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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....

The Vitrolite Man

by Wayne Curtis

From "PRESERVATION" September/October 2002

Restoring a storefront? Need maroon glass?

A St. Louis man has just the thing you're looking for.

Tim Dunn
Tim Dunn, standing in front of a Vitrolite-clad store he worked on, in Webster Groves, Mo. Click Here for full image.

"This color, I just can't sell it," says Tim Dunn, pointing to a crate overflowing with thick slabs of glass in that pale-green color once associated with hospitals and other institutions for the unwell. He picks up a piece -- it's about three inches wide and a couple of feet long -- frowns slightly, and puts it back.

Dunn is in the basement of his workshop, which takes up a former 1934 confectionary three blocks from historic Route 66 in St. Louis. By any account Dunn's business occupies a specialized niche. He buys, sells and restores pigmented structural glass. Most people know this material, if they know it at all, by the trade names under which it was sold, which include Vitrolite, Carrera Glass, and Sani Onyx.

This colored opaque glass was popular on the exteriors (and, less so, in the interiors) of many early-20th-century buildings, especially those in art deco, streamline. and moderne styles. A sort of blemish-free everyman's marble, it was in particular vogue as a facing on the storefronts of bakeries, drugstores, and jewelry shops. Fearful of being left behind, Main Street businesses would often slap up a veneer of Vitrolite to hide their 19th-century masonry dowdiness. In a few instances, new movie palaces went big into Vitrolite and covered their entire facades with the material.

Dunn has been dabbling in Vitrolite since 1985, when he came upon it in his work as a tile setter. In 1997 he decided to limit his business to Vitrolite work, and he hung out his shingle as the Vitrolite specialist (www.vitrolitespecialist.com).

His first big project was the restoration of the Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo., and soon after he undertook the restoration of the Ritz Theater in Talladega, Ala., a three-story Vitrolite fantasy sliced with bands of neon. He's done eight theaters in the past four years, and spends a lot of time helping Main Street programs spruce up their downtowns.

Vitrolite is a not the perfect material, Dunn admits. "It's glass, and when you put it on a storefront, it's a problem," he says. The potential risks of the missile-like composite skateboards popular with teenagers, for instance, were not envisioned by shopkeepers in the 1030s. Such cultural advances keep Dunn busy.

Part of Dunn's job is ensuring a ready supply of Vitrolite for his restoration work, which presents some logistical considerations, since the material hasn't been manufactured since 1947. You can still import new colored glass from the Czech Republic, but it's thinner, the hues don't match up with its historical counterparts (the new black is really a deep purple) and it is available in only six colors. At its peak, Vitrolite was available in 40.

Dunn solved his supply problem the old-fashioned way: He passed around his phone number. A friend of a friend will call and tell him about a place there they're stripping off some Vitrolite. He'll hop in his truck and set off--maybe to Tennessee, maybe to Iowa--and grab it before it ends up as shattered landfill. Main Street is Dunn's quarry, and by his estimate his excavations have yielded about 10 tons, most of which is now organized by color in his basement.

When people make inquiries about buying a certain color of Vitrolite, Dunn mails them a card entitled, "How to get the Vitrolite you want," which is a five-item checklist of things to send him. Number four on the list is "a hope and a prayer that I have it." If he doesn't, he usually can turn it up in a month or two. "I've only not filled two orders in ten years," he reports.

White and black are the colors most in demand these days, and for some reason blue Vitrolite is sought after in Texas and Oklahoma. Just yesterday, he says, he had an order for 100 square feet of maroon.

And someday, when fashion comes around, he will no doubt start getting calls for pale green. When that happens, rest assured that Tim Dunn will be ready.

From Preservation, September/October 2002