Temple Emanuel

Although I haven’t blogged much in the past few months, I have been busy taking photographs and stumbling across incredible masonry buildings in Denver and the Front Range.  Take Temple Emanuel, for example, in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood.  The former Temple Emanuel synagogue at 16th Ave and Pearl Street was once the home of Denver’s oldest Jewish Congregation.  Originally constructed between 1898 and 1899 with a large addition in 1924, Temple Emanuel is reportedly the only Moorish- and Turkish-Revival style synagogue in Colorado (according to the building’s National Register nomination [pdf]).

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Designed by architect John J. Humphreys of Wendell & Humphreys Architects, the original portion of the building includes the raised entrance and two Turkish-style towers.  The synagogue was constructed using simple buff brick, but laid with a projecting horizontal stripe pattern at the front facade on Pearl Street.

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I am fond of the complexity of the masonry at the entrance.  The carved wooden doors are framed by paired stone columns with ornate capitals, and smooth-cut buff stone, which is possibly a sandstone but more likely is Indiana limestone.  A Moorish-style arched, leaded-glass transom rises above the stone lintel on which the synagogue’s name is carved.  More smooth-cut stone and buff brick surround the pointed, horseshoe-arched transom, and two rondels flank the top of the entry arch.  These rondels contain inset Stars of David that were probably made of limestone and painted stucco or glazed tiles.  Rising above the entrance and transom are six thin leaded-glass windows that also have Moorish-style influences in their shape and motifs.  The entire window and door enframement is then surrounded by two types of molded brick, one with a checkerboard pattern and another with an ogee frame.

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The top of the building has an ornate, applied metal cornice, and a rose window in the parapet.  Unfortunately, extensive soiling of the masonry accentuates the horizontal stripe pattern of the brick and makes the stone surrounding the entrance look grayer than it originally would have.  The metal cornice is also severely deteriorated, with extensive corrosion evident especially at the top left side in the photo above.

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Two Turkish-style minaret towers flank the original portion of the building.  These octagonal towers were built with buff brick and have thin horizontal openings capped by pointed arches.  I originally thought the top of the towers were made of carved stone, but upon closer inspection, I realized that like the cornice, they are made of molded sheet metal.  Corrosion has taken its toll and some of the ornament is lost and several railings are displaced.  However, the original form of the minarets is still quite legible despite the deterioration.

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The large addition to the south of the building was constructed in 1924 and nearly doubled the size of the synagogue.  The addition was designed by Thielman Robert Wieger, an apprentice of Humphreys’, who gave the addition an architectural style nearly identical to the original building.  Seen above with the paired spires of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at the left, the addition can be differentiated from the original by its shorter tower and its ever-so-slightly more modest entrance.  The Denver Public Library has two wonderful photographs of the building taken before and after the construction of the addition to help you understand the construction chronology of the building.

The synagogue was the third home of Congregation Temple Emanuel, Denver’s oldest Reform Jewish congregation [pdf].  It was constructed at the southwest corner of 16th Avenue and Pearl Street after a fire destroyed the congregation’s second synagogue at 24th and Curtis Streets in 1897.  Members of the congregation in the late 1800s included the political, economic and cultural elite of Denver, including Simon Guggenheim, who became a U.S. Senator; Philip Trounstine, Denver’s first fire chief; John Elsner, who founded Denver’s first hospital; and David May, proprietor of May’s Department Store.  Congregation Temple Emanuel used the synagogue until 1957, when they sold the building to the First Southern Baptist Church.  Later congregations who used the building include the LovingWay Pentecostal Church and Pathways Church.  The building is now owned by the Denver Community Church.

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Poets Row

Poets Row is one of the more interesting blocks in Denver.  Located on Sherman Street between East 10th and East 11th Avenues in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Poets Row is part of the locally designated Sherman-Grant Historic District.  The three- and four-story Art Deco and Moderne-style apartment buildings were all erected between 1929 and 1956, and were named after famous poets.  Most of the buildings at Poets Row were designed by architect Charles Strong, though a few of the earlier buildings were designed by Andrew Willison.  The Strong-designed buildings include The Mark Twain, built in 1938.

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The Robert Browning, designed in 1937.

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And the James Russell Lowell, designed in 1936.

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Other Poets Row buildings not pictured are the Robert Frost (Willison, 1929), the Louisa May Alcott (Willison, 1931), the Thomas Carlyle (Strong, 1936), the Nathanial Hawthorne (Strong, 1938), the Eugene Field (Strong, 1939), the Sherman Arms (Strong, 1950), and the Emily Dickinson (1956).

As you can see, the buildings are characterized by polychrome brick with terra cotta at the entrances.  Many of the buildings have strong horizontal features, such as ribbon windows or bands of different colored brickwork.  The buildings are also set back from the street, giving the row a more genteel, residential feel despite its highly urban setting.

Each building in Poets Row has an entrance feature executed in a a type of terra cotta known as ceramic veneer, a thick ceramic tile that was adhered to backup masonry using a cementitious mortar.  Each entrance has its own color scheme made with mottled glazes.  The Mark Twain’s is the most unique: the main ceramic veneer is nearly black with yellow accents, while the accent color is a bright yellow.

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The Robert Browning has a mixture of buff and beige mottled ceramic veneer and terra cotta, plus some peach-colored accents.

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The Sherman Arms, one of the later buildings to be constructed on Poets Row, has an entrance surround made of deep ochre colored ceramic veneer with beige accents, plus a fluted band of beige ceramic veneer around the doors.

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Most of the terra cotta and ceramic veneer is in good condition at Poets Row, though you do see the occasional cracking at corners.  This may be due to settling of the ceramic panels, detachment from the backup masonry, or corrosion of the steel lintel behind the units.  The spalling and cracking in the photo below is probably from freeze-thaw deterioration caused by water getting into open mortar joints in addition to other stresses.

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Unfortunately, some of the terra cotta entrances at Poets Row have been painted over.

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The Eugene Field is painted a uniform black color with white lettering.  It was probably painted to mask spalling of the glaze, which you can see when you look closely at the top of the entrance in the photo below.

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The quality of the terra cotta may have been poor by the late 1930s, but it is more likely the building may not have been maintained to the same degree as its neighbors.  Rain water and snow probably collected on the window sill above the entrance for decades.  If the joints between the masonry units and at the window were not maintained properly, moisture infiltrated the ceramic veneer.  As the moisture froze and thawed and tried to evaporate, the glaze spalled from the face of the ceramic veneer leaving unsightly blemishes on the building’s entrance surround.  Painting it hides the blemishes, but it results in trapped moisture, furthering the cycle of deterioration.

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A Tale of Two Bricks

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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