An APB for Historic Storefronts

Posted on: January 10th, 2008 by Margaret Foster

Galena, Ill.

If you know of a building with a fancy sheet-metal facade, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency wants to hear from you.

The agency is asking people all across the country to help locate and identify so-called Mesker buildings via its new Web site, www.gotmesker.com.

Manufactured by the Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Mo., and the George L. Mesker Company of Evansville, Ind., a "Mesker" is a late-1800s to early-1900s building that features elements ranging from storefront columns and cornices to entire facades made of the galvanized steel and cast iron construction. The Mesker brothers were once the largest distributors of these storefront components. Although they didn’t invent the idea of constructing buildings from sheet metal, the brothers took the process to the next level by developing patents for innovative installation techniques.

"Meskers" are located all across America, especially in small towns, since the Mesker brothers targeted them. There were once about 45,000 buildings with Mesker components, says Darius Bryjka of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, who launched the Mesker project in 2006.

"Thousands of them have been demolished, and I’m sure that thousands more are in various stages of neglect," Bryjka says. "However, with the help of the public, we hope to find as many as we can."

The Web site www.gotmesker.com features a guide to identifying Mesker buildings as well as a Google Earth map of all Meskers in the country. So far, the agency has mapped about 570 Mesker Buildings in Illinois and more than 2,600 across the country, but there are certainly more out there.

"Illinois was the number-one purchaser of these facades," Bryjka says. "At one point, there were more than 5,000 Meskers in Illinois."

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