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.

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.

a tour of Boulder’s Historic Districts – Hillside

Perched on the steep slope between Boulder Creek and the university sits the tiny Hillside Historic District.  Comprised of only thirteen houses, this little street spans east-west across 17th Street and slopes down from the CU Behavioral Science building (under construction) to the creek.

The district on the east side of 17th is composed of a single, small gravel lane descending past a half dozen cottage-like houses.  The houses on both sides of this road are quite close and with the tree canopy, make a coherent, almost enclosed architectural space.  The district’s west portion, on the other side of 17th, has similarly cottage-like houses lining a small gravel road.  However, where east Hillside is sheltered, west Hillside rises up to a steep slope that overlooks Boulder High and has a panoramic view to the foothills (however marred by electrical service lines).  As you progress up west Hillside what detracts from this view is the looming presence of the steel frame of the new Behavioral Sciences building under construction to the immediate south.

The house styles vary from Tudor revival to Craftsman and were built between 1909 and 1938.  Many of the houses, and especially the necessary retaining walls, are made from large creek boulders, possibly pulled from the creek below.  What almost all of the houses have in common beside their proximity to the road, is the additive collection of gabled roofs that make up each individual building.  Though differing in materials and color, the houses all use these gabled forms, like theme-and-variation, to step down the sloping sites, allowing the additive nature of the volumes to negotiate the changing topography.

Designated a historic district in 2001, the  process for its selection and the controversy surrounding it makes for a thick historical file.  Hundreds of pages of the publicly-available file for this district’s creation are devoted to the rancor associated with including a then-undeveloped lot within the district.  The owners of the empty lot protested vigorously its inclusion and the file bears witness to the often painful conflicts that come with building on a lot long held empty.  The lot owners feared the increased scrutiny and prolonged process with getting new construction approved in a historic district and the neighbors, used to the space and wildlife allowed by the empty lot, feared both the loss of this habitat as well as the unknown prospects of a new house in the small neighborhood.

In the end, the lot was included in the new district as it was clearly part of the entire composition of the lane and aligned dwellings.  Years later, under different owners, the lot was transformed into a new house, largely respecting the scale, materials and proportions of the houses along the road.  The amount of time, effort, heartbreak and money expended during the process was considerable.  The result: the lot is no longer available for the use of the neighborhood, the new house is smaller and more compatible than originally designed.  Probably not terribly satisfying for everyone, but Hillside does feel like a coherent architectural whole.  Let’s hope the neighborhood does as well.

a tour of Boulder's Historic Districts – Hillside

Perched on the steep slope between Boulder Creek and the university sits the tiny Hillside Historic District.  Comprised of only thirteen houses, this little street spans east-west across 17th Street and slopes down from the CU Behavioral Science building (under construction) to the creek.

The district on the east side of 17th is composed of a single, small gravel lane descending past a half dozen cottage-like houses.  The houses on both sides of this road are quite close and with the tree canopy, make a coherent, almost enclosed architectural space.  The district’s west portion, on the other side of 17th, has similarly cottage-like houses lining a small gravel road.  However, where east Hillside is sheltered, west Hillside rises up to a steep slope that overlooks Boulder High and has a panoramic view to the foothills (however marred by electrical service lines).  As you progress up west Hillside what detracts from this view is the looming presence of the steel frame of the new Behavioral Sciences building under construction to the immediate south.

The house styles vary from Tudor revival to Craftsman and were built between 1909 and 1938.  Many of the houses, and especially the necessary retaining walls, are made from large creek boulders, possibly pulled from the creek below.  What almost all of the houses have in common beside their proximity to the road, is the additive collection of gabled roofs that make up each individual building.  Though differing in materials and color, the houses all use these gabled forms, like theme-and-variation, to step down the sloping sites, allowing the additive nature of the volumes to negotiate the changing topography.

Designated a historic district in 2001, the  process for its selection and the controversy surrounding it makes for a thick historical file.  Hundreds of pages of the publicly-available file for this district’s creation are devoted to the rancor associated with including a then-undeveloped lot within the district.  The owners of the empty lot protested vigorously its inclusion and the file bears witness to the often painful conflicts that come with building on a lot long held empty.  The lot owners feared the increased scrutiny and prolonged process with getting new construction approved in a historic district and the neighbors, used to the space and wildlife allowed by the empty lot, feared both the loss of this habitat as well as the unknown prospects of a new house in the small neighborhood.

In the end, the lot was included in the new district as it was clearly part of the entire composition of the lane and aligned dwellings.  Years later, under different owners, the lot was transformed into a new house, largely respecting the scale, materials and proportions of the houses along the road.  The amount of time, effort, heartbreak and money expended during the process was considerable.  The result: the lot is no longer available for the use of the neighborhood, the new house is smaller and more compatible than originally designed.  Probably not terribly satisfying for everyone, but Hillside does feel like a coherent architectural whole.  Let’s hope the neighborhood does as well.