“‘Terra cotta has by its facility of formation furnished the architect with a freedom of expression that enabled him to give scope to his fancy. . .’ (Charles Thomas Davis, 1895)
“Following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, architects turned toward fireproof materials as they rebuilt the city. Terra cotta, in addition to being fireproof, was lightweight and could be formed into any imaginable design in a multitude of colors. As you travel through Chicago, you can see terra cotta on buildings in virtually every neighborhood if you take the time to look.
“Chicago Terra Cotta Tours is a website designed to help you find terra cotta decoration throughout the city. These are not tours in the sense that you follow a guide on a predetermined route. These are self-guided tours that you can plan on your own, using this website as a guide. Tours are arranged around categories and subcategories. There is a map (still in development) for each subcategory that shows the location of all the buildings in that group. I am very aware that this isn’t everything Chicago has to offer terra cotta-wise. This is, however, a good cross-section of forms, colors, and locations.
“Whether you use Chicago Terra Cotta Tours to take a virtual tour or an in-person one, enjoy these beautiful pieces of Chicago’s architectural history and be sure to always look up!
“Chicago Terra Cotta Tours is a new website developed by Debbie Mercer, a retired teacher and architecture fan from Oak Park. In 2012, when she began working part-time, Debbie started visiting Chicago neighborhoods to photograph architectural ornamentation, especially terra cotta. There is something about terra cotta—the colors, the crispness, the texture, the infinite variety of forms—that she finds irresistible.
“After accumulating hundreds of photos and with the encouragement of her husband, Debbie created Chicago Terra Cotta Tours as a way to organize the images and share them with others. The tours can be virtual—just scroll through the website—or self-guided. Maps accompany each category so terra cotta fans can plan their own route.
“The website is still a work in progress and Debbie welcomes suggestions, questions, and corrections as long as they are presented in a civil manner. Thanks to Adam Natenshon of Preservation Chicago who got the ball rolling by connecting Debbie to a website developer.” (Mercer, Chicago Terra Cotta Tours)