Boulder’s Historic Districts – 16th Street

Tucked against the north side of Baseline along 16th Street is a tiny historic district often overlooked.  Comprised of only 5 properties, it consists of a group of small masonry cottages surrounded by dense trees.

For the most part the houses are made of fairly traditional red brick masonry.  A few also have rustic, red clay tile roofs which, along with the brick, lend an overall dense and solid expression, strongly rooting the houses to their sites.   Like all the north-south streets in this area, the predominant slope makes the houses on the west side of the street sit up from the street.  As in the University Place district (to be profiled in a future post), a variety of terraced gardens and retaining walls resolve this grade difference between the sidewalk and house.  This slope also means that the small profile of the houses on the east side of the street contrast with the 2- or 1 1/2 story exposed at the eastern alley side.

As a whole, the little  district is a great laboratory of masonry techniques from the 1920’s.  Although in general most of the masonry is typical stretcher bond, there are some smaller examples of Flemish and English bonds.  And, in one house, a brickwork combined with stone that defies any category or style that I know of:

This is not some mason gone mad, but rather part of that strange, Romantic neo-medieval aesthetic movement of the 19th century championed by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.  (Morris is credited with founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, later to become the UK’s National Trust, an early forerunner of all historic preservation societies and efforts.)

I am not sure if these are actual clinker bricks, kiln rejects because of odd shapes or twists, but the coursing, or lack of, is certainly part of that tradition of using clinker bricks in often strange and fanciful patterns.  This randomness takes a lot of skill and time of a mason, increasingly rare around Colorado where laying brick is priced on a bricks/hour basis.

The 16th Street district is maybe a bit small to be rightly called a “district”, but as a collection of well-made, strongly interior and distinct houses, it is a great example of houses whose interior-exterior interface is clearly defined.  Only a few decades later, the continuity of interior and exterior spaces exercised in Usonian houses and all their ranch bastardizations made these small masonry houses seem more akin to their medieval ancestors.  These are like little castles, staunchly defended, with even that occasional turret thrown in for good measure.

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