Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Today is January 15th...

On this day in 1936, the first building to be completely covered in glass was constructed in Toledo: a building for the Owens-Illinois Glass Company. Those who pay attention to such things call it a milestone in architectural design. And it was, since it was built entirely of glass block.

Yes. I know. I first thought "completely covered in glass" would be a curtain wall system glass building. No. Not really. It was "The First All-Insulux Building" and its official name was "The Owens-Illinois Research Laboratory, Toledo, Ohio".

The building was built using 80,000 translucent water-clear hollow glass blocks, had 39 rooms, and the interior space comprised 20,000 square feet. Not long before that, a residence made mostly of glass block had been completed in Phoenix Arizona, its owner: Barry Goldwater. Yes, the scion of the department store magnate (could we say he was a chip off the old glass block?) who went on to be the Senator from Arizona and unsuccessful candidate for U S President.  His wife, Margaret "Peggy" Johnson, was the wealthy daughter of a prominent industrialist from Muncie, Indiana, hence the glass block connection. (You can find a 1930s era article about Barry Goldwater's endorsement of Insulux Glass Blocks if you google it).

But back to the first all glass, windowless building in the U.S. in Toledo. The glass blocks were made at the company's plant in Muncie, Indiana. Here is a vintage explanation about the Insulux glass bricks:

"For several years, the laboratories of the Owens-Illinois Company had been experimenting with a glass building brick, which would permit light to enter but would resist heat, cold, wind, and rain. In 1935, these experiments were far enough along that production for building purposes was started in the Muncie plant. This product was patented under the trade name of Insulux Glass Building Block, and the first was produced in April, 1935. The demand for this product has been so widespread that inside of three years it was shipped into every state in the union and into several foreign countries. The number sold increased very rapidly. The company has recently greatly improved and enlarged the part of the factory which is engaged in the making of this building material."

I have found only one exterior illustration of the building. From It, I would say that the building was rectangular in shape, with a central entry area, and resembled Prairie Style architecture schools or other commercial buildings of that era, more than what we would call International Style architecture.

I would love to tell you where it was located and if it is still standing. Even more I would enjoy being able to say that the first building completely covered in glass was was only a stone's throw from such-and-such a place... (!)

But so far, tracking down its address has proven an unfulfilled quest. Maybe someone from Toledo can enlighten me on the matter? Glass, as you know, is mentioned in the Bible, but only four times, all of them, in the Book of Revelation, in conjunction with the New Jerusalem.  With that glass building in town, how many folks in Toledo wondered if the end of the age was drawing near, back on January 15, 1936?  Let me simply say, I am sure you cannot equate Toledo with the arrival of the New Jerusalem, no matter how fond of it you may be.  Until then, I think this observation is of some interest:

"The origin of glass is shrouded in obscurity, and speculation suggests that its discovery was largely, if not entirely accidental. All we know is that the accident happened a long time ago and whether it was an Assyrian, an Egyptian, or a Phoenician or some other artisan who gazed with wonderment and appreciation on the liquid nature of silicates before him we shall never know."

- President A. C. Willard of University of Illinois, 1936.

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