As we continue our Denver Back to School Week, we are going to examine the Dora Moore School in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
This historic building is one of the oldest Denver school buildings still in use today. It was designed by Robert S. Roeschlaub, Colorado’s first licensed architect and the chief architect in the late 1800s for what is now the Denver Public School system. History Colorado has a great list of Roeschlaub’s contributions to Denver’s architecture [pdf] from the 1870s through his retirement in 1912. During his career, he designed houses, the Central City Opera House, commercial buildings, and nearly all of Denver’s early school buildings. Most of his buildings have been demolished but many that survive are listed on the National Register, including the Dora Moore School. (It is also a city landmark.)
The Dora Moore School was constructed between 1889 and 1890, and is a rectangular building with chamfered entrance bays at each corner. It was originally called the Corona School but its name was changed in 1929 to thank former teacher and principal Dora M. Moore for thirty-five years of service to the school. If you look closely, you can see the ghost of the old school name in the terra cotta frieze, shown below.
The school building was constructed with soft, pressed brick, a sandstone water table and trim, and terra-cotta ornament. Most of the terra cotta is located at the second story, but the arched entry at each chamfered corner of the building has an ornate terra-cotta surround. The decoration in the terra cotta is mainly of foliage, but a little girl’s head projects from the left side of the arch, and a little boy’s head from the right side of the arch. These details are so charming.
The terra cotta used on the Dora Moore School is not the glazed terra cotta with a high sheen that you might think of when someone mentions architectural terra cotta. High-sheen glazes were still in the process of being developed when this building was erected. Instead, the terra cotta was slip glazed, in which the soft clay slip was applied to the terra cotta before it was fired. (Slip is the soft, clay-containing liquid residue that forms when clay is worked. If you have ever thrown a pot, the slip is the material that builds up on your hands.) Slip-glazed terra cotta was often used to in lieu of carved stone, such as sandstone or brownstone, because it was cheaper to mold into repetitive patterns than it was to hand carve the stone. At the Dora Moore School, the terra cotta complements the more simple sandstone at the building’s base and at string courses along the façades. It was probably made at the Denver Terra Cotta Works, which was in business in the 1870s and 1880s, if not later. As you can see in the photo below, the terra cotta is much darker than the sandstone, which is a better match to the brick.
The brick itself is quite soft, porous and low-fired. It was probably made locally at a time when high-fired bricks were not readily available in Denver. Notice in the photo below the rough grain of the brick and the wavy bedding planes where the clay material was hand-pressed into molds.
As to the sandstone, it too was a local product. But all of the material that looks like sandstone actually isn’t. The Dora Moore School underwent an extensive restoration in 2003 – thanks to a grant from the State Historical Fund – and several of the severely deteriorated sandstone units were replaced with cast stone, which is concrete that has been pigmented, textured and molded to look like natural stone. Several of the “stones” in the photo below are actually cast stone.
The Dora Moore School tells a wonderful story of the architectural tastes and masonry construction in Denver before the turn of the nineteenth century. But it also tells the story of early-twentieth century city architecture, for an addition was erected on the east side of the school in 1909. The addition, designed by David W. Dryden, is connected to the original school building by a small hallway, which has since been subsumed by a later, metal-and-glass structure.
The addition has an Arts and Crafts feel to it, but it is not nearly so successful in this much larger scale than it is in a modest bungalow. Dryden was the architect for the city school system from 1901 to 1912, and designed many celebrated school buildings including North High School and the Evans School in Golden Triangle. I was amazed to learn that most of his designs are local landmarks or are listed on the National Register. Once again, History Colorado has a great write-up about his work [pdf].
The design of the 1909 addition is fairly simple, but its allure is its unique use of masonry. As shown in the photograph below, the architect made ample use of red stretcher bricks alternating with burnt, black header bricks installed in Flemish bond. He also used green glazed brick to accent the corners of the building and its main entrance facing East 9th Avenue. I haven’t see a building quite like this anywhere else in Denver. We can thank two pioneering Denver architects for this wonderful educational complex.