The Twelve Bricks of Christmas

The Masonry of Denver would like to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Holidays.  I would also like to thank you for reading my blog over the past six months.  It has been a wonderful gift to me that others find this stuff interesting, too.  (Or at least you’re good at humoring me, which I also appreciate.)  Thank you.


And now, introducing The Twelve Bricks of Christmas, Denver-style.  Sing along with me!

(Starting at twelve, to avoid alienating all of my readers.)


On the 12th Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Cool Iron-Spotting


Bricks with wire-cutting


Bricks so uneven


Bricks made by flashing


Bricks with wee dimples


Bricks so red it’s pleasing


Bricks with green glazing


Frogged Paving Bricks!!!


Bricks laid in thirds


Clinker brick


Bricks that I love


And a striped brick that’s spirally.


Fire Station No. 1

Fire Station No. 1, which is the home of the Denver Firefighters Museum, was designed by architect Glen W. Huntington [pdf] and constructed in 1909.  This handsome building on Tremont Place replaced the earlier Fire Station No. 1 located on 15th Street near Broadway, which was demolished to make way for the 1911 Pioneer Monument.


I was surprised to learn that although it was built in 1909, Fire Station No. 1 originally housed horses and horse-drawn fire wagons.  (According to the National Register nomination for Fire Station No. 1 [pdf], it was not until 1924 that all fire houses run by the Denver Fire Department used modern, motorized firefighting equipment.)  From 1909 until the mid-1920s, the first floor of Fire Station No. 1 contained horse stalls and fire wagons, while the second story held a large hay loft.  In 1932, the station house was remodeled: the wood floor was replaced with concrete, plumbing and electric equipment were updated, and the hayloft was replaced by a kitchen and dining area for the firefighters.  In addition, new garage doors were added at the ground floor to accommodate larger motorized firefighting equipment.

The building was an active fire house until 1974 when a new Fire Station No. 1 was erected on Colfax Avenue.  Rather than demolish the building, several citizens and prominent fire firefighters were able to save it by creating the Denver Firefighters Museum.  The museum, which opened in 1978, is a popular attraction for children and adults alike.  The building is both a Denver city landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The masonry of Fire Station No. 1 is a buff, iron-spotted brick with Indiana limestone trim.  Three courses of rowlock bricks – headers turned perpendicular to their normal orientation – frame a large arch at the second story, and a single course of rowlock bricks surrounds the round oculus windows flanking the arch in the photo below.

DFD No1detail2

If you look closely at the brick in the photo below, the iron spots give it a nice texture while the light-colored mortar makes the masonry read as a unified whole.  The entire building was restored in the 1970s and remains in excellent condition.

DFD No1detail1

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.