The Republic Bank Building and Spain’s “Casa de Los Picos”

by Paula Bosse

flour-city-ad_dmn_120154-panelFlour City Ornamental Iron Co. employees hard at work (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Did a 15th-century building in Spain inspire one of Dallas’ most distinctive and recognizable skyscrapers?

While reading about the construction of the Republic Bank Building, I came across the great, GREAT photo above. It was from an ad placed in an issue of The Dallas Morning News on December 1, 1954 in which an entire big, splashy section was devoted to the grand opening of the just-completed big, splashy Republic Bank Building. The ad this photo appeared in was for the Flour City Ornamental Iron Co. in Minnesota — the company that manufactured the thousands of pressed and embossed aluminum panels that covered the building’s exterior. These star-embossed panels — along with the distinctive and forever-cool “rocket” on the top of the building — gave the Dallas skyline a new super-modern look and an instantly recognizable landmark.

But back to that photo. It’s pretty cool. I had never really thought about those panels, but now I know that these iconic architectural adornments were manufactured in Minneapolis (…”New York CITY?!”) at the Flour City Ornamental Iron Co. Almost four thousand of these aluminum panels, a mere 1/8th of an inch thick (!), along with three thousand windows (which were reversible, so that the exterior sides could be washed from inside the building) were made in Flour City’s Minneapolis factory and transported to Dallas. From the ad:

“The Flour City Ornamental Iron Company is proud to have been chosen to cooperate with the architects and builders of this project; to have made the dies for forming the wall panels on their great 750-ton hydropress; to have designed and built some three thousand unique reversible windows — both faces of which are washed from within with sash closed and locked — and to have erected the precision-formed panels, nearly four thousand in number, each in its proper position to form the weather-tight, heat and cold resistant aluminum covering for this notable building.”

So, discovering that was interesting. But maybe even more interesting was this paragraph:

“Although new in concept and especially in its techniques and use of materials, it is interesting to note that a sixteenth century [sic — it’s actually fifteenth century] prototype exists for this prismatic design of the pressed aluminum covering of this building. At Segovia, in central Spain, the Casa de Los Picos — literally ‘House of the Spikes’ — has each stone, above a point which would hazard passersby, cut to form a boldly projecting pyramid. The sparkling pattern of light and shade produced by this device is strikingly similar to the effect, especially on the enormous unbroken wall area of the Ervay Street side, which will be observed and admired here in Dallas for years to come.”

I looked up Casa de Los Picos. It’s fantastic.

casa-de-los-picos_trover-websiteCasa de Los Picos, Segovia, Spain / via Trover.com

Was this design an homage of sorts to the Spanish building, conceived by the building’s main architects, Wallace K. Harrison and Max Abramovitz of the New York firm Harrison & Abramovitz? Or was it just Flour City exaggerating their work’s architectural significance? Whichever — I’m excited to have discovered Casa de Los Picos … because of an advertisement! I love this building — here it is again.

casa-de-los-picos_wikimediaWikimedia (click for gigantic image here)

And here’s an extreme close-up of the hometown favorite.

panels_wikimedia-detWikimedia (see a fuller image image here)

You learn something new every day.

Here’s the original Flour City ad that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 1, 1954, broken into readable sections (click for larger images).

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Sources of all clippings and images as noted, if known.

Wikipedia round-up:

  • Flour City Ornamental Iron Works Company, here
  • Casa de Los Picos (en Español), aqui
  • Harrison & Abramovitz, architects, here
  • Republic Bank Building, here

See a whole passel of photos of the exterior of Case de Los Picos, here.

A paragraph from a DMN article on the Republic Bank Building which states that, yes, those panels are THIN — aluminum was about to start playing a bigger and bigger role in construction as an important new building material.

aluminum-panels_dmn_112854DMN, Nov. 28, 1954

Here’s something I stumbled across in the middle of stumbling across other things — a schematic of the aluminum panels — I don’t know if they are original architectural drawings or not. They are contained in the book Construction, Craft to Industry by Gyula Sebestyen (London: E & FN Spon, 1998); you can find it here.

panel-details_construction-craft-to-industry_

I found surprisingly little information on Flour City’s contribution to the Republic Bank Building on the internet. The only Dallas Morning News reference to this company — a company which made such a huge contribution to the look of one of Dallas’ most famous skyscrapers — is this ad! Anyway, thanks, Minnesota, for playing such an important role in the construction of — and look of — one of my favorite Dallas buildings!

My previous post on this great building — “The Republic National Bank Building: Miles of Aluminum, Gold Leaf, and a Rocket” — is here.

When in doubt, click pictures for larger images.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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