Ten years ago, on September 30th, it was discovered that the epigram “FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD AND THE SERVICE OF MAN” on the exterior of Unity had been vandalized. Of a total of 72 letters and 32 squares that were over the east and west entrances, 58 letters and 5 squares were stolen. The police said that the letters, being mostly copper, probably got about $40 or $50 dollars for their effort. It cost Unity over $35,000 to recreate and replace the letters.
As part of the restoration of the letters, there needed to be much research – material make-up, finish, history, etc. Along the way we discovered some interesting things about the letters:
· The brackets were found during the letter restoration. There was a spalling of concrete at the letter “C” in “SERVICE” on the west elevation that expose a bit of metal that aligned with the letter “C’s” curvature. Further exploration by removing the concrete in the area exposed a 2-piece bracket. Later, a lab was hired to actually scan the wall electronically (impulse radar)and it was confirmed that there were metal brackets behind each letter.
· In 1973 when the shotcrete was applied to the building, the letters were removed and the brackets were covered over with the shotcrete. The letters were reinstalled with screws and lead plugs and the brackets forgotten about.
· The original letters were tested for material make-up and it was found that the letters were 90 % copper and 10% zinc, a standard for Architectural Bronze.
· The thickness of the letters were a little thinner than standard obtainable sheet bronze, but the slightly thicker material was used because of its availability and for added durability for the finished letter.
· A lot of time was spent in trying to determine the letter’s original finish. Many historic photos were reviewed, all in black and white, and the letters were mostly shown to be bright white, so it was thought that they were originally painted white or a highly polished copper that appeared white in BW photos. The existing letters were tested for finish and found to be highly tarnished with no detectable coating on them. We consulted with Taliesin archives and they had no information about the letters and we asked if Wright had ever mounted letters like this in any of his other buildings. The only reference was to the Larkin Building 1903), which may have used similar lettering on its interior, on the face of upper interior clerestory railings. The letters also appear as white or highly polished in a BW photo. Not finding a residue of a finish on the letters it was decided to produce the replacement letters with a polished finish and to be coated with a clear 20 year protective coating.
· We also discovered in the UTUUC archives the original invoice for the letters = F.P. Smith Wire & Iron Works, Chicago, Ill. – Bronze Letters – $227.00 – Contract Date 1907-7-12, Authorized Payment Date 1907-12-13.
Note: the letters were completed and installed in May, 2012.
Jack Lesniak is an architect and former board member of Unity Temple Restoration Foundation. He led the efforts to research and restore/replace the letters at Unity Temple.