What’s going on at Van Briggle?
By George Eckhardt, Manager of Logistical Support
Is all the activity going on at Van Briggle over the past couple of weeks an extreme makeover, a building demolition project, an archeological dig, or a new construction project?
The correct answer is all of the above. Thanks to the generous support from the Schlessman family, longtime Colorado College benefactors, the Van Briggle building exterior and surrounding landscape is receiving an extreme makeover, to be concluded by mid-June.
Much like the nearly completed Cutler Hall and Cossitt Hall improvements, both part of the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), there is an improvement project at Van Briggle, 1125 Glen Ave., and the Transportation Shop across the street, 1144 Glen Ave. The project is intended to greatly improve the “gateway first impression” appearance for Colorado College and for the entry to historic Monument Valley Park for vehicle traffic traveling on Uintah Street.
The goal is to attractively screen the maintenance vehicle parking area on the north side of the Van Briggle building, and the fleet vehicle parking area across the street at the Transportation Shop. A Colorado College campus stone sign replica of the Cascade and Nevada parkway median signs will be installed at an angle along the Uintah Street east-bound traffic lanes, just before reaching the Uintah Bridge, to announce arrival at the college.
The Western Ridge residential buildings will be visible, directly over the top of the new sign. Also, the improvements will eliminate the street side parking on the west side of Van Briggle, and add attractive landscaping around the historic Van Briggle building and the Transportation Shop property to greatly improve aesthetics.
The local community and many other interested visitors to the historic building will have more access and interaction with the west side of the Van Briggle building to explore and photograph the unique architectural features. Hardly a day passes that curious and historically knowledgeable visitors do not stop to take photos and drop in through the front office for a look at the building interior to learn more about the Van Briggle pottery history. Many, too, are interested in the Historic Walking Tour Van Briggle National Register listing: http://www.coloradocollege.edu/welcome/walkingtour/vanbriggle.php )
Decorative brick screen walls, much like the existing brick screen wall on the west side of the Van Briggle building, will be constructed around the north side parking area, and at the north side of the Transportation Shop parking area. In both projects the brick screen walls will be set back significantly from the property line boundaries to allow for attractive landscaping, which will provide a softer park-like or garden-like appearance, and still provide an uninterrupted view toward the campus’ Western Ridge residences above Stewart Field as vehicular traffic approaches the college from I-25. The new landscaping will blend nicely with the attractive Horticultural Art Society garden on the south side of the Van Briggle building. The Van Briggle brick screen wall also will emphasize the northern view of the attractive upper Van Briggle building roof lines and showcase the building’s many unique architectural features, such as the decorative tiled dormers and chimney stacks. The utilitarian chain link fences and gates will be replaced with attractive traditional custom wrought iron fencing typical for the historic period, containing subtle architectural elements borrowed from the Van Briggle building and existing screen wall.
The archeological dig is a result of demolition of the old Monument (Storage) Shed on the north side of the Van Briggle building along the Monument Creek bank and the excavation for the new screen wall.
From 1908 through the 1950’s, Van Briggle Pottery used the backyard as a repository for kiln waste materials, used brick, and failed pottery and tile shards. Most of these bulky waste materials had to be removed and replaced with adequate soils for proper structural compaction for the new parking area surface and the new brick screen wall. The waste materials will be recycled as fill material in the deepest part of a large ditch on college- owned property located on West San Miguel Street just north of the Grounds Shop, which will provide a new storage lay-down yard replacing the lost Van Briggle storage yard. Many salvaged examples of 80 to 100 year-old glazed tile, terra cotta, and pottery shards will be useful for display and discussions for the annual Woman’s Educational Society historical scholarship fundraising tour of Van Briggle, held each September (and scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011).
Discarded monument markers with names and dates also were found under the Monument Shed floors. Much of the discarded materials were used to fill in the undermined shed on the creek bank where soils were eroded and washed away during the infamous 1935 flood. It is noted on Van Briggle Pottery financial statements from 1937 and 1938 that the Monument Department was a significant part of the business as Van Briggle was recovering from the flood and the depression.
Unknown to most people, the Van Briggle building’s three north side additions, done in years prior to college ownership, were constructed of exposed concrete block exterior walls. In 1968, after Colorado College purchased the Van Briggle Pottery, the building restoration and re-adaptation included removal of the two large brick kilns. The used kiln bricks were cleaned and installed on the exterior faces of the concrete block walls on the north side additions to improve the historic look of the building. The 1968 restoration did not address removal of the plywood faced flat roof overhangs on two of the three additions.
This project includes removal of the two remaining flat roof overhangs and construction of raised brick parapet walls to match the northeast addition, which was topped with a brick parapet wall capped with sandstone in 1968. Roger Renck, one of the retired owners of Renck & Roberts Masonry Company, which originally did the brick restoration work 42 years ago, is acting as the project masonry consultant. Renck was able to locate oversized recycled, historically accurate, matching bricks in a used brickyard in Denver for constructing the two parapet walls. The north side of the building roof line will have a uniform historic appearance as viewed over the top of the new brick screen walls.
The west side of the Van Briggle brick screen wall will feature a projected 30-foot-long wall section framed by two pilaster columns containing art work including limestone floral carvings, bas relief bronze plaques of Artus and Anne Van Briggle at work, and brightly colored glass tile mosaic artwork panels, all created by local artist and sculptor Larry Terrafranca. The artwork will depict and celebrate the Van Briggle Pottery story, adding another interesting feature for visitors to enjoy and to photograph. Terrafranca previously recreated the black ceramic cat, which was missing from the southeastern brick chimney for more than 30 years. He also helped recreate very significant architectural art features on the Cutler Hall, Palmer Hall, and Jackson House historic preservation projects.
The brick screen walls also will incorporate decorative Van Briggle art tiles arranged in six-tile panels on each of the 13 brick pilaster columns. These art tiles are being produced by the current Van Briggle Art Pottery Company at 1024 S. Tejon St. The art feature wall will be surrounded on the west side by the Schlessman Family Garden, which will be a landscaped paver patio area with two bench seating areas for relaxation and enjoyment of the art works and scenery.
Removal of two rental houses on two college-owned properties near Van Briggle made these improvements possible. The loss of parking area at the north side of the Transportation Shop was compensated by removal of the college-owned rental house immediately south of the shop, creating additional fleet vehicle parking area. Likewise, the loss of indoor and outdoor storage and parking areas on the north side of the Van Briggle building will be compensated by the combination of two college-owned rental properties and construction of a new storage building at 228/232 West San Miguel St., directly north of the Grounds Shop. One rental house will be removed and the Facilities Services Construction Shop will move into the other rental house, which will remain. The perimeter of the new storage yard will be visually attractive with new landscaping and screening treatments which will include raised earth berms, new wood fencing, and new tree plantings.