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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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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Mullen Building at St. Joseph Hospital

Shortly after I decided to start this blog, a friend introduced me to the Mullen Building at St. Joseph Hospital.  Located on Franklin Street in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood, the Mullen Building is a masterpiece of Art Deco brick work, the likes of which I had never before seen.

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Designed by celebrated Denver architect Temple H. Buell, the Catherine Mullen Memorial Nurses Home was erected between 1932 and 1933.  Money for its construction was donated by Ella Mullen Weckbaugh in memory of her mother, Catherine Smith Mullen, though the source of the family’s wealth was Ella’s father and Catherine’s husband, John K. Mullen.

John Mullen had an interesting life.  According to Wikipedia, he was born in Ballinasloe, County Galway in the 1840s, moved to the United States when he was about 10 years old, and eventually settled with his family in Oriskany Falls, New York where he worked in a flour mill in his teenage years.  That may not sound remarkable to most people, but his family’s choice of Oriskany Falls surprised me.  Oriskany Falls is a tiny village in Central New York not too far from where I grew up.  It seems like a strange choice for Irish immigrants in the 1850s, as the town is land-locked in the center of New York State, it is several miles from the Erie Canal, and the area was still considered the frontier as late as the 1830s.  In the nineteenth century, the countryside around Oriskany Falls was (and still is) largely agricultural, though by the 1850s there must have been sufficient industry to attract the Mullen family.  However, John did not stay in Oriskany Falls for long.  By his late teens, John Mullen moved west to seek his fortune in Kansas and later in Denver.  He purchased his first flour mill in Denver in 1875 and by the 1880s owned several mills and consolidated the industry.  He eventually diversified his investments to land and cattle, and was known for his philanthropic work as he grew older.  But enough about Mullen.  The brick masonry of the Mullen Building is what fascinates me.

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Temple Buell’s design for the Mullen Building included the use of a contrasting buff-brick body and deep-red brick piers.  Each line of windows is connected from the ground to the parapet with these wonderful vertical piers of undulating brick.  When you first glance at the building, it appears as though the red-brick piers are rising up to meet the sky, but the downward angles of the decoration also appear as though the brick is melting down the façade.  Descriptions of the building often use both upward and downward vocabulary, with History Colorado calling the brick ornament “a rustic wheat tuft”, while another website calls it “waterfall” brickwork.  Either way, Buell’s remarkable, dynamic design is uniquely his own creation.  (Buell used similar geometric ornament at the Paramount Theater, built in 1930 using terra cotta, as well as the brick-clad Horace Mann Middle School, built in about 1939.)

The brick that Buell selected for the Mullen Building not only varied in color, but it varies in texture.  If you look closely in the photo below (click to enlarge), you will notice that the buff brick of the building’s body has an etched spiral design on its stretchers and on some of its headers, though other headers have simple linear striations created by the extruded brick’s die.  The red brick has similar spiral patterns intermixed with plain sides and striated headers.

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Buell’s method for installing the brick is also unique.  Typically brick is laid in stretchers or headers, perhaps with a few upended or diagonally laid bricks to create ornament.  At the Mullen Building, the red brick piers were created using alternating patterns of headers, stretchers, rowlocks (or headers oriented vertically), and soldiers (or stretchers oriented vertically).  The buff brick body has several courses made with a mixture of stretchers and headers, and are separated by a course of recessed rowlock bricks.  This irregular pattern of brick installation allows the outer wythe of brick to better bond with the inner back-up brick courses and creates a more stable wall system.

The Mullen Building’s street façades and side elevations are clad with the same unique masonry ornament, but the adjacent structure’s window piers also pay homage to the Art Deco masterpiece.  The adjacent structure, which is to the southwest of the Mullen Building, is partially visible in the photo below, just above the glass skywalk.

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The adjacent building, which appears to be a mechanical annex of the main St. Joseph’s Hospital structure, has a red-brick body with decorative spandrels, sills and parapets executed in rough textured, maroon brick.  Although it’s certainly not as interesting as the Mullen Building, it is nice to see that the architect of the addition paid homage to Buell’s masterpiece.

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