Friday, March 5, 2010

The Lost Messages of Seahorses

Architects used to love to design buildings festooned with allegorical messages.  Because of an unusual coincidence of timing, technology, and the region's clay deposits, Chicago is one of the great terra cotta cities.

But what message is this building trying to convey through the ages?  The medallion on the left is a sailing ship braving rough seas.  In the center is a pair of canoodling seahorses.  And on the right, a mighty oak tree.

In the 1870's this was the James Stockton & Co. building -- some kind of retail establishment.  Today it's a McDonald's, and its secrets sleep with the Filet o' Fishes.

1 comment:

  1. Seahorses are one of my favorite adornments on buildings, and these in Chicago are great. Does the message on this building depend on whether one is reading the elements from left to right (sea to land), the opposite, or did the architect mean them to stand on their own merits? The Greeks and Romans thought of the seahorse as a symbol of strength.

    Like Chicago, New York is one of the great terra cotta cities. Have just explored three such buildings in Midtown Manhattan, including one in which salamanders breathing fire figured prominently. The articles are called "Terra Cotta Tales" on because I believe each building with this wondrous stuff tells a different story.

    I would love to see architects design more buildings today "festooned with allegorical messages." Symbols and figures say what a society holds dear and honors.

    Nice piece!


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