Tile Entry Memphis

Tile Entries

One of the things you get to see when you walk instead of drive is tile entryways to commercial (and sometimes residential) buildings. I’ve been collecting photos of tile for a while, mostly from somewhere other than the Twin Cities.

Some of the designs are decorative only, as in the first row of images. Semi-floral, snowflake-like, or just an assemblage of square mosaics, they make a welcome mat that never trips you as you enter.

Usually, though, the name of the business or the building is a focal point. Some, as in the second row, combine major decorative elements and words. The “askaris” remnant is fun because it’s a hexagon pattern made of hexagon tile, plus it has script lettering which is particularly hard to do in tile. The Butte Floral design comes the closest to feeling like an actual carpet and has perhaps the most beautiful border I’ve been lucky to see in the U.S.

The third row contains one of my favorites: the metallic gold tree of Arenz Shoes in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Next to it, the black and white remnant from Butte, Montana, looks like it was one of the nicest scripts I’ve ever seen in tile. And the Daisy letters from Memphis, Tennessee, have the most creative drop-shadow I’ve recorded.

And this is where you realize that tile letters are designed the same way that bitmap letters are (also called pixel fonts), and that guides your understanding as you look at the rest of the samples.

Think about how hard it is to make the Roman alphabet out of one or two rows of squares or hexagons. Contemplate making a curve out of squares. Check out the R in LUTHER and realize that’s why it looks more like an A than an R. The tile-layer should have cut those two tiles along the center of the right edge into triangles and put in triangles of white to represent the curves, right? I wonder why they didn’t. (Or maybe it really does say LUTHEA. Who knows?)

The last three rows of entries, seen in fairly divergent parts of the country, all feature the same approach: centered letters with a light background surrounded by a contrasting border. The differences are in whether serif or sans serif letters were chosen, how many colors are use, and how complex the border design is. Most are probably early 20th century, though I suspect the Angelus tile is more recent and the final image, from the Grand Theatre in Salem, Oregon, is new (though possibly a restoration).

Watch for tile on your next walk around the city. I’ll be on the lookout for more local examples myself.

Pat Thompson

About Pat Thompson

Pat Thompson is cochair of the St. Anthony Park Community Council's Transportation Committee, a member of Transition Town - All St. Anthony Park, and a gardener in public and private places. She is a member of the streets.mn Climate Committee.

10 thoughts on “Tile Entries

  1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Wenzel

    I wasn’t sure I was going to be interested in this article but who couldn’t help but love this?!? We all realize when we bike or walk (or just slow down in general), we see more of our neighborhood, our community.

    Lovely and thank you for sharing!

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Great subject for a post! Little things like these make walking neighborhoods a delight.

  3. Jenny WernessJenny

    This is wonderful! Thank you for collecting and sharing these photos. I always appreciate the tiles when I see them, especially some of those that are partially-concrete-filled.

  4. Jack

    Very cool. I notice things like this on my walks. I especially like the cornices on older buildings.

    Why cant they put cornices on modern buildings?

    1. Wilj

      Because they would only illustrate the complete lack of craftsmanship affiliated with modern buildings, as they would be either poorly done or fail to fit the cookie-cutter character of those related buildings.

      Case in point, this is why there are so few tiled thresholds – they’re beautiful – but largely due to the fact that they harken back to an era when there was a widespread appreciation for labor. Contrast this with the building environment today where it’s dubious whether the useful life of at least half the buildings being put up will exceed 15-20 years; not to mention that all of the builders contracted all of the work to out-of-state non-union laborers so as to avoid any semblance of quality whatsoever..

      It is an interesting dynamic – while some things have improved greatly (insulation, for instance), others certainly have not. One thing is clear though: it’s quite apparent to anyone thinking about the situation that we lack the necessary resources to put up a building as we would have 100 years ago. We lack the expertise, the knowledge, the craftsmanship. The distribution system is entirely different and lots of the old-world resources no longer really exist (old growth lumber, or many of the quarries that have now been mined out – for example).. Building codes have followed suit and even if someone /wanted/ to, it would not be legal – not to mention labor laws and labor expectations (few today would be willing to even consider working in the hell-holes of that bygone era). The nature of wealth has also changed dramatically with real assets falling out of favor broadly, with most of the wealth du-jour being purely paper – And what real asset wealth remains being much more positional in nature than of a real & tangible intrinsic value (such as what floor of the skyscraper your condo is on that overlooks central park, whereas the lesser man has a lower condo with a view across Madison Ave. into the bathroom of some 3rd guy who lives in that hideously tall box whose architect was inspired by a trash can.. (true story about the trash can architect, btw)).

      I mean, think about it: if you view the long duree – no one spends 100 years building some cathedral or a pyramid anymore – and it shows..

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Let’s be careful of looking at the 50-100 year old buildings that are still around and concluding that everything built in that era was built to last. Most of them are gone.

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