Contact Us

News Coverage of Vitrolite and Tim Dunn

Vitrolite in the Headlines

Hoover Dam is latest job for St. Louis' Vitrolite Man
Tim Dunn restores the Vitrolite walls of the Hoover Dam's restrooms

Glimmers of History
Exterior of Bert's downtown drugstore back in high shine (Hastings, NE)

Early Vitrolite Corner Signs are Bringing New Collectors
Check out this article on Vitrolite from the September 2, 2013 issue of Antique Week featuring Vitrolite Specialist's Tim Dunn.

Coastland Apartments
The Vitrolite Specialist restores the bathrooms of this apartment building on the south side of Chicago.

Vitrolite Man Visits Ottawa
Tim Dunn restores the facade of a building on West Madison street in Ottawa, Illinois.

Owner Keeps Vintage Look for Local Building
Tim Dunn and crew restore the Vitrolite paneling on the Stumpp Building in downtown Mt. Vernon, IL.

Grand Theatre
Tim and Hank install a Vitrolite facade on the Grand Theatre in Grand Island. This is the largest Vitrolite installation since the 1950s!

Charleston Diner
Tim restores the Vitrolite facade of the Quarrier Diner in Charleston, West Virginia.

St. Louis Bathroom
Tim reinstalls a customer's Vitrolite in their newly renovated bathroom.

Apollo Theatre
The glass facade of this Oberlin theater is restored by Vitrolite Specialist.

Chicago Home
Tim Dunn restores the Vitrolite around a fireplace in Sherry Wiesman's Chicago home.

Alhambra Theater
Vitrolite replaced in the vestibule of the Alhambra Theater in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

Maplewood Home
Tim Dunn installs Vitrolite in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room of a home in Maplewood, Missouri.

Hamilton's Storefront
Tim Dunn repairs damage to 80-Year-Old Black Glass on Storefront of Hamilton's in Brownwood, Texas.

Artcraft Theatre
The Artcraft Theatre in Franklin, Indiana was restored with various Vitrolite techniques by Tim Dunn.

The Future Antiques
South Saint Louis storefront remodeled with Vitrolite.

New Use for an Old Tile
Tim Dunn restores a home in Ladue, MO.

Pieces of the Past
Tim Dunn restores storefronts in Palestine, TX.

Makeover Aims to Light up Downtown
Tim Dunn restores the Zoe Theater in Pittsfield, IL.

A GLASS BY ITSELF
Vitrolite finds itself once again in demand – an article from the Kansas City Star.

Rivoli Theatre
Tim Dunn in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, restoring the Vitrolite on the Rivoli Theatre.

Glass Rejuvenated at Former Gibson Building
Tim Dunn in Appleton, Wisconsin, working on the former Gibson building.

Vitrolite Needed for Deco Theater Refurb
Vitrolite restoration of the Augusta Historic Theatre.

Visiting Specialist Fixes Old-Style Glass
Tim in Mt. Vernon, Il.

Vitrolite: Glass and class of the past Art glass of yesteryear offers a beautiful choice....

The Oman of Vitrolite All about Tim Dunn's work with pigmented structural glass from the Old House Web....

A Modern-Day Vitrolite Mine by Edelene Wood West Virginia's Parkersburg-Vienna area was a well-known source of world famous Vitrolite glass manufacturers in the decades of 1907-1937....

Vitrolite Man Vitrolite, that opaque glass tile common in fine St. Louis ....

Gala at Gem Theatre Marks Cultural Renaissance The Gem's red and gold marquee, standing tough in defiance of decades of decay, was alive again...

Ritz Theater Director Travels West to Gather Ideas for Talladega Antique Talladega Executive Director George Culver has just returned from a four-week, 5,600-mile driving tour....

Luck Helps Man Find Microniche If you'd ask Tim Dunn to fill out a survey stating his profession, he'd have a problem.  You see, what Dunn does lies outside the box....

Tim Dunn and Vitrolite: Each One of a Kind During the 1920's through the 1940's Vitrolite was used on the exterior of many buildings, especially theaters, as well as....

Visitor to Help Salvage State Theatre Glass During the 1920's through the 1940's Vitrolite was used on the exterior of many buildings, especially theaters, as well as....

Glimmers of History

Exterior of Bert's downtown drugstore back in high shine

by Laura Bernero
Hastings Tribune
August 17, 2013

Previous Next

A unique brand of multi-colored glass paneling decorates the storefront of Bert's Drug in downtown Hastings, acting both as a modern mirror and a cast of history.

The rectangular, shimmering panels are perfect reflectors of whatever sits near them – including sky, sun and the bright orange sign at Bert's – and they also hearken back to the architectural trends of their era of origin.

The material is called Vitrolite – bright, shiny, three-eights of an inch thick, and one-of-a-kind.

It was first manufactured in the 1910s and used as industrial tiling until it was featured at an art expo in Paris in 1925 and caught the eye of American designers and architects. Throughout the next three decades, owners of department stores, movie theaters, jewelers and pharmacies like Bert's clamored to incorporate the colorful tiles into their facades.

Staff members at Bert's, for instance, saw maroon and "Alamo tan" Vitrolite installed when they moved into their store at the corner of Second Street and Hastings Avenue in 1948.

By 1950, however, Vitrolite no longer was manufactured. Trends marched on, and the glass paneling became harder and harder to get.

Today, the material is kept alive by historic buildings like Bert's downtown drugstore and a man named Timothy Dunn – the self-proclaimed world expert on the unique tiles that helped compose many American downtowns.

"The stuff just twinkles," said Dunn, an Omaha native who has been installing and maintaining Vitrolite for more than 25 years.

"I see this as one way of helping establish our downtowns. It's part of what I am," he said.

For the past three weeks, Dunn was at Bert's for 11 hours a day re-installing the original Vitrolite panels that sit above the store's canopy and replacing many segments that were damaged or broken.

Vitrolite tiles on the front column and the bottom of the storefront also were updated, much to the amusement of pharmacy staff and passers-by.

"It looks like it looked back then," said John Adams, who began managing the downtown Bert's location in 1948 when he was 31 years old. He purchased the store from original owner Bert Burchess, who first occupied the corner building at Second Street and Hastings Avenue in 1928.

A tile man by training, Dunn first learned about Vitrolite from Don Caviecy of St. Louis in 1985 and was told that, if he stuck with it, he would be the sole Vitrolite craftsman in the country. The demand for his services has backed that fact.

"This material spanned the width of America, and beyond," Dunn said. "I've gotten calls and emails from Scotland, England and even Australia."

Dunn now salvages Vitrolite from sites around the country, stores it, and then puts panels to use when he finds a color match, like he did with the tan and red tiles at Bert's. Vitrolite is heavy and air-tight once sealed, so it was a popular choice for industrial buildings, bathrooms and sterile facilities in its heyday, Dunn said.

Dunn has worked on Vitrolite in bathrooms, department stores, homes and historic theaters, including the Grand Theater in downtown Grand Island. Dunn recovered the front of the historic theater in black, white and emerald tiles over the course of three months last summer.

During that project, contractor Dave Hemberger of Hastings, who was planning renovations at Bert's, asked Dunn if he could do the Vitrolite work on the pharmacy.

As is evident in his careful craftsmanship, Dunn has a special place in his heart of historic downtown districts. He hails from Maplewood, Mo. – a town of 8,600 just outside St. Louis – where he has served on the city council for more than 20 years and has championed dozens of historic restoration projects.

"My little town used to be a nice shopping district in the St. Louis region. It was one of the top three or four until the malls took over," Dunn said. "It's much like Hastings. Your downtown is really hopping with its events and things."

In downtown Hastings, Dunn noted two other stores that used Vitrolite – Zinn's Jeweler's, which sports midnight blue and gray tiles, and the former location of the McGee's Menswear store on the corner of Second Street and Lincoln Avenue, which has red tiles.

The look of the retro glass reminds Adams of the days when downtown Hastings was a buzzing place seven days a week.

Department stores selling men's and women's clothing, shoes, gifts and cards saw streams of patrons. The offices of doctors, dentists and optometrists filled the second stories of many main street business buildings, funneling a crowd of prescription seekers into Bert's and seven other pharmacies that were located on Second Street.

"Downtown used to be buzzing," said current store owner Mike Uridil, who with his business partner, Tom Choquette, purchased the store from Adams in 1982. He and Adams remembered a time when a doctor's office, dentist, optometrist, barber shop and bookstore all were housed in the building where Bert's sits.

"Everything was right downtown. There were clothing stores, shoe stores, you name it. And the streets were just full of people," Uridil said.

In those days, the shelves at Bert's were lined with candy, magazines, gifts and pharaceuticals, and the whole air of downtown Second Street invoked a sense of pride in store owners like Adams.

"Bert's was needed. There were eight pharmacies on Second Street alone, but we were always busy," Uridil said. "In those days, the guys worked from 8 or 9 a.m. until after 11 p.m."

The renovations and Vitrolite revival at Bert's were collaborative projects between the Bert's staff, the Hastings Community Redevelopment Authority and Elizabeth Spilinek of Hastings, a trained historic preservationist. Vitrolite was also installed on the east side of the buildling – above the entrance to Grace Baptist Church – to make the building look unified, although the tiles originally were only on the front.

Bert's also plans to reinstall the neon lights that once ran around the marquee of the canopy on the front of the store.

Just like the old medicines displayed in the front windows and the testimony of the long-time pharmacists, the shiny, mirror-like Vitrolite tiles at Bert's echo the livelihood and community that have sustained Bert's and the Hastings downtown district throughout the years.

Some things don't change after all," Adams said.