Miller's Building Terra cotta Restoration

Knoxville, Tennessee

Before and After Photos

After almost 40 years in the business of providing specialized materials and services for building restoration projects, we've got some pretty interesting before and after comparisons in our photo archives, but none are quite as dramatic as the transformation of Miller's Building in Knoxville, Tennessee.


At first glance most people don't connect the two images as being of the same building, but when you see the projecting concrete canopy of the building in the foreground of both images, indeed they are!

Additional Photos

Originally constructed of brick and terra cotta in 1905, the Miller's Building was a longtime downtown retail landmark. Following the sale of the property in 1972, an out-of-state developer proceeded to “modernize” the intricate historic façade by shearing off any projecting terra cotta shapes that were in the way of the placement of a new exterior steel framing system that was then covered in black reflective glass.
Millers_Building_Historic_GFRC_Capital_Mold.jpg Millers_Building_PGRG_Cornice_Replacement.JPG
Luckily, in 1998, the building was saved by the city of Knoxville and the Knoxville Utilities Board, and a painstaking restoration was begun. Utilizing historic photos, along with several site visits to Knoxville to collect field dimensions and small shards of the original terra cotta, we were able to reconstruct a wide array of models and molds for capitals, corbels, and the female caryatid elements that support the entablature above one elevation. We even painstakingly sculpted enlarged versions of several shapes for use in an interior courtyard. If we were doing this today we would simply scan and digitize the originals and enlarge them to the desired size electronically to machine new patterns as needed, but this was back in the dark ages before Y2K.

We recreated parts in multiple materials to replace numerous decorative façade elements original to the building, utilizing both pre-cast solid concrete elements and thin-shelled glass fiber reinforced units. The bulk of the work, including the Cornice and Caryatids, were created with thin-shelled glass fiber materials. The Caryatids, the figures eternally holding the building’s cornice in place, had been taken off the building and discarded during the steel envelope. We found one gathering dust in a downtown warehouse and used it to recreate the missing busts.