Berthoud Hall

I have been doing a lot of research on architectural terra cotta this year, focusing on terra cotta manufactured in the Denver area.  Over the summer, I came across an article about Julius Peter ‘Pete’ Ambrusch, the lead sculptor at the Denver Terra Cotta Company from 1923 to about 1939.  The article referenced a project that he worked on at the Colorado School of Mines, so I thought I’d drive over to see if I could identify which building he worked on.  Sure enough, I spotted it right away: Berthoud Hall.


Berthoud Hall was designed by Temple Buell [pdf] in 1937 and was constructed between 1938 and 1940.  It was a WPA project, though it was constructed late in the Depression.  Named after a Mines founder and early trustee, the building houses the Geology Department and was home of the Geology Museum from 1940 until 2003, when it moved to a newer building on campus.

This was not Temple Buell’s first time working with Ambrusch and the Denver Terra Cotta Company.  The architect and sculptor had worked together on the Paramount Theater, the richly ornamented terra-cotta building constructed in 1930.  Berthoud Hall, however, has a classical Beaux-Arts design compared to the Art Deco-style Paramount Theater.  Berthoud Hall is a four-story rectangular building flanked by two lower wings to the east and west.  The wings were later additions constructed in about the 1950s, though they are of a similar style to the original building.  The Denver Public Library has several great photographs of Berthoud Hall both before and after the wings were added.

Terra cotta is one of my favorite building materials, and it is exemplified in all of its glory at Berthoud Hall.


The entrance is richly ornamented with cream-colored terra cotta, as are the window mullions, the spandrels, and the masonry cladding across the fourth floor.  There are even two terra-cotta benches built into the walls flanking the entrance, which you can see in the photo above.


Look closely at the rich ornament of the terra cotta above the entrance.  The panels include foliage, eagles clutching swirling ribbons in their talons, banded reeds (or perhaps dynamite sticks?) with hatchet blades sticking out of the cluster, and an elegant layered cartouche framing an oval window.  There is even a man’s face, complete with forlorn expression, watching everyone who enters and leaves the building.  Although you can see the mortar joints at the curved entrance panels and at the cartouche, the naked eye would be hard pressed to find joints in the panels to the left and right of the oval window.  This is terra-cotta sculpting at its finest.

Similar ornament appears at the fourth floor, especially at the corners.  The corner panels are even more opulently decorated than the entrance, with fountains, cornucopia, fruit, and swirling foliage surrounding a richly textured cartouche.  Note also the rich details of the window mullions to the left and right of the corner panels.


When you look at the terra cotta close up, it also has a wonderful texture.  The two – possibly three – glaze colors give the impression natural stone that has been hand-carved, rather than molded clay that has been glazed and fired.


When I visited the campus over Thanksgiving weekend to take photographs – I stupidly forgot my camera the first time I sought out the building, and an iPhone just doesn’t do it justice – I thought maybe those east and west wings were later additions.  The terra cotta was similar in nature, but didn’t have the same ornamental richness as the central portion of the building.  The glaze color is the same (though it appears a little lighter in my photograph below), and the sill course at the second floor has the same profile as the main portion of the building.  But the detailing of the window mullions suggests to me that these were not designed by Ambrusch.  While ornate, they have a simplicity that you would not see in Ambrusch’s work.  Also, the mullions project outward at the window head, as though they were meant to support a projecting bracket.  It is an odd detail, and I would not doubt if the east and west wings have moisture problems around the second-floor windows when rainwater or snow pools on those ledges.


The Armory in Golden

The Armory Building in Golden is one of those amazing Colorado structures that you happen upon every now and then.


It was designed by local architect James H. Gow and was built in 1913 [pdf] for use by the Company A of the Engineer Corps of the Colorado National Guard.  Although it was originally designed to be built using brick, budgetary concerns caused the builder to look for alternative materials.  As a result, the Armory was built almost entirely of cobblestones gathered from the nearby Clear Creek.  It is supposedly the largest cobblestone building in the United States.  (The other materials are concrete, and cut stone used around the entrance.)


The photo below shows the range of colors and sizes of the cobblestones.  The corner stone indicates the building was dedicated by the Masons, or more specifically the Most Worshipful (M.W.) Grand Lodge of Ancient Free (A.F.) and Accepted Masons (A.M.) of Colorado.


Because it is a load-bearing structure, the Armory has incredibly thick walls at the base that get thinner as the building gets taller.  In general, the base of the building was built using larger cobblestones than those used on the upper floors, though large stones can be found throughout the building’s façades.  Large cut stones were used at the window lintels, while the sills appear to be cast concrete.  It’s interesting to see that the builders used two stones at the upper lintel in the photo below.  A joint in the middle of a lintel usually reduces the structural integrity of the lintel as the lintel no longer evenly supports the load of the masonry above it.  However, in this case, there may be an internal steel beam supporting this lintel, or the angles of the two stones may be enough of an arch to carry the load above.  I am not a structural engineer, so I defer to others on this one.  I just found it a curious detail.


The stones at the arch around the building entrance are a mix of cobblestones and rough cut stones, with what looks like a cast stone keystone at the center.  Note the small cobblestones at the intrados of the arch, just above the doorway.  They are laid with a darker gray mortar than the mortar used on the rest of the building, which may indicate they were a later addition or simply that they were repointed at a different time.  The small stones are much rougher than the other cobblestones, which also makes me think they may have been installed during a different building campaign.


The Armory originally housed the barracks, mess hall, drill hall, auditorium and weapons storage rooms for the Colorado National Guard, but it also included Golden’s post office at the northeast corner of the first level.  In 1940, the post office moved out of the Armory, though its walk-in safe is reportedly still located inside the building.  During the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1918, the Armory’s drill hall was used as a Red Cross hospital, and in 1933 it was occupied by the Civil Works Administration.  Since World War II, the Armory has housed offices, stores, and even students from the Colorado School of Mines.  The exterior of the Armory was restored in 1974, and it was added to the National Register in 1978 [pdf].  It was recently purchased by Calvary Church, though plans for the building have not yet been announced.  Hopefully the church recognizes the incredible architectural heritage they now own, in addition to their wonderful 1867 church building.

Calvary Church in Golden

We are wrapping up this week’s examination of religious architecture with Calvary Church in Golden.  Built on a rise at the corner of 13th Street and Arapahoe Street, Calvary Church is one of the oldest buildings in Golden and is supposedly the oldest continuously used Episcopal church in Colorado.  Construction began in late 1867 and was completed the following year.


Calvary Church was largely a product of its community.  The land upon which it was constructed was donated by Golden resident and entrepreneur William A.H. Loveland, and money for its construction was donated by local citizens.


It was built using a soft, pressed brick that varies between deep orangish-red and a light brown color.  Note the irregularity of the brick sizes and the ripples in the brick’s texture where the clay was hand pressed into each mold.  The brick may have been locally made, as the interior floor tiles were supplied by a local pottery.  However, early issues of the Rocky Mountain News lament the fact that there were few brick manufacturers in the area.


The main entrance to the church, located up a rise of stairs, has a wood door and a transom framed by a pointed Gothic arch.  The arch is accented by cream-colored sandstone units with a simple projecting keystone and carved impost blocks at the base of the arch.  Similar details frame the top of each window opening.


The foundation was built using a buff-colored sandstone that contained iron.  Over time, several foundation stones have turned an orange or brown color from corrosion of the natural iron inclusions in the stone.


This simple building is architecturally significant when you think about the history of Golden.  The area was settled in 1859, and Golden was incorporated in 1870 two years after the completion of Calvary Church.  In the early 1860s, few permanent structures existed in Golden, yet by 1867 the community came together to sponsor and build this stunning little church.  We are fortunate that the church is still standing to be used and admired by generations to come.