July 14, 2016 In Plain Sight: Tiled Treasure at the Comfort Station
One of the most visible architectural features of the Upham’s Corner Comfort Station is the clay tile roof, which is typical for a Mission Revival style building, but not especially common in New England. [If you drive by the building today, you won’t see the tiles – they have been removed and stockpiled by the City for protection]. We’re not sure what inspired the original architect, William H. Besarick, to design a public restroom in this style. But with upcoming rehabilitation, HBI plans to retain and reinstall the intact tiles that remain, and hopefully find new tiles to match those that are missing or damaged beyond repair.
We didn’t expect to bump into an extraordinary coincidence. A quick Internet search revealed a few clay roof tile companies, including Ludowici Roof Tiles, who claim to produce “the world’s finest clay roof tile.” We arranged for a local Ludowici representative to come look at the Comfort Station roof, in hopes they could match the existing tiles. Not only could they provide a tile that’s an exact match to those installed when the building was constructed in 1912, but at that moment, we discovered that Ludowici was the company that made the original roof tiles! The rep picked up one of the original tiles and revealed the “Ludowici” stamp on the back. It is one of their standard roof tiles. Terra cotta roof tiles are not only considered sustainable and “green,” they also have a life span of over 100 years.
The Ludowici family (originally Ludovisi) began crafting terra cotta tiles in Rome, Italy, 400 years ago. As European demand for clay roof tiles grew, the company expanded into Germany, and in the early 1800s the family established a roof tile company in Chicago, Illinois, which eventually moved to Ohio. The Ludowici tile business has been operating from the same facility in New Lexington, Ohio, for over a century.
While visiting the Comfort Station, the Ludowici representative also made note of the roof of the neighboring Engine 21 Fire Station, another Mission Revival style building which has a clay tile roof in green. This station was built in 1926, but we were unable to determine if the architect was the same as for the Comfort Station. Perhaps the Comfort Station inspired the design of the Fire Station? It’s a pretty safe bet the Engine 21 roof tiles were also made by the Ludowici Roof Tile company.