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.
The Robert Browning, designed in 1937.
And the James Russell Lowell, designed in 1936.
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.
The Robert Browning has a mixture of buff and beige mottled ceramic veneer and terra cotta, plus some peach-colored accents.
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.
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.
Unfortunately, some of the terra cotta entrances at Poets Row have been painted over.
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.
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.