Stop in New York City to see early 20th-century skyscrapers ornamented with an array of metallic ornament, from the Gothic tower of the Woolworth Building to the stainless-steel pinnacle of the Chrysler Building. Admire the gargantuan twin monoliths that are the World Trade Center, giant structures clad in metal and glass - sealed volumes made habitable by equally gargantuan heating, cooling and ventilating systems fabricated of sheet metal.
Leaving New York by the Staten Island Ferry, take in the Statue of Liberty, again a product of sheet-metal craftsmanship. Traveling west through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, note warehouses, factories and farm buildings skinned in metal. All along the route are signs for shops and hotels and restaurants and every other sort of business made of sheet metal. In the Midwest, pass through one small town after another, each possessed of a main street replete with late 19th-century commercial blocks trimmed with sheet-metal cornices, window hoods and storefronts, a few with entire facades made of pressed metal. Enter any of these buildings and encounter tin ceilings and patterned metal wainscoting
Sky-high archesIn St. Louis, on the west bank of the Mississippi, stands an overwhelming monument commemorating the great westward migration, a graceful arc of stainless steel rising 600 feet into the sky. Continue west, past more metal-clad farm buildings, feed mills, water towers. Every restaurant, hotel and hospital along the way has kitchens fitted out with stainless-steel cases and counters. Every enclosed shopping mall has exposed ductwork and an over-arching skylight, both fabricated by sheet metal workers.
Each western county traversed has its county seat, many still served by late Victorian-era courthouses bristling with sheet-metal roof ornament. In downtown Denver there is the immense 19th-century skylight of the Brown Palace Hotel. Observe in the city's industrial district forests of metal chimney stacks, roof ventilators and networks of externally mounted ductwork. At Rocky Flats, west of Denver, are the Atomic Energy Commission's laboratories equipped with elaborate air-handling systems to protect workers and the environment and "glove rooms" in which toxic materials are processed - closed environments built of sheet metal.
In Salt Lake City, notice the sheet-metal statue of the angel Moroni atop the Mormon Tabernacle and see the vast Mormon Auditorium, roofed with metal.
Finally, the West Coast. New office towers rise in Los Angeles, clad in sheet metal, ornamented with sheet metal, made functional by sheet-metal ductwork.
In San Francisco's Chinatown, the colorful trim giving neighborhood buildings their unique character is metal. Here, as is true across the country, older office buildings, stores and apartment houses are being retrofitted to better compete in the real estate market; sheet metal workers specially trained in "TAB" - testing, adjusting and balancing - (who) fine-tune antiquated heating and ventilating systems and install new equipment and improved HVAC systems to achieve greater efficiency.
(David Chase was formerly curator of the National Building Museum.