Orpheum Theater

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.


Old Chaffee County Court House

My husband and I spent a bit of time exploring Buena Vista, Colorado over the weekend.  In addition to having a lovely plant nursery and market, a good coffee shop, and a great paddling store, Buena Vista is also home to the beautiful Old Chaffee County Courthouse.


Constructed in 1882, it was the county court house for fifty years, until a new court house was constructed in 1932 in Salida.  The Old Chaffee County Court House later housed the local school from 1936 until 1972, and in 1974 became the Buena Vista Heritage Museum, which it remains today.  The website Courthouse History has several historic photos of the Old Chaffee County Court House, as well as the 1930s court house in Salida.

The Old Chaffee County Court House is a red brick building with a stone base and carved sandstone quoins and window lintels.  Its Italianate design is similar in style to the Court House in Fairplay, which I examined in a post on Monday, though it is a much larger building (and was built nearly ten years after the one in Fairplay).  According to the National Register nomination [pdf], the Old Chaffee County Court House was designed by E. Fisher, who also designed the former Fremont County Court House in Cañon City, though I could not confirm that.  Either way, the court house in Cañon City was quite lovely, as you can see in these historic photographs, but it was demolished in the 1960s.

The brick at the Old Chaffee County Court House is pretty basic, with a fairly uniform color and size.  It was probably an early manufactured brick rather than hand-pressed.  The sandstone carving, however, is really unique – the quoins, in particular.


Each quoin was hand-carved to create a beveled edge, known as a chamfer, and a tooled margin surrounding a carved, diamond-patterned center.  Both the chamfer and the margin have vertical and horizontal striped tooling marks.  The diamond pattern at the center of each stone has irregularly carved, intersecting diagonal lines.  You can see that the straightness and spacing of the diagonal lines varies on each stone in the photo below.  The sandstone itself is pretty unique, too.  It is a yellowish-brown colored stone that has a hint of green in it.  It is very similar to New Brunswick sandstone, which was used for the surrounding walls and decorative railings in New York’s Central Park.  I would guess the stone used on the Old Chaffee County Court House was a local stone, rather than an import from Canada.


The building’s base is supported by a rough-cut foundation that appears to be a stone made of compressed volcanic ash.  It is similar to Castle Rock rhyolite, but has more pores and is grayer and yellower in color.  You can see some of this unique stone in the bottom of the photo above.

If you walk around the southeast corner of the building, you will come across a clever addition hidden down a short driveway.  This small elevator tower was connected to the east side of the Old Chaffee County Court House with a wood-and-glass hyphen.


And if you look even more closely, you might notice that the brick masonry of the elevator tower is a modern interpretation of the brick and sandstone quoining at the original part of the court house.  The addition is respectful to the original building and echoes its design while using a contemporary materials.  That’s Preservation 101, for you!