Goodnight Raleigh - a look at the art, architecture, history, and people of the city at night

The Lost Art of Entryway Mosaic

How many times have you walked over something on your daily routine, and not noticed or appreciated it until sometime much later? The feeling was one I recently had on two occasions: the first involving cobblestone paths, and the other dirt paths. One is a deliberate creation, the other out of convenience.

On the third installment of this walking-related series, we’re going to explore the artwork underneath us as we walk in to early 20th century commercial buildings downtown.

When I think of the era in which these mosaics were commonplace across the country, I think of a few adjectives to describe building styles: ornate, solid, and permanent. Businesses frequently advertised in the form of painted murals on the side of the building, and signs were conspicuous and loud, often with neon lighting.

Mecca is the only business still in operation that has its name on the entryway (that I could find).

It seems that back then, a business operated over a longer lifespan, or at least planned to. One of the ways in which these businesses declared their presence was in the form of tile mosaic entryways.

Some were added after the building was erected, such as with the Heilig-Levine building above. Observe the tiling says Heilig & Meyers.

The entrance to Twine Interactive on Fayetteville Street, minus a business name or address.

The largest collection of these by far is on Hargett Street, in the cluster of buildings owned by Empire Properties. On the stretch between Fayetteville Street and Wilmington Street lies five contiguous and nearly pristine examples.

In the example above, the store name was ‘Pizer Bros. Co’, currently the entry to the Morning Times. According to Will, who works there, the location was home to a zoot suit maker in the 30s.

Until getting the photo above, I had never noticed the alternate spelling of  ‘Times’

EDIT: As was pointed out, Thiem’s was a family name of a business that operated here. 

Adjacent to the Thiem’s mosaic is the one for the Raleigh Times.

It’s interesting to think of why these decorative mosaics fell out of fashion. According to the description in a related flickr group, it lasted until about the mid part of the last century. At that time the modernist movement was disconnecting from the past, so it likely influenced the gradual shift to the shiny terrazo flooring that eventually replaced it.

One of the complaints of many new types of building, whether it be commercial or residential, is that it isn’t built to last. Materials are lightweight and cheap, and it lacks soul. The once prevalent style of mosaic entryways should make a comeback in modern buildings. My suggestion: be it address or business name, create something interesting (yet simple) to look at when entering a building. You know the phrase, relating to first impressions and all.

So what entryways have I missed? Better yet, do you have photos of this style? Send them to us and we’ll add to this post.


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