Julian deCordova and Elizabeth Dana

Although Julian deCordova joined the prominent and prosperous Dana family of Cambridge by marrying Lizzie, he made his own fortune as a tea broker, wholesale merchant, investor, and as president of the Union Glass Company, located in Somerville, MA.

Travel and art were among the greatest passions of the self-educated son of a Sephardic Jewish merchant from Jamaica. His wife shared his enthusiasm for art, and they both traveled around the globe several times in an era before airplanes and automobiles, when tourism was rare and quite and adventure.

Julian had never envisioned his estate becoming a sculpture park of contemporary art. But, in 1927, he might had inadvertently given friends and family a glimpse of what this legacy would later offer by assembling a fountain made of glass doorknobs. Located in the area of current stone crosswalk across the roadway in front of the carriage house, the knobs were set over a sand pit so that Julian could rearrange the design as he wished. The knobs he used had been made at his factory, an important manufacturer of art glass in America for over 75 years. Union Glass produced a wide range of glass products that shifted according to fashions and economic conditions.

Julian deCordova’s doorknob fountain

Initially, Union Glass manufactured doorknobs, lamps and lamp trimmings, bottles, windows, lenses, and tableware. Railroad lanterns also became a significant source of revenue, as railroad workers used lantern hand-signals to communicate with the engineer. With increasing industrial wealth, tastes gravitated to more ornamented glass, and the company distinguished itself in the market for producing many objects, such as pieces made silvered and iridescent glass in the Venetian revival style. But the company’s bread and butter remained the production if high-quality “blanks,” fully transparent glass pieces for engraving and cutting.

Art glass production peaked during the times Julian deCordova owned the company. Under his leadership, the business survived the tumultuous 1880’s and remained in Somerville, while most competitors moved west for cheaper fuel and resources. The waning of interest in iridescent and cut glass as well as problems with internal management led Julian to close the factory in 1927. He donated 61 glass pieces to Smithsonian Museum and kept some in his home, which were later purchase by the Corning Museum of Glass, in NY. Above is a picture of some of the knobs once used at Julian’s fountain.