Is the Fisher Building terra cotta a pun or payback?

I was at a meeting at the Fisher Building yesterday morning. Later in the day I headed for DesignSlinger to learn a bit about the history of this Chicago landmark.

DesignSlinger refers to the marine images baked into the terra cotta façade as “a tongue-in-cheek reference to owner Lucius G. Fisher’s last name.” The AIA Guide to Chicago describes the façade as “full of marine creatures in homage to the developer’s name.” Other websites view the aquatic animals as “playful allusions to the developer’s name” and a “visual pun” on his name.

The most prominent sea creatures are the dragon fish and crabs that flank the building’s name. The crabs were a petite madeleine that sent me À la recherche du temps perdu.

Years ago at a family vacation on Cape Cod one of my then very young, and now very charming nieces threw what seemed a week-long tantrum. I bought her a t-shirt emblazoned with a large crab, and she wore it without being aware of how well it summed up the family’s view of her behavior.

Is the marine imagery on the Fisher Building merely a visual pun on the developer’s name, or is it also a wry and enduring commentary on his personality? Homage or hostility? Playful pun or prickly payback? Tongue-in-cheek – or tongue sticking out? An artistic allusion, or lead-designer Atwood alerting Mr Fisher’s visitors to what they might expect?

The Fisher Building’s warm tones, so different from the building’s surroundings, give it a strong presence on Chicago’s skyline. You can see more of YoChicago’s aerial photography at Flickr.


  • Pun or allusion – who could have imagined that those terra cotta figures would still have us talking after all these years. What would Messers Burnham & Atwood think?! Hopefully, get a good laugh out of it. GREAT crab story too!

  • Peter Wakem jr 6 years

    Lucius fisher was my grandmothers grandfather. The marine life on the building, in my opinion, not a stab at him or his personality. The only reason I say that is because I have many pieces of silver plates and keepsakes with the same marine life on them. They were personally his. I enjoyed the thought, and mabye he adopted this persona after the fact. I can not be sure, however I don’t think he would commission plates for himself that would represent him being a crab ass.:)

    Maybe he did! But threw my genes, I can tell he was probably one handsome dude!

    Peter Wakem Jr.