Besides the Old Chaffee County Court House, that we looked at on Wednesday, two more buildings struck my fancy when we were in Buena Vista over the weekend: the Orpheum Theater and the former Colorado Highway Department building.
The Colorado Highway Department Building is a one-story former garage building that until this spring housed a bar, roadhouse and event center. Based on its design, it was probably constructed in the 1930s or 40s, but I am not sure its exact construction date.
It’s a cute little brick building with the words “Colo. State Highway Department” painted in green and white on the brick fascia. Note the corbeled cornice made of brick above the sign band.
I did not find the building all that interesting until I turned the corner.
The side wall has this striking brick that I find to be much more interesting than the red brick used on the street façades. The side of the building was built using a mixture of buff, tan, peach, and light grayish brown brick, all with iron spots on their surface giving the brick a wonderful texture. In addition, it is a flashed brick with dark brown, light brown and peach-colored marks on some of the stretchers. It’s such a vibrant, warm brick that reminds me of sunshine on the dry, grassy foothills.
The other building that really struck my eye was the Orpheum Theater. This gambrel-roof building was constructed in 1910 by a gentleman known as ‘Skinny’ Pyle. Mr. Pyle, an auto dealer, occupied most of the ground floor using different portions of the floor for his home, an auto parts dealership, and his Model T showroom. The Orpheum Theater was located upstairs. It hosted plays, dances, silent movies, ‘talkies’, and community events from 1910 until about the 1960s. You can see the backstage fly loft, clad in metal, on the east end of the roof.
Eventually, the theater was sold to investors who just about gutted it to turn it into apartments before their development plans failed. In 1994, new owners bought the empty property and have been restoring it for two decades, reopening it as a theater and community event space in 2003.
The Orpheum Theater looks like a simple, rusticated stone building, perhaps made out of sandstone or rhyolite, right?
It’s not. It is made out of cast-concrete units, known as cast stone. These masonry units have a rough concrete surface, and if you look closely at the photo below, it is clear that the cast-stone units were all cast using the same mold. In addition, the units were put together using a gray mortar similar to the concrete in color, with a beaded-edge mortar joint.
The pier at the west end of the building has a hand-inscribed date ‘stone’ indicating the Orpheum Theater was built in 1910. It also says “B V F. C” or “B V E C” below. BV must be Buena Vista, but I’m not sure what EC or F.C refers to.
There is also a little glimpse of the past on the east side of the building. The east façade is stuccoed, but the stucco is failing at the center revealing an old hand-painted sign. I am so curious to know what it advertised.