Architectural Terra Cotta

Mention the term “terra cotta,” and we’ll wager that your mind automatically goes toward tile, either the floor or roof variety. But in truth, terra cotta was used to create decorative architectural elements between the late 19th century and the 1930s, especially within the Chicago School and Beaux Arts architectural genres. The pressed, molded and fired clay was popular for a long time because it was a lightweight substitute for stone.

That’s probably why you see so much of it as ornamentation on the earliest tall buildings. Some of the more flamboyant examples include Denver’s historic Paramount Theater,

the Alwyn Court building in New York,

and Louis Sullivan’s Prudential building in Buffalo.

You don’t see much of that going on in 21st century architecture, but we’ve got several terra cotta reminders from the past, right here in our store.

Art Deco building frieze fragment
Building facade fragment


Some would make great garden ornaments—colorful sentries on a bed of ground cover, perhaps, or a post among flowers.


Terra Cotta roof finial
Terra cotta chimney pot
Roof gable

These fine finials could function a beautiful book ends:

Terra cotta facade finials

And this gilded cornice fragment could take pride of place in a shelving display, or crown a doorway:

Drop by our shop in Adams Morgan and take a look at these examples of architectural terra cotta—and the thousands of other curiosities that fill our shelves.