The Attraction of Cast-Iron Architecture

In the second half of the 1800s, before steel was commonly used to frame commercial buildings (such as the 1907 Flatiron Building), cast iron was a common building material. Cast iron was cheap, strong, and required less space than did masonry or stone.

iron badger coveriron badger 3iron badger 2iron badger 1In fact, entire facades of buildings were made of cast iron. All the parts for a façade could be ordered through catalogs and bolted together on site. For example, these pages are from D. D. Badger’s 1865 catalog of cast-iron parts.

Fort Worth has no buildings with cast-iron facades such as those that survive in New Orleans and New York City, but if you don’t mind appearing mildly strange to passersby, you can use a magnet to detect small parts of the past. Downtown has at least four nineteenth-century buildings with cast-iron architectural features.

iron weber wideLet’s begin on Main Street. The Weber Building at 302 Main was built about 1885. The Weber Building is next door to the first location of the White Elephant.

iron weber columnsiron weber magnet more columnEven with several coats of paint, the cast-iron columns of the Weber Building can hold a kiss with a one-pound magnet.

iron weber pullisThomas and Christen Pullis began the family ironworks in St. Louis in 1839.

iron jarvis building wideThe Jarvis Building at 506 Main Street was built about 1884 by civic leaders John Peter Smith and  James Jones Jarvis.

iron jarvis magnetThe Jarvis Building also has painted cast-iron columns.

iron jarvis detail 3Detail of a cast-iron column.

iron jarvis corniceThe cornice also is cast iron.

iron winfree buildingThe little Winfree Building (1890) at 608 Main, sandwiched between the 1915 Fort Worth Club Building and the 1936 Kress Building, was the second location of the White Elephant.

iron winfree entryThe columns at the sides of the front facade and those flanking the entrance are painted cast iron.

iron winfree magnet and dooriron winfree magnet fleur de lis

iron winfree magnet and badgeiron winfree machine and boiler clip 1885The cast iron of the Winfree Building was made just around the corner at 5th and Throckmorton streets. The Machine & Boiler Works of Fort Worth organized about 1885. Clip is from the Gazette.

iron land title block wide updatedNow over to East 4th Street for the Land Title Block Building.

iron land 8-3-89Downtown was booming in 1889. On August 3 the Gazette reported that the Land Title Block Building at 111 East 4th was almost completed. The Natatorium and the new St. Ignatius Academy building also were under construction. (I left in the wry—but nonarchitectural—“localette” at the bottom just for your amusement.)

iron land title floretAccording to its historical marker, the Land Title Block Building has some cast-iron elements. The lintels over the first-story windows at the corner of the building are steel or cast-iron I-beams with decorative florets. Jones & Laughlins Steel Company organized in 1852 in Pittsburgh and later began casting iron. (In 1959 the company made the parts for the Forest Park miniature train’s bridge that spans the Trinity River oxbow.)

iron land title block window frameI believe the two center columns of the arched triptych windows of the Land Title Block Building are cast iron. But these windows are on the second story. That’s beyond the reach of my magnet, and I didn’t want to throw it. No one in the building could tell me anything, so we are left to wonder.

iron coyote wideWhen Sundance Square was restored in 1981, five of the buildings on the east side of the 300 block of Houston Street, dating back to the turn of the twentieth century, were in poor condition. Only the rear walls and the cast-iron columns of the storefronts were salvageable. The buildings were reconstructed, and some of the original cast-iron columns were used, as in the storefront of Coyote boutique at 317 Houston. (Across the street at 312 Houston, the Reata Building has one cast-iron column and some nonmetallic replicas.)

iron houston 300 east sideCity directory shows the east side of the 300 block of Houston Street in 1905.

iron coyote detail 2iron coyote detail 1Closeups of the painted cast-iron columns on the Coyote storefront.

iron mosher 1905The columns were made by Mosher of Dallas. Ad is from the 1905 city directory.

iron lancaster wideA late example of cast-iron architecture is found east of downtown. The front of the building at 1415 East Lancaster Avenue, built about 1908, has eight cast-iron columns almost identical to those of the Winfree Building.

iron lancaster magnetIn 1909, when Lancaster Avenue was still East Front Street, the building housed a pool parlor, Mrs. Dodson’s furnished rooms, a pharmacy, and a doctor’s office. Today the building houses the Day Resource Center for people experiencing homelessness.

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