Building Description Aurora Watch Factory - Aurora Corset Company, Aurora Illinois
The buildings in the complex are the result of two building phases, each erected for different occupants of the property. The first phase consists of the buildings erected in 1883-84 as the plant of the Aurora Watch Company, and the second phase consists of the three connected additions erected near the turn of the century by the Aurora Corset Company. Another change to the original factory complex is the demolition of two outbuildings. These outbuildings (a coal shed and another small storage facility) were probably constructed of wood. The later alterations were added to the north-northeast elevations of the 1883 watch factory buildings (Buildings #1 and #3B) and to the south elevation of Building #3B. There was a fire that did not do any structural damage in the south of the main building (#1).
Windows in the rear of the complex have been bricked in: seven in Building #3D, six in Building #4, one at south end of #3D. Three windows have been bricked in on the south facade of Building #1, and two have been replaced with newer style windows. None of the windows on the LaSalle Street facade of Building #1, or any of the windows on the Bluff Street facade of Building #2, have been replaced or bricked in.
The initial building program designed by the notable Chicago architectural firm of Adler & Sullivan consisted of a 50' by 89' central building with wings of 36' by 135', proposed to be part of a larger building complex with smaller structures to the rear (machine shop 35' by 95', boiler house 35' by 65', the dial house 32' by 89'). The north wing (Building #1) is parallel to LaSalle Street and is a wall-bearing masonry structure faced in common brick. It was originally intended to match a wing to the south of the central four-story office section. The office portion and south wing were to be erected after the watch firm became established, but these never were built. Intended for the manufacture of precision watches, the opening up of the facades for a maximum amount of light was a primary consideration in its design. To avoid the limitations of window opening size in standard bearing wall construction, the facade was developed into thickened bearing masonry piers, spanned by wrought-iron lintels to create generous window openings. These windows, combined with the narrow depth of the building, insured an abundance of light to the interior, critical for the assembly of watches.
Although intended to be inexpensive and utilitarian, an effort was made to develop the building as an aesthetically pleasing composition, as it also was intended as a visual representation of the company itself.
Like many industries of the time, the building was prominently featured in advertisements and on watch certificates as a symbol of the solidity of the company. The rhythm of the vertical bearing piers, offset by the horizontal banding of the Joliet stone sills and string courses created a dignified composition at a moderate cost. Arches over the 3rd floor windows of Building #1 add to the feeling of a more cohesive building with the 20 bays, rather than 60 units with each window considered individually. The upper windows of the north and south facades of the original buildings are treated with brick arches. All the windows on the other original buildings (Building #3B and #4) are arched. A gabled slate roof is carried across the full length of Building #1.
The interiors of Buildings #1 and #2 are open, undivided space of semi-mill construction with a single line of cast iron columns as an intermediate support of the heavy timber floor structure. They are constructed in very similar manner even though these buildings represent two different eras of construction.
Attached to the rear of Building #1, at the southwest, is a three-story engine/boiler house. As light was not a primary concern in this wing and it was out of view from the street, the exterior walls are simple common brick with simple openings, typical of masonry factory construction.
Following the acquisition of the property by the Aurora Corset Company in 1894, the building remained largely unchanged until near the turn of the century when the major additions were added to the original buildings. The most visually prominent of these was a large addition (Building #2) added to the north of the original wing which was designed by the architectural firm of Worst & Shepardson. The architects respected and appreciated the original building design in lining up the brickwork and the stone courses. The roof style and treatment of the 3rd floor windows varies from the central entrance as originally planned by the watch company. This addition is of a dark brown-red brick. Although this addition obscures the once-exposed north elevation of the main wing, its design and siting is distinct from the original building and does not interfere with the integrity of the street front. This addition is three stories.
Two semi-detached one-story wings are also at the rear, the largest being the machine shop (#3B) and the smaller one (#4) being for the manufacturing and firing of enamel watch dials. Contemporary reports indicate that these two buildings were the first to be constructed in late 1883. They are faced in red brick. By the time the first wing (Building #1) was constructed, common brick was used, possibly due to budget constraints. Most of the windows in Building #4 were bricked in during the 1970's.
Buildings #3A and #3B are one-story buildings; Buildings #3C and #3D are two stories. Building #3B was the original watch company machine shop and measures 35' by 95'. Each opening is arched; the building has 12 openings on the west facade. None of these windows is bricked in. The additions to Building #3B were erected in three phases by the Aurora Corset Company. The first phase is Building #3C and extends 25 feet south of Building #1. The windows on the first floor of this building reflect the arched window treatment in #3B. The windows on the second floor are large, with sixteen individual panes of glass. The next phase is Building #3D and continues the two stories for another 30 feet. The date of this addition is not yet known, but the construction style places it near the turn of the century or early 1900's. The windows on both floors of this addition are the larger windows of eight-over-eight panes, like those on the second floor of Building #3C. Building #3A is the small section added in 1909-10 to close off the interior open space for a courtyard. The architecture of Building #3B was respected and was matched by similar window treatments, roof line, and building style when Building #3A was erected. #3C is the two-story extension, built before the turn of the century. This addition is barely visible in an 1898 photograph of the Corset Company and its employees.