If You Come Here for the Windows...

When I first started trying to write novels, I never researched. I think I was too afraid of falling into an internet rabbit hole and “wasting” “time.” Now, all I want to do with my precious solitary hours is learn how glass was made in the 1920s, peruse century-old neighborhood covenants, and watch video tours of house museums. It’s fun for me, and if these early mornings aren’t fun, then what are doing here?

This novel project is much more research-heavy than anything I’ve ever worked on. I still don’t know how all this research is going to be “used,” or if much of it will wind up in the final project at all. In fact, I use the word research loosely; it’s basically just a daily ritual of steeping myself in historical photos and documents until I feel ready to write. All I know is that it seems to be a crucial part of the process for this book. It feels rather alchemical, like some sort of writer’s brew.

Anyway, in my research, I recently stumbled upon a document titled 20th-Century Building Materials and Suitable Substitutes: Windows Visual Guide.

This visual guide and its associated technical report were prepared about a decade ago by the environmental engineering firm A.D. Marble working with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Mid-Atlantic for the Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. Their purpose was to help the DoD maintain and service the windows on its early- to mid-20th-century buildings, of which it owns a lot. Many of these buildings are subject to regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act, and so you can’t just go replacing the old windows willy-nilly.

Obviously I am loving every photo in this document, which covers steel windows, corrugated wire glass, and glass block — so much glass block! But even better is tracing each image to its original source, which is what led me to Fenestra: The Blue Book of Steel Windows, an annual catalog/manual produced by the Detroit Steel Products Company. The edition I found online is from 1926 and contains so many beautiful pictures of windows, along with technical drawings that explain how they work.

Obviously obsessed, since the architect in my book is designing a house in 1926-1927 that is made almost entirely of windows. One of the things I’ve been trying to… “figure out” is not the right phrase, it’s more like “receive” or “ascertain”… is what materials my architect is working with. I know the house contains some glass block, and I know exactly where that glass block came from: National Mirror Works in Rockford, IL.

The listing for National Mirror Works in the 1921 Rockford City Directory, sourced from the Rockford Public Library’s Local History archives here.

“Everything in Glass,” including what they called glass brick, and just across the Rock River from the site of my fictional house!

But the question of windows is still open, as the house — made of glass in the days before air conditioning — requires some serious ventilation. And perhaps various colors of glass, as Scheerbart argued for in Glasarchitektur?

The house has yet to fully reveal itself. Until it does, find me here, dreamily browsing old windows catalogs.