Just before the holidays, I took a walk through the Congress Park neighborhood of Denver and came across this building at 12th Avenue and Elizabeth Street. There’s a lot going on with this simple Denver Square: the Christmas decorations, the addition on the rear, and the various non-historic windows on the two street façades.
But what made me stop and stare was the line in the brick separating the first and second floors. What could account for the different colors of bricks on the south façade? Could it be that the first floor has some sort of coating on it, like an anti-graffiti barrier? Or could the second floor be an addition? I decided that both were unlikely. The line differentiating the two colors of brick was too high to be an anti-graffiti coating. After all, would someone spray graffiti ten feet up a façade? Probably not. It is more likely that someone would apply an anti-graffiti coating as high as the first-floor window sills. And I doubt the second floor was an addition, as the coining at the corner and the ladder effect of the brickwork at the projecting bay match from the first to second floors. So what was it?
The textures of the two bricks used on this façade are nearly identical, as are their shape. I have a feeling that the difference in the two bricks that they were manufactured at different times. When masons construct a building they receive several pallets of brick at the construction site. Usually there is not enough room to store an entire building’s worth of brick, so as the masons use up the brick on site, they order more from the manufacturer. It is likely that the upper bricks were manufactured later than the lower bricks. Usually you do not see the difference between two runs of bricks, but something about the manufacture of these two bricks differed. Perhaps the kiln was fired at a slightly different temperature, or perhaps the mix of clay differed slightly. Either way, this simple building tells an interesting story in its masonry.
Another thing to notice: the three courses of brick below the second-floor window sills are soiled in an uneven way. When the building was altered in the middle of the twentieth century (probably when the addition to the rear was constructed), the owner installed new steel windows. The steel windows were shorter than the original wood windows, so the contractor had to fill in the bottom of the window openings. It looks like they used salvaged brick – probably from the side of the house where the addition was created – but the brick were either not cleaned or were unevenly cleaned before they were installed.