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ow One Family Built America's Public Palaces

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5/2/2013 - How One Family Built America's Public Palaces
by Susan Stamberg

A Washington, D.C., museum wants you to spend some time looking up -- to see soaring, vaulted tile ceilings built by a father-son team who left their mark on some of America's most important public spaces.

These ceilings grace landmarks that include state capitols, Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall -- as well as some more ordinary buildings. One of them is Engine No. 3, a small brick firehouse not far from the U.S. Capitol -- where, yes, they still slide down one of those shiny brass poles. It's one of the oldest fire stations in the District of Columbia.

A closeup of the bar in New York City's Vanderbilt Hotel shows the intricate detail of the Guastavino Co.'s elegant ceiling work.

A closeup of the bar in New York City's Vanderbilt Hotel shows the intricate detail of the Guastavino Co.'s elegant ceiling work.

Michael Freeman/National Building Museum

Built in 1916, the firehouse has bright red doors, gleaming trucks and a narrow, gently arched ceiling over the entryway. The underside of the arch is lined with white tiles arranged in a ziggy-zaggy herringbone pattern.

Firefighter Andre Burns is less than impressed. But that little entryway ceiling has some distinctive touches -- the tiles, the pattern -- that are being noticed with no little respect at the nearby National Building Museum.

There, the exhibition Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America's Great Public Spaces is an impressive display. Photographs, diagrams, drawings and scale models show the beauty and breadth of the work of the Guastavino family -- some one-thousand vaults and domes and ceilings in 40 states.

 

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