Wall murals can be created in many media, and have been around for many decades. One in particular is my favorite, and is the logo of the "Tiles in New York" blog. These are the two ceramic tile wall murals that decorate the exterior of the Empire State Dairy building (now Royal Plastics and/or Allied Tile Co.) in the East New York section of Brooklyn.

For over fifteen years I have been trying to get the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the large, exterior tile panels on the building in the hope that the murals would be protected. The LPC has been totally unresponsive over the years. These murals are probably the largest, still-existing, Arts and Crafts majolica tile panels created by the American Encaustic Tiling Company and its artistic director, Leon Solon. They are over one-hundred years old, and have survived in good condition probably because of their position on the building.

The building is actually a complex of four buildings, and it is an example of an early-20th-century dairy bottling and distribution plant. The building on the corner of Schenck and Atlantic Avenues was designed by Otto Strack and Theobald Engelhardt in 1906/07 in the Romanesque-Revival style. (see picture post card below) The 1913-15 building--the plant, itself--was designed by Otto Strack*. The address of the buildings is 2840-48 Atlantic Avenue, between Barbey Street and Schenck Avenue. 

*[Otto Strack (d. 1935) was born in Roebel, Germany, near Hamburg. While in Germany Strack “learned the blacksmith and mason trades. [He] studied architecture in Berlin and Vienna. In 1881 he immigrated to Chicago, and [...in 1886] he opened his own office.” (Melanie Anke and Zlatko Sadikovic, eds., “Germans Build Milwaukee” in Jennifer Watson Schumacher, German Milwaukee, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2009, p. 22)  Strack “...came to Milwaukee in 1888... . [...His] greatest achievement in [Milwaukee was] the Pabst Theater[, then known as the Stadt Theater]. Funded by Frederick Pabst, Strack created a theater reminiscent of the German Renaissance Revival style with apparent baroque influence.” Other Strack-designed buildings in Milwaukee were the Blatz Hotel and the Kalvelage mansion. (Melanie Anke and Zlatko Sadikovic, eds., “Germans Build Milwaukee” in Jennifer Watson Schumacher, German Milwaukee, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2009, pp. 9, 27)  He left Milwaukee to pursue his career in New York City. In New York he designed the nine-story Pabst Hotel in Times Square with Henry Kilburn, the Pabst Grand Central, a restaurant on Columbus Circle, and the Pabst Harlem, another restaurant, among other buildings. Strack was the President of the Strack Realty Corporation when he died. (“Otto Strack Dies; A Noted Architect”, The New York Times, October 12, 1935, p. L17 and Christopher Gray, “Streetscapes/Readers Questions”, The New York Times, December 1, 1996; http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/01/realestate/a-small-hotel-a-mock-battleship-and-the-titanic.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A11%22%7D)]

Technical Information (Size, mfg., Year Created,etc.): 

There are two tile panels consisting of 68, 8", 9” or 12” polychromed, high relief, majolica tiles; 5 tiles across by 13 down with 3 tiles in a bottom 14th row; manufactured by the American Encaustic Tiling Co. of Zanesville, OH. The panels are situated near the top of the building and are separated by three large window bays. 

The faience tiles were made via the "wet clay" process whereby the wet clay is pressed under high pressure in a mold. The high-relief tiles are then further sculpted by hand, dried and either glazed and fired in a kiln or bisque-fired (no glaze) in a kiln. The tiles are then further glazed and fired. These tiles were made in the same way the best A&C tiles were made at the Grueby Pottery, the Rookwood Pottery, and others in the early 1900s.

Year Created:

c. 1913

Does Installation Still Exist

Yes, but the building is not protected by Landmark status, and the tiles will continue to exist only because of the good will of the building owners. In March 2016 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to hold a Landmark Designation hearing on this building in July 2016. We were informed that the current owners of the building may not be in favor of landmarking the building. Hopefully, the owners will not destroy the murals prior to the hearing in the hope of keeping the building from being landmarked. This was done by the owners of the building in Manhattan that once housed the offices and showrooms of the American Encaustic Tiling Company. In about 2014 the building owners scraped off Leon Solon's Art-Deco tiles that covered the building facade.

Directions to Installation:                                        

Exit the Brooklyn Bridge and continue to Atlantic Ave. Turn left on Atlantic and drive 6.7 miles to 2840 on the right side of the  street.

Additional Information, Websites, Citations:

I saw blueprints for the building from c. 1913 which were drawn by "Otto Strack, Arch., 214-20 East 22nd Street, New York" (Otto Strack, 1857-1935); they were signed by an "Adam Wind--eth", possibly either the supervising architect, or the actual draughtsman who drew the plans.  Tile panels were clearly shown on the blueprints, and the blueprints were drawn for the Empire State Dairy Company. Sometime before 1912 the American Encaustic Tiling Company moved to 16 E. 41st Street, the address on one of the tiles on one panel. The Empire State Dairy Co. was sold to the Borden Dairy Co. about 1924 (New York Times, Feb. 1, 1924). (See "Borden Milk Plant" at http://www.tapeshare.com/AtlanticZ5.html), and the Borden signage was added to the building.

In June 2012 I returned to the Royal Plastics Company which owned the building to take more photos of the original architectural drawings. While there I was informed that the building owner had died a few months before, and no one knew what was going to happen to the building. I sent another request for landmark status evaluation to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on July 6, 2012. 

Submitted By

Michael Padwee (tileback101"at"collector.org) in September 2010, 2012 and March 2016.                                                                    

Photos by Michael Padwee and Susan Tunick (Friends of Terra Cotta)

The "Signature" Tile

A picture postcard from about 1907 showing the grand opening of the first building in this complex. (PPC courtesy of Brian Merlis and Riccardo Gomes)

Photos above and below courtesy of Susan Tunick and Michael Padwee. The inscription reads:
1st line: possibly "Made by"
2nd line: "the A E Tile Co"
3rd line: "__ E 4_ St"
4th line: "New York"
A 1912 American Encaustic Tiling Co. catalog places the offices of the company at 16 East 41st Street, Manhattan.

Architectural drawings showing tile panels