Kirk Johnson & Co. Building



Kirk Johnson (1861-1939) was a leading music dealer in Lancaster, PA during the late 19th century.  He had opened his first store in 1885, but decided to expand in 1911. This was the pre-modernist era in which pop culture was beginning to take hold of American’s, thus music was slowly changing and more instruments were becoming popular and in demand. During 1911, Johnson had C. Emlen Urban design a building for his new music store. Currently, the store functions as a Morti clothing store along the first floor.  The other three floors are used as office space, which are also currently on the market to be rented.



The Kirk Johnson building is a narrow structure that stands four stories tall.  It was constructed symmetrically, using the divisive plan and the trabeated structure.  The interior frame was created with structural steel, and then covered with white tile and sheet copper.  The façade is made out of marble molding and stands above a pink granite base.   The top three floors are made with white tile piers that simulate ashlar masonry.  Each floor has a large window with the original leaded glass transoms (the top three stories have four large windows).  Friezes and lattice-patterned balustrades made of pressed copper, separate each window.  On top of the attic, there is a mansard roof (which is a hip roof with two slopes on each side).  The storefront still contains the original signage in gilt letters (Kirk Johnson & Co).

(Note:  the storefront, which includes the original display windows and entry doors were changed in 1926 due to remodeling.  In 1979-1980, they were restored based off of an original C. Emlen Urban drawing that had resurfaced)


Similarly to other C. Emlen Urban buildings, this building is an example of the French Baroque Revival Style.  During the time period, French Baroque and Italian revival styles had become popular.  The building’s divisive structure communicates that there was a sort of formal aspect being considered during construction.  From the façade, we can interpret that Johnson and Urban wanted to create a building that exuberated elegance, a sort of elegance that can relate back to music while still creating a unique and aesthetically pleasing storefront to attract customers.  When I look at the storefront, I see an inviting and beautifully detailed building with elements of a musical motif.  For instance, the architrave right above the Kirk Johnson signage letters resembles piano keys as it travels horizontally across the front.  Above it in the decorated frieze, is a continuation of spirals, which can often be seen on sheet music or related to the fluidity of notes.  Another unique and beautiful feature is the cornice at the top, separating the fourth floor and the roof.  On each side there are two console brackets and in the center, an oval plaque with a lyre motif to truly symbolize the function of the building.  All of these elements contribute to the classical beauty of the building.    


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