Brick at the Quaintance Block

Today we’re visiting Golden, where I came across this lovely little brick building near the corner of Washington Avenue and 13th Street.  Known as the Quaintance Block, after original owner Charles F. Quaintance, it is the first building in Golden to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


According to the National Register nomination [PDF], the Quaintance Block was originally built in 1911 at the corner of Washington Avenue and 13th Street across the street from the Denver and Northwestern train depot, which brought visitors from Denver to Golden.  Charles Quaintance was an entrepreneur and great promoter of tourism.  He offered burro rides up to the top of Castle Rock in Golden and owned a photography studio that commemorated the tourists’ trips up Castle Rock.  The Quaintance Block was designed with three storefronts: his photography studio occupied the southern storefront on 13th Street, his Quaintance Investment and Amusement Company (offering burro rides, amongst other things) was located at the corner entry, and his brother had a small law office facing Washington Avenue.  The building was moved in 1923 several feet west to its present location when Charles Quaintance sold the corner lot to a gas station.  The basement level and stoop were added to the Quaintance Block at that time.

The existing building is quite charming, but right away I noticed its exquisite brick masonry.  The original builder, James H. Gow, used three types of brick to create corner quoining pattern and window and door surrounds.  This detail shows the richness of the brick used on the building.


The National Register Nomination report indicates that the white brick is a glazed brick developed by the United States Glazed Brick and Pottery Company in Golden.  Not much is known about this company, but a Wikipedia page about the Quaintance Block states that the building “is one of only three known remaining buildings using these bricks (including the Maas Residence at 423 10th Street in Golden and Union Station in downtown Denver), which were renowned in their time for their beauty and would not crack or craze.”  (I always take Wikipedia entries with a grain of salt, but as the gentleman who wrote the National Register nomination is an historic preservationist and architectural historian with an office in the Quaintance Block, my guess is that he contributed his research to the Wikipedia page.)

There are also two types of iron-spot brick used to create the quoining details and to outline the windows and doors.  One is a medium orange-brown brick with a moderate amount of iron spotting.  The other is the dark brown, almost purplish brown, brick with numerous iron spots.  The NR nomination states that these bricks were manufactured by the Golden Fairview Brick Works, also located in Golden.  These two bricks give the quoining and window details great depth, and enliven the entire façade.

As an aside, iron spotting is a bit of a misnomer in the brick manufacturing process.  To create the iron-spot effect, brick manufacturers use various types of metals with low melting points.  Most used manganese because although it looks like iron, it has a lower melting point than iron (and therefore does not need to be as highly fired in the kiln) and is less corrosive than iron.  In fact, manganese phosphating is used as a corrosion inhibitor on iron and steel, and manganese is a key component of stainless steel, whereas iron continues to rust when exposed to moisture.  Any expansion caused by iron corrosion (often called rust jacking) would destroy bricks with a high iron content.  (All red bricks contain iron, which pigments the clay; however, the iron component in clay is stabilized upon firing in the kiln.)  And that, my friends, is what is known as too much information.


The Case of the Missing Cornice

While driving through the mountains this weekend, we got a bit hungry and stopped at Idaho Springs for lunch.  An old mining town turned tourist spot, Idaho Springs has a dozen or so charming historic masonry buildings in its downtown.  If you trust the dates found on the cornices, most of these masonry buildings were erected in the 1880s through about 1907.  I saw some nice examples of masonry, but one building really caught my eye.

IS cornice 1

It’s a nice enough building, but that’s not what I noticed.  (No, I wasn’t drawn to it by the burgers or pinball, much to my husband’s chagrin.)  Do you see the two different types of brick used to build the upper story?

IS cornice 2

The lower brick, which is smoother, is face brick.  It was always meant to be exposed to the elements and provided an attractive, uniform surface for the building’s façade.  The upper brick, however, is common brick, which is less durable than face brick.  It was meant to be hidden on the inside of the wall behind the face brick or covered with stucco.

IS cornice 3

Why would the original builder have used two different bricks at the top of the building?  Because the common brick was originally hidden behind a wood or sheet-metal cornice, which is now missing.  Common brick was significantly cheaper to buy than face brick, so the builder used the inferior type of brick at the parapet knowing it would be covered with a cornice.  Unfortunately by the mid- or late-twentieth century, the cornice was probably so deteriorated that the owner removed it rather than spend a small fortune to repair or replace it.  Nevertheless, it looks like the dry Colorado climate has been fairly kind to both types of brick on this building despite the missing cornice.  Perhaps one day the owner will find some extra cash and will fabricate a replica cornice to make the building whole again.