Pierson Windows

Ernest Pierson left his mark on Humboldt County in a big way.  Aside from being one of the primary builder/developers of the post-war era and founder of the popular and successful building supply, his name is famous—or maybe infamous – for the windows he developed and used in the homes he built.

The design is amazingly simple.  The windows consist of sliding frameless glass that rides in a channel milled into a wooden frame, just like the sliding glass doors on display cases or glass–fronted furniture of the period.  When closed, the two panes of glass overlap by a few inches, but of course have a small gap between them to allow them to bypass to open. Clever brass hardware attached directly to the glass latches the window in place for security.  The result is an inexpensive window with a strikingly clean and neat appearance.  

All well and good as far as that goes, but as far as keeping out the elements-- or for that matter small and medium size insects-- perhaps not so effective. There are no seals or gaskets whatsoever, and forget about the insulating effects of dual pane glass.  

In all fairness, I have seen the original demonstration windows that are in a back room at Piersons Home Center, and got to observe how tight the fit was in the windows when new.   In fact, the gap between the panes is so tight that a piece of paper can’t be slipped between the panes.  Unfortunately, the relatively soft redwood frames tend to wear over time, degrading the original tight fit..  And as with any wood framed window, a sloppy paint job can seriously affect operation.  As a result, the reputation of these windows 40+ years hence is less than sterling.   

But consider where these windows fit in the timeline of window evolution.  They were developed in the era of wooden framed double-hung or casement windows, when the post war building boom and changing architectural styles demanded something different.  Aluminum frame sliding windows were either uncommon or perhaps not yet on the scene and vinyl frame windows still in the distant future.   They were in a sense the pioneering link between traditional style windows and the variety of alternatives that became the new norm.  Who knows—perhaps Pierson windows were the inspiration for sliding aluminum frame windows, which even Ernest Pierson later switched to in his home construction business.

 Of course there were most likely economic reasons for their development   With windows being an expensive element of home construction, it would make sense for the builder to find a low cost option; even better if he could contain costs by manufacturing the windows himself.   But the window story went beyond Pierson windows for use in Pierson homes. The design was licensed to a number of manufacturers across the country and perhaps outside the US.  Certainly the windows found application beyond the US as proven in the pictures below, which were supplied to me by a site visitor from the UK.  

Whatever else is true, Pierson windows provided a distinctive and neat appearance to modern homes.   People who own these homes today and care about the design integrity are faced with the classic dilemma of maintaining the original character and poor performing features, or updating to better functionality at considerable cost and loss of the character of the era.  

If you are in need of replacement parts, you will be interested to know that there is still a secret stash of parts at Piersons Building Center.  These items are definitely not out on a peg, but if you ask Maurice, manager of the Window and Door Department, he will cheerfully dust some off for you.  Interesting story he told me… a few years ago he sent about 50 pounds of vintage Pierson window hardware off to metal recycling because the demand had gone extinct and the 17cents/lb for scrap brass was looking like the last best deal!

A, C  Typical Pierson windows.  Note overlap of panes at center of each window.  Look closely for latch located at center bottom of each window. 

B  Close up of the window latch.

D, E   These pictures came from a homeowner in the UK. and show a Pierson window style unlike any that I have seen in Humboldt Country. Note the combination of operable windows over fixed glass.  The frames are made of hardwood instead of redwood and are reported to show no signs of track wear.   

F  These are double glazed as seen in the original Pierson demo window, but not generally observed in local applications. 

G  The latches are chrome plated cast brass, not the stamped brass parts that seem to be more common locally.  The design is authentic Pierson, as the same hardware is used on one of the original demo windows.  The window locks are a recent addition which the owner explains were added to satisfy security concerns of the home insurance company which had doubts about these unusual window latches.  

 

Do you have a home in nice condition with Pierson windows?  I want to take detail photos of your windows to show better pictures on this page.   

Do you have any insider knowledge about the history of how and why Pierson windows were developed?  Tell me about it and I’ll add that information to this page.