Jenna Turner

Prism Glass Tile Transom Removal

September 11, 2021

Prism Glass Transoms - Pink Flats

Before owning The Golden Building, I never gave much attention to the details of the prism glass tiles found in many historic structures. The front facade of The Golden Building included transom windows (a smaller window found above a larger window or door with intention of allowing more light into the space) that were made of these prism glass tiles. Our original intention with these windows was to clean them and leave them in their existing state that was original to the construction of the building. It wasn’t until we allowed a movie to film an explosion in our building (more on that here) that we had no other choice but to restore these special windows.

What are glass prism tiles?

Luxfer glass company created  prism glass tiles known as Luxfer Tiles in the late 1800s as an architectural design to brighten the interior of a storefront. During this time, electricity was very expensive and also posed dangerous safety issues. Natural light was hard to capture indoors as many taller buildings were erected in urban areas. Thus the invention of prismatic glass, or prism glass.

Pantented Luxfer tile. One of these tiles are located at the bottom right corner of each window.

Most simple prismatic glass tiles are smooth on the exterior side and lined with small horizontal triangle prisms on the interior side. These prisms would capture light and refract the light deep into a room. Each tile is 4 inches by 4 inches encased in a zinc metal grid. In the early 1900s, the glass was infused with manganese dioxide as a decolorizer to help keep the glass crystal clear. It wasn’t until years later that they learned that this manganese glass would react to ultraviolet light (sun light) and turn to a light pink or purple color. Manganese was shipped to the United States from Germany, and around the time of World World II, those shipments were halted. At this point, the United States would no longer use manganese in these prism glass tiles. Therefore, most tiles produced during WWII or after have maintained their clear color. Since The Golden Building was built around 1912, our glass tiles have a lovely purple hue to their appearance.

During the early 1900s, Luxfer Glass Company hired famous American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to make decorative designs for their prism glass tiles. These glass tiles are the most rare of the tiles and can be found as decorative accents to buildings to this day. Frank Lloyd patented over 40 designs; most popular being his lotus-flower inspired design.

Pantened Frank Lloyd Wright prism glass designs.

The Worry of Restoration

I was so distraught after the movie filming explosion. I was originally promised that these glass tiles would not suffer any damages as they were my biggest concern for filming the described scene. As we sifted through the damage the day of filming, my first thought was “I can’t believe this happened to these glass tiles and how would we ever replace them?” Luckily, we discovered that many of the tiles themselves were intact, but it was the 100-year-old, brittle zinc gave way to the blast.

Salvaged prism glass tiles cased in over 100-year-old zinc.

I researched these glass tiles for weeks. My first route to attempt to find someone to restore them was to find someone that specializes in stained glass windows restoration. I contacted many stained glass experts who were honest with me in saying that they did not have experience with this type of glass and weren’t sure of the best way to restore them to the original look. I then contacted some of the biggest glass production companies in the Southeastern United States only to find out that they were just confused as I was about how to move forward. One thing was clear; glass prism tiles are certainly no longer in production or in demand.

If I’m being transparent here (see what I did there?), I lost sleep over the restoration of these transoms. So many people in town were so upset over the damages, and while I was not at blame for the disaster, I carried the guilt on my shoulders. One of my late nights laying in the bed scrolling through pages of Google search results, I came across a prism glass tile collector, Jeff Burke. I was able to contact Jeff Burke through his website to see what information he might have regarding how to restore our windows.

Finding a Prism Glass Tile Specialist

Jeff then put me in contact with Kieth Oliphant of Glass Restoration Services out of Raleigh, North Carolina. I was so excited and full of hope to have this point of contact and even happier that this person was located seven hours from us. I had it set in my mind that the only people knowledgeable about fixing these windows would be located somewhere like New York, Boston, and Chicago (all over 12 hours away from us.)

I was quick to compose a detailed email of our story and our needs to Kieth and he was prompt to let me know that he was interested in helping. We had multiple phone calls discussing the history of these glass tiles and the process he uses for full restoration.

Prism Glass Retrieval

Fast forward to September, Kieth and his wife made the trip to Tifton to retrieve the remains of our windows. Our contractor had removed the windows prior to Kieth’s arrival so they were able to easily retrieve the panels and load them into the rental van. Our visit with Kieth and his wife as they retrieved the windows was such an encouraging time for me. While we never anticipated having a huge explosion and having to repair these special pieces of history, Kieth showed us how much of an improvement this restoration would be for our building. He brought material samples of the new, stronger zinc that would hold the tiles in place. I was also able to see an similar tile that he had salvaged from a different building. He showed me just how clean the tiles would be after his cleaning process.

My hope is that others in our community will enjoy the finished product of this restoration process. While our building looks a bit depressed at the moment, she is going to shine bright like a diamond when our project is finished! Not only will the appearance be more appealing, the structure of the transoms will be safer as well. The entire restoration process should take approximately 13 weeks plus installation. Be on the lookout for this beautiful improvement!

If you’d like to read more about the history of prism glass tiles, be sure to check out this article!

Check out these original ads for Luxfer Prism Glass!

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  1. Charles H Styer says:

    Thank you for this very interesting account. I am put in mind of Henry David Thoreau’s comment: A man’s whole life is taxed by the least job well done.

  2. […] highlighted in our last blog post, our commitment to preserving the unique prism glass tiles adorning our storefront’s transom […]

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