The Granite Building

I fell in love with the Granite Building over the summer, but just now got around to looking into its history.  I’m so glad I did!  According to the Denver Landmarks designation for the Larimer Square Historic District [pdf], Denver began on the site of the Granite Building.  No, the Granite Building isn’t the first building built in Denver, but it sits on the land on which William H. Larimer, Jr. built his log cabin in 1858.  The site at the northeast corner of 15th and Larimer Street soon became the center of Denver City, and was therefore a lucrative development site.  By 1882, the site’s owners George W. and Willam N. Clayton, erected the four-story granite building that stands on the site now.


The Granite Building was originally constructed to house the M.J. McNamara Dry Goods Company, and was nicknamed the Granite Building fairly soon after it was erected.  It later housed a furniture business, architecture offices and building suppliers, and was supposedly the original office of the Denver Post.  By the 1910s, the Granite Building had become a boarding house and then a flophouse.  In 1965 it was purchased as part of Larimer Square and was fully restored by 1970.  It currently houses offices, restaurants on the ground floor, and a comedy club in the basement.  A great historic photo of the building can be found in the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library.


The Granite Building was built using all local masonry materials, as well as cast-iron columns on the interior made by the Colorado Iron Works.  Although there is no record of who supplied the granite, it is probably Pikes Peak Granite quarried in the South Platte Canyon near Buffalo Creek.  It has a pinkish gray color and was installed in rusticated blocks, with smooth-cut blocks at window spandrels.  However, the Granite Building isn’t entirely made of granite.  Two different colors of sandstone – red and beige – provide horizontal and vertical ornament on the building.  Both sandstones may have been quarried from the hogbacks along the Front Range, the location of many sandstone quarries between Manintou Springs and Fort Collins.  Below is a detail of the granite and sandstone used at the top of the building, plus the painted sheet-metal cornice.


We are lucky that development pressures in the first half of the twentieth century were low enough that the Granite Building was not demolished for a more modern structure.  And thanks to Dana Crawford and her associates, the building and its neighbors were brought back to life in the 1960s.  The Granite Building is part of a Denver landmark district and is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and should be around for generations to come.

Kenneth McDonald Building in Boulder

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a college friend who lives in Boulder with her husband and their adorable son.  Before I headed back to Denver, I had some time to wander around the city.  Much of the building stock in Boulder dates to the late twentieth century, but there are several interesting historic buildings downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

This small sandstone structure was one of the first that caught my eye.  The Kenneth McDonald Building, at 1039 Pearl Street, houses The Kitchen restaurant.


The base of the building is cast iron, but the second floor and cornice are a lovely red-orange sandstone that has delicately carved ornament.  The top of the building has the name Kenneth McDonald carved into a frieze flanked by two wreaths surrounding the numbers 18 and 99.


Although the façade suggests that the building was erected in 1899 by Kenneth McDonald, the Kenneth McDonald Building is actually an earlier structure.  According to the City Planning office, the building appears on the 1883 Sanborn map of Boulder – the city’s earliest detailed map of buildings – and was owned by Anthony Arnett.  It was probably erected in about 1880, or a few years earlier.  Arnett was an early settler of Boulder.  He came west during the California Gold Rush, but settled in Colorado in the late 1850s when he realized he could make money investing in mines and ranching.  Arnett later purchased and developed real estate in the Boulder area.  In the mid-1870s, he built the Arnett Block (which later became the Arnett Hotel) at 1025 Pearl Street just to the west of the Kenneth McDonald Building.  In 1899, the building at 1039 Pearl Street was purchased by Kenneth McDonald.  McDonald was a miner who opened a saloon on the ground floor, and had the existing building refaced with red sandstone.

Over the past 115 years, the sandstone has fallen into disrepair.  Dark carbon deposits have formed on the bottom of the cornice, and erosion is typical at the cornice and parapet levels.  Open joints also allow water to travel deeper into the masonry.


But much of the carving is still as crisp as it was the day it was erected.  The crisp details of the foliage on the impost block, below, looks as though the carver recently put down his tools.  The carved stone behind the foliage is also crisply textured, while the egg-and-dart moldings surrounding the arched windows have had almost no erosion.  The durability of the stone, combined with Boulder’s arid weather, have allowed this building to outlast many of its owners.  Hopefully with a little bit of repair work, the building will outlast the current owners, too.


Fairplay School

This weekend, my husband and I went up to the mountains to check out the autumn colors.  We headed over Kenosha Pass, which was clogged with leaf peepers, and briefly stopped to admire the golden aspen.  But we were hungry, so we continued on to Fairplay for lunch.  We took a post-meal stroll through town and quickly discovered the historic Fairplay School, a beautiful stone schoolhouse tucked behind several modern brick additions.


The main entrance to the school is around the corner facing the newest addition.


FairplaySchoolstoneThe Fairplay School was constructed between 1880 and 1881, and is one of the oldest remaining school buildings [pdf] in Colorado.  It is on the Colorado Register of Historic Places, and is made of an irregularly grained red and pinkish-buff colored sandstone.  A sandstone quarry around Red Hill Pass, near Route 285 just northeast of Fairplay, supplied much of the local stone for the town.

If you look closely at the photo at left (you can enlarge it by clicking the photo), the foundation stones and water table are large, rough-cut pieces of red sandstone.  Before steel construction was popular, builders used stronger, denser stones at the bottom of a building to support the weight of the masonry walls and to reduce water infiltration.  The red sandstone may have been stronger and less permeable than the pinkish-buff sandstone used to building the rest of the wall.

It was also common for masonry walls to get lighter as they got taller to reduce the amount of weight being supported by the foundation.  It is hard to tell from the small photo, but the stones used to build the wall get smaller in size as from water table to cornice.  Red sandstone was also used at the corners to create quoins, and at the window sills and lintels.

Naturally, the Fairplay School has a cupola with a bell, and swallow nests at the cornice.  No historic school would be complete without them!