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Architectural Bronze in Construction: U. S. Manufacturing of Monumental Bronze Doors – 19th and 20th Centuries

The use of architectural bronze dates back centuries. The Pantheon retains the oldest surviving monumental bronze doors dating from A.D. 164. Examples of magnificently sculpted bronze doors from the 15th and 16th centuries remain throughout the world, which demonstrates the durability of this material.

U.S. design, manufacturing, and production of bronze doors peaked in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. Monumental bronze doors are found on architecturally significant buildings, including numerous state capitols, while smaller bronze doors were commercially available for stores, banks, libraries, and mausoleums. Many bronze door manufacturers were active during this period, including AJ Bayer, Art Metal, Crown Iron Works, Ellison, Flour City, Gorham, Michaels Art Bronze, Newman, Reliance Bronze, Tiffany, Wisconsin Iron Works, and Winslow Brothers.  These manufacturers worked closely with prominent architects such as John Parkinson, John C. Austin, and Albert C. Martin Sr. who designed L.A.’s City Hall; and Schultze and Weaver who designed the Hunter-Dulin Building in San Francisco.

The Gorham Manufacturing Company transformed the metalworks industry in the U.S., surpassing the trade practices of those in Europe through acute business management, innovative artistic skills, and industrial advancement. The company originated in the early 19th century as a small jewelry shop in Providence, Rhode Island, selling handmade metal goods. By the late 19th century, Gorham developed industrial machinery and techniques, leading to the production of larger architectural pieces, such as bronze doors.

Gorham, like other manufactures, produced bronze doors as a part of standard production processes, but they also specialized in custom monumental bronze doors.  In 1918 Gorham produced for the Missouri State Capitol a set of monumental pivoting, bi-fold, bronze doors, touted by newspapers as the largest since the Roman era. The doors’ size and mechanical functionality makes them a unique example of 20th-century bronze door manufacturing worthy of exploration.

This case study examines the 19th and 20th century U.S. bronze door industry, dives deeper into design and production through the lens of the Gorham Manufacturing Company and provides insight into the challenges of restoring monumental bronze doors.

ABOUT OUR SPEAKERS

Ana Borlas-Ivern
Historian | TreanorHL

Ana Borlas-Ivern has dedicated her career to studying, documenting, and interpreting the built environment. Her experience includes preservation planning, historic resource evaluation, historic documentation (HABS), National Historic Preservation Act/Section 106 reviews, tax credit application preparation, and National Register eligibility reviews.

As a historian, she has worked on a variety of projects ranging from large government facilities to single-family residences. She has provided research and writing in association with the Construction History Society of America (CHSA) and recently served on the California Preservation Foundation’s 2023 Conference Committee.

Vance Kelley
Principal | TreanorHL

Vance Kelley has dedicated his 40-year career to preserving, restoring, and rehabilitating older and historic buildings. He has managed or reviewed more than a quarter of TreanorHL’s 1,730 preservation projects, including work on five state capitol restoration projects.

Vance is licensed to practice architecture in nine state and Ontario, Canada. He has served on the boards of local, statewide, and national preservation organizations; is the past Chair of Advisors for the National Trust for Historic Preservation; and has papers published in association with the Forensic Engineering Congress, the International Congress on Construction History, and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Zac Kornis
Preservation Architect | TreanorHL

Zac Kornis has a profound appreciation for historical architecture and its enduring charm and craftsmanship. As a preservation architect, he cherishes the chance to combine his passion for construction, appreciation for history, and commitment to preserving historic buildings. Zac also enjoys the daily challenges that come with the dynamic nature of his work, as each day presents new opportunities to blend technical expertise and creative expression.

With six years of experience, Zac has worked on landmark buildings such as the Missouri State Capitol, the Wyoming State Capitol, Cape Girardeau City Hall, and Cape Girardeau County Historic Courthouse, both in Missouri, and Jesse Unruh State Office Building in Sacramento, California. In addition to being a member of the American Institute of Architects, Zac is a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.