Fleming Bros. of South Denver

I was walking down Broadway a few weeks ago and saw this lovely ‘Fleming Bros.’ building on the east side of Broadway between 1st Ave and Ellsworth Ave.

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It’s a pretty red brick building with red sandstone trim.  What struck me were those wonderful brick arches at the third floor.  The bricks that make up the arches are either specially molded or more likely custom cut to form wedge shapes that get wider toward the outside of the arch.  If you look closely at the photo below, you might also notice that the corners of the bricks that make up the intrados of the arch are slightly curved to give the arch a softer edge.  The same thing was done to create the small arches over each transom window.

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The words ‘Fleming Bros.’, carved into sandstone above the arches at the center of the building, got me curious.  Who were these Fleming Bros. and why did they commission this beautiful building?  It turns out the Fleming Bros. were one of the largest developers, contractors, and lumber suppliers in the area of town originally known as South Denver.  They built this building in 1890 as their company’s administrative headquarters and as a showpiece for their construction business.

The Fleming brothers [pdf] were Jesse W., Calvin, D. Carson, and Patrick, who originally hailed from western Pennsylvania.  Jesse moved to Denver in 1884 following the lead of his cousin, the successful businessman and real-estate developer James A. Fleming, who arrived in Denver in 1880. (More on James, later.) Calvin moved west in 1886, as did D. Carson, a carpenter, and Patrick, a bricklayer.  In the mid-1880s, the four brothers formed the Fleming Bros. Lumber Company, which originally supplied lumber to contractors and builders.  The brothers quickly got into the development and construction business themselves and built numerous houses in the Baker [pdf] and Wash Park West neighborhoods.  From the late 1880s through the early 1890s, they built speculative houses using architectural pattern books for designs, and supplied their own lumber and masonry materials for the construction.  They then sold these spec houses on installment plans, which allowed South Denver to develop into a middle-class community.  They also became wealthy selling lumber to railroad companies during the railroad expansion of the 1880s and 1890s.

In the 1890s and 1900s, the Fleming Bros. Company started building commercial buildings on Broadway in addition to their residential construction projects.  Commercial buildings constructed by the brothers include the First Avenue Hotel at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Broadway (designed by Charles Quayle), and the Stuart Hotel at the southeast corner of 1st and Broadway (designed by Willis Marean and Albert Norton).

BroadwayNationalBankIn 1909, the Fleming Bros. formed the Fleming Bros. Bank, whose headquarters was at their First Avenue Hotel.  (It was also their construction company’s headquarters.)  They eventually changed the name of the bank to the Broadway National Bank and erected the building at 100 Broadway (now a Key Bank branch) in 1914 based on the design by architects William E. and Arthur A. Fisher (see photo on left).

As their companies became more established, the Fleming brothers grew more connected in Denver’s political and business circles.  Jesse Fleming, who was the president of the Fleming Bros. Bank, was also the brother-in-law of Governor Elias Ammons and was Chairman of the Moffat Tunnel Commission.  (In a bit of a scandal, he was arrested for supplying inferior furniture for the decoration of the State Capitol in 1914 [pdf / NY Times subscriber firewall].)  Calvin ran the Broadway National Bank and served on the board of the Farmers Life Insurance Company.

Fortunately for us, many of the Fleming Bros. commercial and residential buildings remain.  Several are Denver landmarks, while others included in historic districts listed on the National Register [pdf].

And now a quick aside on South Denver.  In the early 1880s several prominent businessmen settled on the south side of Denver, which was largely rural farmland.  They quickly petitioned the city of Denver to allow the creation of an independent city: South Denver.  Incorporated in 1886, South Denver had strict prohibitions against liquor and alcohol-related businesses to counteract their northerly neighbor’s reputation of hedonism and debauchery.  The first mayor of South Denver was James A. Fleming [pdf], cousin of Jesse, Calvin, D. Carson and Patrick.  James made his fortune on the oil fields of western Pennsylvania, and later in mining in western Colorado.  He purchased several acres of land in what is now Platt Park and built a grand mansion at Logan and Florida Street between 1882 and 1883. (The house, 1501 S. Logan, still stands and is a Denver city landmark.)  He began constructing speculative houses in the late 1880s and early 1890s in areas known as Fleming’s Broadway Addition (bounded by Broadway to Grant St, Florida to Iowa Aves), and Fleming’s Subdivision (bounded by Logan to Clarkson Sts, Florida to Iowa Aves).  James Fleming served as mayor of South Denver from 1886 until 1890.  Following the silver crash in 1893 and the resulting financial hardship, South Denver was formally annexed by Denver and has remained part of Denver ever since.

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Polychrome Brick at the First Avenue Presbyterian Church

Today we are going to look at the First Avenue Presbyterian Church in the Baker neighborhood.  At first glance it’s an average neighborhood church building, as you can see below.

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But when you look more closely at the masonry, the polychrome brick work reveals that this church is an architectural gem.

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The First Avenue Presbyterian Church was designed by famed Denver architect Montana Fallis (pdf) fairly early in his career during his partnership with John Stein.  (Fallis designed several churches and commercial or office buildings, but he was best known in his later career for his design of the Mayan Theater and the Buerger Brothers Building.)

Constructed in 1906, the First Avenue Presbyterian Church made extensive use of a mixture of pale pink and light gray brick that is very similar in color to Castle Rock rhyolite.  The brick was probably used instead of rhyolite as a cost-savings measure, but the architect may have selected it as a modern approach to church architecture, which in the 1880s and 1890s was dominated by heavily rusticated stone masonry.  The use of this pale pink and light gray brick is uncommon, but it is even less common to see it accented with yellow and orange bricks at the entrance and windows.

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This polychrome brick treatment continues on all four sides of the building but is most prominent at the entrance, with its recessed, but simplified archivolts at the Gothic arch.

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What I also found interesting is that the base of the building is supported by Castle Rock rhyolite, which you can see at the right in the photo below.  But the steps are a different type of stone, probably a buff Lyons sandstone from Larimer County.

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The architect was clearly familiar with various types of masonry available in the early 1900s, and was comfortable mixing materials and colors to create a unified, polychrome façade.

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Brick and Terra Cotta at the Fairmont School

It’s Back to School Week in Denver, so to celebrate we are going to examine the history and masonry of a few of Denver’s public schools.  First up: the Fairmont School in Denver’s Baker neighborhood.

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This gorgeous brick and terra-cotta school was built in 1924 based on a design by prolific Denver architect Henry J. Manning, often referred to as Harry.  Manning was an Illinois native who moved to Denver in 1904.  He had an architectural studio with F.C. Wagner from 1904 until Wagner’s death in 1921, and was in private practice until his own death in 1933.  (Historic Denver and History Colorado [pdf] have great websites about this architect’s life and oeuvre.)

Thanks to the Denver Public Library, we know that the original Fairmont School was an imposing three-story brick and stone building with a standing-seam metal hipped roof, side dormers, and a central, rectangular-shaped cupola.  It is not clear why this building was replaced with the current school building, though the current building is much larger (and frankly less ominous) than the original building.  The Public Library also has numerous photos of the 1924 Fairmont School, including many of the interior, shortly after its construction.  It amazes me that these historic photographs look as though someone sepia-toned photographs from today – so little has changed.

Now let’s take a look at the masonry.

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The building has several entries, including this one facing West 3rd Avenue.  The entry has an elegant terra-cotta surround with an ornate projecting oriel window at the second floor.  The terra cotta is buff with a slightly darker mottled texture, which makes it resemble cut stone, as you can see in this bay window, below.

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