Structural Pigmented Glass

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Structural pigmented glass was all the rage in the Art Deco period of building in the 1920s to the 1940s. Although you might not know it by name, you certainly know it when you see it. Structural pigmented glass was marketed under the brand names Vitrolite, Sani Onyx and Carrara. It was the epitome of Art Deco design, adorning the fašades of countless movie palaces, jewelry stores and other retail operations, as well as cocktail lounges in downtown areas across the country.

The Rivoli Theater in Cedarburg, Wisconsin had its original glass fašade removed in a 1960s "modernization" but when the thearter changed hands again, the Vitrolite fašade was reproduced.

The sleek glass was touted as impervious to acids and chemicals, therefore was an ideal wall surface for clinics and hospitals. You might even find the mirror surface colored glass in restrooms inside buildings from that era.

Initially it was only available in black and white, but soon numerous colors became available along with embedded text and graphics.

The structural glass was manufactured by three glass companies. Marietta Manufacturing claimed to be the first maker of colored glass in 1900 under the name Sani-Onyx. In 1906, the Penn-American Plate Glass Company began making white and black glass, selecting the name Carrara, likely after the famous white marble from Italy. Best known is the Libby-Owens-Ford glass, sold under the brand name Vitrolite.

This clothing store in Vincennes, Indiana sports an original glass fašade.

By 1940, fickle tastes and increases in costs pretty well killed off the structural glass industry. After WWII, the demand dwindled enough that glass production ceased in 1947.

A similar product is being made in Europe under the names Vitromax and Spandrelite. The product is noticeably thinner and the colors do not match the original glass, making it impractical to use it in repair of extant structural glass.

A specialist in St. Louis collects glass of all colors and brands, salvaged from buildings being demolished or drastically remodeled. He uses the salvaged glass to restore old applications and restore Art Moderne buildings to their former luster.

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