Benedict Arnold and Eli Whitney. The new location afforded them close proximity to the sea for ease of shipping and raw material receiving transportation. At that time they changed the name to Sargent & Company. By 1914 the Sargent product catalog features 60,000 different items, making them one of the largest manufacturing plants in the USA. As with so many companies, during World War I & II, they turned their expertise toward production of goods for the war effort. After the end of WWII, they narrowed their scope and concentrated on the manufacturing of high-quality locks and “door-related mechanisms,” a product sector for which they had gained some repute. With this new direction, they went on to develop many lock-related engineering first, including the first major change in pin-tumble technology in over 100 years. In 1967, the Sargent family agreed to sell controlling interest in the company to Walter Kidde Company and that began a collection of sales and acquisitions until they finally were purchased in 1996 by the Swedish firm Assa Abloy AB, the world’s leading lock group. The new parent company has allowed them to stay current with today’s manufacturing technology and continue making beautiful and functional door hardware, just like those found in our homes.

Toilet Seat

Because of Prohibition, the firm of Brunswick-Baulke-Collender found their billiard table, bar equipment business slowing. Being smart business people, they realized the effect this social experiment would have and started to diversify. One area they added to their product line was toilet seats.  They created and built the world’s first, hard-rubber version. They were finished in Pyrolin, a resin primarily used in fountain pens. These seats were included as original equipment in our homes.

John Moses Brunswick was born in Switzerland, immigrated to the United States and worked in the carriage business in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Cincinnati before forming his own carriage building firm in 1845. Realizing the fluctuating business conditions, he found it necessary to diversify. During a dinner party at a wealthy civic leader he found himself in the billiards room. Realizing they were imported from England, he found a logical expansion to his woodworking business that ultimately would grow to dominate the sporting goods industry. His path took him through mergers with business rivals Julius Balke and Phelan & Collender, diversification during prohibition, the war effort in the 30’s and 40’s, bowling equipment, tires and boating. While toilet seats may have been a minor vein in this important American company, it is interesting to understand how it interacts with our historic homes.

Radiator Cover

Hart & Hutchinson Radiator Cover

Hart & Hutchinson Radiator Cover

Our radiator covers were manufactured by the Hart & Hutchinson Company of New Britain, Connecticut.  They offered a full complement of cabinet radiators covers, bathroom cabinet and recessed radiators and covers.  The heat carrying units were designed using a copper fin design and advertised that the cabinets and fin mechanism were 15% smaller than the cast iron version popular at the time. With removable top and an enclosed unit, these new models were advertised to be cleaner and more efficient than the current technology. In the 1931 catalog, the cabinet was presented as, “…The design is of modern type, yet not intrusive. Note the ribbed front and new patterned front grill, also the neatly molded top and legs.”

The Type W Concealed Radiator units that are installed on the first floor of our homes were a departure from typical methods of heating. Able to be installed in 4” or 6”, interior or exterior walls, personal comfort was no longer a deterrent to residential aesthetics. The catalog indicates that covers can be had with a grate design at the top and bottom or with an open bottom, like that which are on our covers.

Today, in a world of forced-air heating, it is difficult to understand the relevance of advances in steam heat. It is difficult to appreciate that we have what was then, state of the art heating. Regardless, they remain as useful and visually interesting as when they were installed.


Kraftile Company Light and Dark Green

Kraftile Company Light and Dark Green

Our bathroom and kitchen faience tiles (earthenware decorated with opaque colored glazes) were made by the Kraftile Company (1926-1997) of Niles, California.  The tiles were molded from wet clay, dried and decorated by hand. They were then “single-fired” at a very high heat. This type firing was called “monolithic” and ensured the long lasting quality of the tiles. Kraftile used the catch phrase, “High Fired” in their marketing.

Kraftile was a sister company to the Kraft Foods firm. Kraft cheese was shipped in wooden crates that were produced in Niles, located just east of the San FranciscoBay, where lumber was cheap. Because of the burgeoning demand for homes, entering the clay roof tile business made financial sense. The owners realized they had a ready supply of manufacturing by-products that could easily be used to fire kilns. A. Clay Meyers, formerly of the California Art Tile Company in nearby Richmond agreed to supervise the operations, provided they agree to later expand into decorative tiles.

Kraftile Company Green and Pink Tile

Kraftile Company Green and Pink

The equally interesting method used to install those tiles disappeared in the late 1940’s when plaster board (now called drywall or sheetrock) was invented. Prior to that time, tile was set directly into a bed of concrete and sand. The concrete was mixed to a slurry, into which the tiles were pressed. This was called a “mud bed” and the men who did the work were nicknamed “mud men”. The loose concrete slipped through the spaces to form a surrogate divider of grout. The choice of color was simple, you could have grey or white, (ours are specified white) hence the reason for the bold colors of tiles we find in our homes and other homes of the era.

The concrete method insured permanence. Installation was heavy work and the result provided a barrier between the water and the wall. The first bath enclosures that used drywall were not so lucky. As we now know, drywall absorbs moisture and the now common “greenboard” was not invented until the 1960’s. Many of the homes built in that period and beyond quickly required repair work. As anyone who has tried to remove some of the tile in our homes can attest, this tile was set for life. Very much like the so many other aspects of our interesting homes.


At the end of the 1800’s, The Weyerhaeuser Company was quickly becoming a leader in the forestry and lumber industry. With great swaths of land holdings in the Pacific Northwest and the opening of the Panama Canal, crucial to inexpensive east coast transportation, they began looking for additional uses for wood. With that in mind, the Wood Conversion Company was formed to research and market new products. The company was headquartered in Cloquet, Minnesota.

Among the first ideas created was Balsam Wool Insulation. Balsam Wool was a trademarked name for insulation made from shredded wood fibers treated with fire-retardant borax and asphaltum to add loft, all sealed in Kraft paper. Its marketing boasted, “The Heat Saver is an essential part of the modern Heating Equipment.” The catch-phrase “It Tucks In!” was used in the ads and is printed on the batt, as can been seen in the historic photo of one of our unfinished homes.

At one point in the company’s history, the Cloquet, Minnesota plant was the largest wooden building in the world. In 1965, after having introduced dozens of products, the firm’s name was changed to Conwed Corporation and in 1985; the company was sold to Leucadia Corporation of New York.


American Radiator Company Boiler

American Radiator Company Boiler

In 1872, John B. Pierce opened a tin shop where he learned his skill as a businessman. He later formed the Pierce Steam Heating Company that manufactured and sold steel boilers and cast iron radiators. In 1892, along with two other independent firms, he formed the American Radiator Company where he remained Vice-President for the remainder of his life. In 1897, they acquired the Ideal Boiler Company and used that name on many of their products.

Between 1923 and 1924, the company hired architect Raymond Hood to build the American Radiator Building at 40 West 40th (between 5th & 6th Avenues) overlooking Bryant Park in New York City. The headquarters was memorialized in 1927 by artist Georgia O’Keefe in her famous painting, “The Radiator Building at Night.” Remaining sensitive to its status on the National Register of Historic Places, the structure was turned into the Bryant Park Hotel in 1998.

The large boilers that still reside in most basements of the Rockefeller homes were manufactured by the company at about the time another merger took place. Joining with The Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company they became the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Corporation. By the time the name was shortened to American-Standard in 1948, over half the homes in the United States and Europe included their products. American-Standard remains today one of the most recognizable names in plumbing, room conditioning and vehicle controls.

In his will, Pierce provided funds that would eventually be used to create the John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven, Connecticut, “to promote research for the increase of knowledge to the end that human health and comfort are advanced.”

Chimney Pots

Atlantic Terra Cotta Company Chimney Pot

Atlantic Terra Cotta Company Chimney Pot

The Chimney Pots used on our homes were manufactured by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, who, during the first quarter of the 20th century, was the largest producer of terra cotta in the world. The design flexibility, fire resistance and its light weight made it a natural architectural material. During peak production, the company operated four factories and five branch offices. In the 1920’s, the company was responsible for providing over forty percent of the architectural terra cotta used in New York City, including that found on the Flat Iron Building and the Woolworth’s Building, at the time, the tallest in the world. Economic trouble in the 1930’s and changes in architectural styles, led to the reduction of use. The company closed in 1943.

English immigrants introduced terra cotta to America in the mid 19th century. Atlantic opened the first east coast terra cotta factory in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in 1879. A smaller facility in Tottenville, Staten Island made a limited amount of architectural terra cotta for New York City. The industry eventually turned to New Jersey, where the superior textured clay was perfect for the manufacturing of terra cotta. Eventually, Perth Amboy, Tottenville and a third company merged.

The chimney pot is either thrown or molded and then hand finished. They must then dry for a number of days before being fired in a kiln at temperatures of over 2000º.

Chimney pots were initially created to increase updraft in the fireplace. This was invaluable when an open fire was the primary source of heat for the home. In the 1920’s, when oil became a more popular method of heating, the chimney pot lost is popularity. Recently, the chimney pot has become popular as an architectural element, rather than a functional component.

These may be a relatively insignificant portion of our houses, but they are borne from a rich industrial and construction heritage.

Garage Door

Kertscher & Company Garage Door

Kertscher & Company Garage Door

Have you ever seen garage doors quite like those featured on our homes? In construction filled with unique attributes, our garage doors may be their most interesting element.

As the automobile began to take hold of American culture, a place to house them quick became a concern. In the early 1900’s, the most logical place was the carriage house, often times along side the former method of transportation, the horse. When the equine smell began to permeate the new luxury “toy” an alternate resting place was sought. Enclosed public parking lots started to pop up around the country. These were typically one-floor, heated buildings where the owner would collect rent to protect the car and care for its needs. The system worked until about 1910, when the car population grew too large and owners preferred their cars in closer proximity to the home.

The solution ultimately went back to the carriage house, this time without the horse. A new building modeled after the carriage house was created. Borrowing from the French verb, “garer” meaning “to protect or shelter” they were called garage. The new structures proved successful, but the old carriage house doors could not keep up with the punishing demand of daily openings and closings. They were heavy; the strap hinges bent, wood screws pulled from the panels and in snowy areas, the space in front of the door needed to be shoveled prior to opening.

Like those used on our homes, sliding tracks affixed to the inside of the garage were created. To avoid the need of having a garage twice as wide as the opening, the door was divided into panels and each of the sections could easily fold around the corner. This became the predominate type installation until 1921, when C. G. Johnson invented the overhead garage door. In 1926, Mr. Johnson also invented the electric door opener to assist in lifting the heavy wooden doors. The overhead garage door would eventually displace the sliding track version.

Our sliding garage doors were manufactured by Kertscher & Co. of Elmira, New York. Kertscher & Co. was founded in 1899 by brothers Edward and Theodore Kertscher along with partner Theodore Markthaler. Edward was President of the firm, Mr. Markthaler was Vice-President and Theodore Kertscher served as Treasurer.  The primary business was the creation of wood furniture and cabinets along with residential interior installations including such decorative elements as fireplace mantels. In the years between 1899 and 1907, the company would grow to occupy buildings on an entire block of Reformatory Road and ultimately required a move to a new location. The firm remained in the larger Thurston Road building until closing in 1938.

Linoleum Flooring

Sterling and Welch supplied Linoleum Floor

Sterling and Welch supplied Linoleum Floor

The original linoleum flooring placed in our homes was provided by the Sterling & Welch Company. At the time, this firm was considered the quintessential purveyor of home furnishings.

Fredrick A. Sterling, at eighteen years of age took a position with Wick & Beckwith. Upon Mr. Wick’s retirement in 1845, Thomas S. Beckwith and William Beckwith changed the name of the dry goods store on Superior Street to T.S. Beckwith & Company. Mr. Sterling became a partner three years later and because of his career involvement, dry goods were replaced in 1857 with curtains and floor coverings. In 1864 the firm name was changed to Beckwith & Sterling. The store moved to Euclid Avenue in 1874. Upon the death of Mr. Beckwith, the firm name was again changed, this time to Sterling & Company. George P. Welch joined the company and the partnership was incorporated as The Sterling & Welch Company in 1902. In 1909 the firm moved down Euclid Avenue to 1215 where it had built one of the largest and finest appointed home furnishings stores in the country. The practice of installing the nation’s largest indoor Christmas tree in the atrium began in 1927. It was from this grand retail establishment that our floor covering was purchased.

The subsequent story of this Cleveland area retail giant is filled with other familiar names and memories.

The W.B. Davis Company began in 1879 as a custom shirt factory at Superior & Bank (W 6th). The following year Mr. Davis changed the business to retail men’s furnishings. In 1917 the business was relocated to 325 Euclid.

Max Linder, Max Hellman and Morris Black started The Linder Company in 1908, eventually becoming the largest woman’s specialty store in Cleveland. In 1915 Linder built a larger store at 1331 Euclid Avenue.

Allied Stores Corporation, one of the country’s largest operators of department stores acquired both The Linder Company and the W.B. Davis Company in 1947. Two years later they acquired Sterling & Welch. In August of 1949, the Linder-Davis department store was opened in the remodeled Higbee’s Building at Euclid and E 13th, adjacent to the famous Sterling & Welch store. The following year, the two companies were merged into the Sterling-Linder-Davis Company. The Davis name was dropped in 1958. In the early 1960’s, the company decided against building suburban branch locations. Allied Stores soon realized that without outlying stores, Sterling-Linder was not profitable. The store was closed September 21, 1968.

Like so many elements of early Cleveland life, the simple linoleum flooring attaches us to one of the most storied retail endeavors in the community.


Copper Gutter and Downspout

Copper Gutter and Downspout

Gutters are so important to the management of water, that the Romans developed an early system and even had a Goddess of the Sewer, Cloacina. Early century European churches included gutters in the architecture, often times dispensing the runoff via the mouths of gargoyles built into the roof structure. As the benefits of water management grew, they became more and more popular and were soon included in lesser buildings.

Originally a gutter was simply a trough built into the roof structure. The water was funneled into cisterns and storage tanks to be used for drinking and bathing. Early gutters were typically built of wood and usually in a “V” shape. As can be imagined, once the wood started to breakdown, the integral units were very hard to repair and lining the wood with formed lead became a popular solution. In the 1800’s the lead forms moved outside of the roof system and attached to the eaves, thus reducing the cost and increasing the use.

Downspouts, also initially of wood and usually formed of cored out logs and later four assembled boards, were an important part of the system. Some extended only halfway down the building’s side, but most were designed to extend into the water collection system, especially after the benefit of reducing water from the foundation structure was discovered.

A number of shapes and materials have been employed since the formed lead, including the rounded copper shape used on our homes. Some gutter experts still believe that the rounded shape moves the water most effectively and reduces the likelihood of dirt and debris collection in the gutter. Regardless, the importance of good gutters and downspouts, even those as visually interesting as ours cannot be denied.

Lally Columns

A Lally Column in the Basement of a Rockefeller Home

In our basements, a simple round pole supports the center of the structural beam that runs the length of the ceiling. This pole is called a Lally Column.

A Lally Column is a steel pipe used vertically and positioned in the center of a span to bear the weight of the structure and reduce the likelihood of sagging. The column is typically filled with concrete for extra strength and rigidity. End plates were included with the column for connection to the supporting members.

The Lally Column was invented by John Lally in the 1890’s. Mr. Lally was born in CountyGalway in Ireland in 1859 and later immigrated to the United States where he settled in Massachusetts in Boston and Waltham.

Lally patented the idea, ultimately holding four separate patents on columns. The one that matches most closely with those in our homes is #869869 and was originally assigned to the U.S, Column Company of Cambridge, MA. The patent was approved October 29, 1907.

While not necessarily remarkable, they are an integral part of residential architecture and have even had their fifteen minutes of fame due to their appearance in the classic 1946 novel, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Tile Roofing

On 21 of the Rockefeller homes, tile roofing has been used instead of slate. According to the specifications for the eighty-one homes, the inclusion of tile roofing on a percentage of the homes was defined on an Addendum page. Originally, all of the homes were to have slate roof.

The tile was specified as “Imperial Weathered Surface Provincial Shingle Roof Tile” as manufactured by the Ludowici-Celedon (sic) Company. Color was specified as “…full variation of X-61 formula, but not to include green.” The range of color for each house would be selected by the architect and graduation or blended application would also be approved prior to install.

In the Sweet’s Catalogs of the era, the company describes the tiles in this way, “The Provincial Shingle an inexpensive, yet artistic pattern is used in its dull colored and weathered effect to subdue the roof or in a range of brighter tones to give it accent.”

The Ludowici-Celadon Company is still in existence. The Celadon Roofing Tile Company was formed in 1888 in Alfred, New York and lead by George Babcock (of the Babcock & Wilcox Boiler Company.) During his tenure he made many improvements and earned 28 patents for patterns and functionality. Celadon purchased the Imperial Brick Plant in New Lexington, Ohio in 1902. This plant became the largest clay roofing tile plant in the United States.

The Ludovisi family made a name for itself in Rome, Italy with their clay tile and roofing in the 1600’s. A branch of the family moved to Germany, where their product was gaining repute and the family name morphed into the more Germanic, Ludowici. In the 1800’s Carl Ludowici moves to Chicago and in 1893 forms the Ludowici Roof Tile Company with Henry W. King and Cyrus I. McCormick. In 1906 they buy Celadon and change the name to Ludowici-Celadon with five production facilities. The Alfred, NY plant and the Chicago Heights plant ultimately burn while the already large New Lexington plant doubles in size by 1914.

Like many companies, Ludowici-Celadon diversified during the depression adding wool insulation and fire brick to their line. During World War II the plant was converted to a pottery plant making tableware. They continued to make some roofing for military installations such as Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor.

Post war meant a building increase, but much of it was low-cost and the company began to shrink. When better product became fashionable again in the 1970’s, the new kilns installed in 1941 were remodeled to allow for a more cost effective roof tile. They became relevant again.

In 1976, they were sold to CSC, Inc., who in 1989 sold them to Certainteed, a well known building materials company. They remain a part of Certainteed today, still making quality roofing tiles.


2 thoughts on “The Details

  1. Came across your blog while looking up resources for the radiators in my house (built in 1938). I have the SAME one you pictured! Thanks so much for the history and information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s