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Sixth Avenue Terra-cotta Buildings

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c. 1915–c. 1927. 5036–5038, 5159, and 5915 6th Ave.
  • Ansorge Fish Market

Terra-cotta became a popular building material in the United States after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Hollow terra-cotta blocks made by the Chicago Terra-Cotta Company were fireproof, lightweight, and inexpensive, and they could be molded with lavish ornamentation and glazed in a palette of rich colors. Although often associated with skyscrapers, terra-cotta could add a sleek, stylish touch, without excessive expense, to smaller buildings.

Kenosha’s 6th Avenue boasts three attractive terra-cotta-clad commercial buildings. The Graham Block (5036–5038 6th Avenue) began as a plain brick building, probably around 1915. But in 1927, new owners Ida and Gustave Graham opened a café in the 5038 storefront and covered its facade with terra-cotta tiles. Framing the storefront, the tiles form recessed-panel pilasters with foliated capitals. On the second story, subtle torch motifs divide the windows. Far more ornate is the two-story Ansorge Fish Market at number 5159, built around 1922 when Kenosha was developing a thriving commercial fishing industry. A glazed-tile veneer bedecked with festive ornamentation transforms this otherwise simple three-bay brick building into an inviting market. Among the delightful details are floral medallions, floral and geometric capitals, and scroll and swag cartouches. A large ceramic eagle perches atop the crenellated parapet.

The luxuriously decorated terra-cotta-sheathed Kenosha Theater (1927; 5915 6th) was affiliated with Hollywood’s Universal Studio. It was the first theater in town to screen talking pictures and also showcased live entertainment. A still visible sign on the building’s north side touts these attractions. Like many contemporary cinemas, the three-story building adopted an exotic architectural theme, in this case Moorish. Red brick minarets flank a curvilinear parapet sheathed in diamond-shaped tiles. Pilasters decorated with foliated motifs separate three columns of windows, where even more elaborate decoration includes leaf motifs on the spandrels between windows and theatrical masks overhead.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


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Marsha Weisiger et al., "Sixth Avenue Terra-cotta Buildings", [Kenosha, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 178-178.

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