Like other industrial buildings of its time, much of the Estey Factory’s appearance and form is rooted in practi- cal needs; “the aesthetic basis of American industrial building design,” according to architectural historian Betsy Hunter Bradley, “was an ideal of beauty based on function, utility, and process.”121 Among the original Estey building’s features are its relatively narrow, 40-foot width and its L-shaped footprint, which arose from functional requirements; in industrial buildings, before the advent of artificial lighting, the need to bring ample natural light to the interior dictated a narrow width which, in turn, led the typical factory to take to form of an I, or of an amalgamation of wings in the shape of an L, U, H, or E.122 The Estey building’s flat roof, similarly, was a practical feature that was characteristic of the era’s industrial buildings. Gabled roofs had largely been supplanted by flat roofs on factories by the 1860s, as architects and other designers of industrial lofts sought to eliminate attic spaces within which dust might accumulate and spark fires. 123
Many features, while rooted in function, also played an aesthetic role. While the original Estey Fac- tory’s footprint was chosen primarily for utilitarian purposes, it also enabled the building to maintain the streetwall and shield its interior yard from public view, both of which were important to factory owners who wanted their buildings—their companies’ “public facades”—to exhibit a neat appearance.124 The Estey Fac- tory’s regular pattern of window openings allowed for even interior illumination but, as on other industrial lofts, also provided “a sense of organization and, by extrapolation, dignity for the … exterior.”125 And, while Philadelphia brick was chosen for the factory’s walls and facades because it was among the most fire-resistant materials then available, factory designers would often use distinctive brick—like the Estey Factory’s red-
orange brick—to “provide architectural character with little additional expense.”126
In the same vein, A.B.
Ogden & Son, like other designers of industrial buildings, used decorative brickwork—including, at Estey, dogtoothed and zigzagging stringcourses, recessed brick panels, and corbelling below the window sills and at the clock tower cornice—as a “relatively economical means of relieving plain brickwork.”127 This technique was also seen on residential buildings that were contemporary to the original Estey Factory, particularly on large multiple dwellings with similarly expansive facades. Many examples survive today within the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District of five-, six-, and seven-story flats from the 1880s and early 1890s displaying dogtoothing, recessed panels, channeling, pilasters, corbelling, and other forms of decorative brickwork, together with contrasting stone highlights, that break up and animate their lengthy Columbus Ave- nue facades. 128
The Estey Factory’s ornament includes terra cotta tiles with foliate motifs on its roof parapets, and with alternating festoon and lions’-head motifs on the clock tower and on the projecting, easternmost portion of the south façade that was constructed as part of the 1890 addition. Terra cotta was an attractive material for the factory owner because of its inherent fire-resistance, but it also mimicked carved stone at a price that, in 1887, was about 35% cheaper; the use of terra cotta as a less-expensive substitute for decorative stone was wide-
spread during the 1880s and 1890s.129
According to the historic preservationist Laura Buchner, the terra cotta
tiles on the Estey Factory’s parapets appeared in an 1885 catalog of the Perth Amboy Terra Cotta Company,130 and they must have continued to be available five years later, as the terra cotta of the 1890 addition matches that of the original Estey Factory.
Terra cotta’s primary function, of course, was ornamental, and at the Estey Factory, it worked together with the building’s other decorative features, regular fenestration pattern, and long, molded, and monumental brick facades to project a strong, solid, and attractive image for its company. This was important in an era in which a factory often served as an advertisement for its firm; companies typically produced bird’s-eye render- ings of their industrial complexes that appeared in their catalogs, in business directories, in advertisements, and on company letterhead.131 Generally, these depicted the factory as a hub of activity with smoke pouring from its chimneys, the home of a successful business that, by implication, made a desirable and dependable product. The Estey Organ Company often included an image of its Brattleboro works in its promotional materials, and when the Estey Piano Company formed, it started doing the same. One early Estey Piano trade card shows one of the company’s instruments in a parlor, with the pre-1890 Estey Piano Factory—an American flag flying from atop its clock tower—visible through an open window.133 Another early trade card shows a well-dressed woman admiring a portrait of the building that hangs over the Estey piano in her parlor,134 and a later trade card with a whimsical illustration of four young girls has, on its reverse side, a drawing of the Estey Factory showing the building as it appeared between the completion of its 1890 Southern Boulevard addition, and its 1895 Lincoln Avenue additions. 132 135