Fake Façades: “The Polyester of Brick”

16th and Vine Streets, northwest corner, 1964 (

“If you enjoy the finer things of life, good cheer and good times in a beautiful atmosphere—if you take pride in your home—the FormStone club room is for you,” read an advertisement in December 1949. “That ‘lost’ space in your cellar can become the loveliest room you ever saw, with a FormStone beauty treatment. A major home improvement that enlarges your home, increases its value and helps make home life beautiful. A club room or recreation room for adults, a playroom for the children, a television setting par excellence. Hand-sculptured by skilled craftsmen, in any design, with an special effects to suit your taste, arches, pilasters, bars, etc. Architectural ideas and estimate without charge or obligation.”

“FormStone is Foremost,” read another pitch a few months later. “It’s in a class by itself. Your FormStone Home is a work of art, every inch hand sculptured painstakingly by master-craftsmen. Guaranteed 20 years, it will actually last a lifetime. FormStone  is America’s favorite home beauty treatment…nationally proven… highly endorsed by more than 3,000 homeowners during the past 15 years. It’s the natural stone, carefully selected for color and durability, compounded with finest grade cement. FormStone improves with age! It mellows with weathering, remains forever beautiful, rugged, weatherproof…and insulating. Economical, too—initial cost is modest, and it’s the last; no upkeep, no repair, no painting. Applied over any surface, anywhere, exterior or interior—over shingles, weatherboard, brick, stucco, concrete or cinder block. … Your home deserves FormStone.”

Fake stone, or “simulated masonry” as preservation expert Ann Milkovich McKee calls it, “played a large role in the changing aesthetics of the American public begin­ning in the 1930s.” Perma-Stone, the earliest and best known “of the simulated masonries that could be applied directly to a building” originated in Columbus, Ohio in 1929. Other brands, we learn from The Old House Journal, “included Rostone, Tru-Stone, Fieldstone, Bermuda Stone, Modern Stone, Romanstone, Magnolia Stone, Dixie Stone, Silverstone.” And there was FormStone. Each “was applied in a manner similar to stucco, usually in multiple layers, to wire net or lath attached to existing exterior walls, then scored with simulated mortar joints to suggest individual stones. Adding to the illusion were often artful coloration and sometimes mica chips that would sparkle on a sunny day.”

“Form-Stone, is a man-made stone, a hand-sculpted, modern surface for building new homes or renewing old homes,” read the earliest Philadelphia advertisement from March 1947, a decade after Baltimorean Albert Knight patented the process. By then, it had been “tried and proven” by more than a thousand customers in the Baltimore-Washington area. Testimonials aimed to convince Philadelphians: “We are even more proud of our FormStone than we were the day it was finished,” said Joseph Biles. “It has lived up to expectations in every way. In fact, we are sure that it is becoming more beautiful with each passing year.”

“We were tired of worrying about regular repainting, of moisture penetration and dampness,” said a Mrs. Lake. “We wanted something permanent, something that would make your home beautiful and keep it that way. Formstone did just that for us.”

1328 Walnut Street. October 27, 1949. (

I can safely say that you have added at least twice the value of the improvements to the full value of my house” claimed Major Robb.

A self-described “choosy” restaurant owner declared he “selected FormStone to beautify [his] place. Only FormStone could give me exactly what I wanted: in design, color and effect.”

“We wanted a façade with dignity and beauty and we got it in FormStone,” said a pharmacist, adding the benefit of “everlasting weather protection and freedom from repairs.” A tavern owner considered “it one of the best deals I ever made.” And a car dealer claimed “it has actually attracted customers to our establishment. In the thirty three years we’ve been in business, we consider this the finest improvement made to our property…”

The “last word in lasting beauty.”

Undertakers, 809 South 9th Street, March 19, 1954. (PhillyHistory,org)

Americans carried on their love affair with fake façades until the waning decades of the 20th century. About then, John Waters of Pink Flamingo and Hairspray fame (never one to miss a trend in popular culture) produced a 30-minute video Little Castles: A Formstone Phenomenon.

In a 1998 documentary, Waters provided a nickname for the popular, pastel, sometimes sparkly façade cement long loved by Baltimoreans and Philadelphians alike:

He dubbed FormStone “the polyester of brick.”

[Sources: Advertisements from the Inquirer: March 23, 1947; December 4 1949; March 19, 1950 and March 26, 1950; Ann Milkovich McKee, “Stonewalling America Simulated Stone Products,” in Cultural Resource Management: Preserving the Recent Past (The National Park Service, 1995) vol. 18. no. 8;  and Paul K. Williams, “The Faux Stone Follies,” Old House Online, June 2003.]