6.13. JAMES MCLAUGHLIN’S 1877 SHILLITO’S DEPARTMENT STORE

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (American Architect, October 13, 1877)

McLaughlin responded by treating the brick exterior as a no frills, tripartite palazzo scheme without any vestige of a roof. Located on the entire block bounded by Race, Seventh, and Elm Streets, it had three street fronts that contained twenty-three repetitive bays of six-story high masonry skeleton framing, which added up to 567 feet of an elevation that was remarkable for the degree of openness he achieved between the Philadelphia red pressed brick piers that were infilled with triple windows and recessed spandrels.  The two-story base containing the ground floor and mezzanine of the retail operations was articulated from the wholesale operations located above by a thin continuous horizontal band of stone.  The top or sixth floor was detailed as an attic capped with a galvanized iron cornice.  The middle three floors (that did not decrease in height, à la Schinkel, but remained constant for obvious reasons, including the fact that the building had five elevators “that have made obsolete the task of stair climbing)  were unified into one layer by McLaughlin’s use of colossal, unbroken three-story tall pilasters and corresponding recessed spandrels.  (In essence, McLaughlin had simply extended Schinkel’s one-story base in the Bauakademie to two-stories, and then topped its three-story pilasters with the attic story.)

McLaughlin, Shillito’s. Bay elevation. Note the projecting bosses in the stone sillcourse located at either side of each pilaster, evoking the volutes of an Ionic capital. (Author’s collection)

The middle layer was separated from the attic by an even thinner horizontal stone band than the one at the Third Floor that divided the retail from the wholesale.  The result of the relative thinness of these two horizontals in conjunction with the continuous visual bulk of the unbroken masonry piers imparted a distinctly vertical and open feeling to the 113 feet high facades. (The photo of the building gives a more vertical read than does the rendering, and I think it is due to the small rectangular bosses McLaughlin detailed in the sillcourse between the base and the mid-section that are located at either side of each pilaster.  At least for my eyes, these tend to visually continue the vertical force of the pilasters through the sillcourse.) 

McLaughlin, Shillito’s. Bay elevation. (Left) This is the surviving alley elevation. Note that the ornamental patterns in the spandrels in the streetfronts (Right) were not carried over into the alley elevation, most likely as a cost savings. It appears that McLaughlin used the pattern in Post’s NY Hospital’s vertical panels.

The radical nature of McLaughlin’s elevations was noted by the Cincinnati correspondent for the American Architect who labeled the design as “very monotonous.  Each bay is just like its next neighbor, and the whole may be likened to a street parade of well-drilled [Prussian] soldiers, so uniform, straight, and severe are the windows and piers.”  The Shillito’s Building (along with the Depression) helped to bring back into fashion the flat-roofed Italianate palazzo, which had preceded the now-dated French Second Empire, only this time it would be clothed not in stone or cast iron, but in brick, not unlike the look that had been achieved in Philadelphia during the 1850s.  

George Post, Western Union Building, New York, 1872. (Landau, Post)

McLaughlin’s detailing of the elevations revealed his intimate knowledge of contemporary developments in New York.  The piers of the first two floors incorporated red brick laid in black mortar with alternating thin bands of light stone, an effect quite like that which George Post had used in the middle floors of the Western Union Building.  Meanwhile, the grid-like detailing of the intersection of the recessed spandrels with the mullions was similar to the way Richard Morris Hunt had solved the problem in the Delaware and Hudson Building.

Richard Morris Hunt, Delaware and Hudson Canal Company (Coal and Iron Exchange) Building, New York, 1873. Original design. (Landau and Condit, New York)

The triple windows of the Shillito’s Building also owe their origin to Hunt, for just prior to McLaughlin’s use of this technique, American Architect had published in its March 17, 1877, issue a rendering of the New York Hospital designed by Post in 1874. Post had employed the triple window and square transom motif in the lower three floors, although the center “opening” of the grouping was actually a recessed opaque panel in the second and third floors.  McLaughlin’s detailing of the transom mullion is an exact copy of Post’s. I also believe he used Post’s ornamental pattern in the vertical panels between the windows in the Shillito’s spandrels (see above).

George B. Post, New York Hospital, New York, 1874. (American Architect, March 17, 1877)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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