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.


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?


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.


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.

Art Deco Apartment Building

I happened upon this apartment building the other day while riding my bike around the Congress Park neighborhood.


I just love the Art Deco brickwork patterns created using different colors of brick.  There are also really cool Art Deco light fixtures flanking the entrance.


The main body of the building is mixture of tan, beige and light-brown colored bricks.  These were installed with stretchers (the long face of the brick) and headers (the short end of the brick) facing out.  The Art Deco herringbone pattern at the spandrels and cornice, however, was done using a medium-brown and orange-brown colored brick, which were all installed with headers facing out.  Some of the darker coping bricks found at the top of the parapet were installed as ‘soldier bricks’ with their long sides oriented perpendicular to the ground.


I guess the Art Deco brickwork wasn’t interesting enough on its own.  The architect accented the center of the building using polychrome terra cotta, though the colors are limited to buff and yellow.  Check out the floral detail of the terra-cotta frieze just above the entrance.