Successful portrait photographer Helen Bertelson wanted an evocative building for her studio and house, so she hired Herbert Tullgren to create a Mediterranean Revival design ornamented with terra-cotta. Tullgren’s likely source for the terra-cotta was South Milwaukee’s Continental Faience and Tile Company, which prospered during the brief period of popularity for white terra-cotta. His design features diamond-patterned colonnettes flanking the elliptical-arched store windows, and walls decorated with grotesque faces, squirrels, mythical beasts, and cornucopias to impress Bertelson’s clients. The second-story window bays clasp wrought-iron balconets. Terra-cotta medallions, wreaths, scrolls, plaques, and griffins stream across the frieze beneath the red-tiled low tower. The building is one of the most notable commercial landmarks on the busy Upper East Side. Three storefronts and the studio occupied the first story, and commercial space, an office area, and Bertelson’s apartment were on the second floor. Many interior elements, including beamed ceilings and arches on rope-twist columns, remain despite the building’s conversion into apartments after Bertelson died in 1954 and the building was sold in 1956. Her house and studio show ornamental parallels to the George Watts Building (MI6) at 759–761 N. Jefferson Street and the Tullgren Building at 5919–5927 W. North Avenue, both designed by Herbert Tullgren, who had recently inherited the architectural firm of his late father, Martin Tullgren.
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