Terrace Housing

I am posting this as a side bar since affordable house is an issue in Denver.  I have had a few inquires about Terrace House recently and thought I’d post my research.  This is from a 2010 paper and a 2011 presentation at Colorado Preservation Inc.  Enjoy.

Hidden in plain sight, Denver supports a beautiful style of dwellings called terraces. This urban, multi-unit, linear type of housing adds another dimension to Denver’s architecturally diverse neighborhoods.  Strung together, sharing common walls and façades, terraces are gems of architecture that go unnoticed in the older neighborhoods of Denver.  Sometimes called row houses, town houses, or apartments they are a style in themselves.  They were built as one, two or three story multi-unit dwellings.  Many that are two and three stories were built for higher income residences as an alternative to single family housing.  The single story terrace was built as an investment property.  Perhaps, in some cases, an owner lived in one unit of a multi-unit dwelling and rented the remainder units.  Terraces have been put to numerous commercial duties, changing their original intention as single family housing.  Some terrace houses were designed by famous Denver architects, which made them ideal projects for historical restoration.  Because of their pedigree or location many terraces have been part of the gentrification of their neighborhoods.  This paper will define the terrace and its place in Denver’s architecture.

Defining the term terrace was not simple.  There are many definitions of this term and many buildings to which refers.  The Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture defines terrace as: A flat roof or raised space or platform adjoining a building, paved, or planted, especially one uses for leisure enjoyment.”[i]  Although this definition was off the mark as a housing unit it does refer to “flat roofs’, a feature of many one and some two story terraces.  The second explanation is from A Dictionary of Architecture, definition 5: a series of houses joined together in one row, as in Georgian Terraces of the British Isles.”[ii]  This definition fits better in test, but the terraces that are referred to in this definition would be seen in London, not Denver.  The third classic, English description, from The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture is: “A row of attached houses designed as a unit, flat-faced and flush with those on either side, a feature of Victorian England, though their kinship with Georgian Bath and London is apparent.”[iii]  Again the terraces referred to in this definition are barely dwarfed by the likes of Saint Mark’s Cathedral in London.

A definition is needed that fits the one-story, multiple unit dwellings in Denver proper.  The closest definition of a Denver style terrace is from Andrea Wiegelmann in her article in Semi-Detached and Terraced Houses.  She writes: “As opposed to detached single-family houses built in a row, which are distinguished by the varied design of their individual facades, each house in terraced and semidetached housing is integrated into a single ensemble through a uniform structuring of the facades.”[iv]  The important phrase of this definition is the term “uniform structuring of the facades.”  Given, many buildings are called terraces in Denver, even by the architect that executed the designed, but by this definition they are actually town or row houses.  The word “terrace” was adapted to elevate the row houses built in Denver to a more lofty position on the architectural scale.

In the Western Architect and Building News dated June 1890 the editor questions the name “terrace” when referring to houses that are “adjoined.”  The commentary reads:

Why should several houses simply because they adjoin each other be called

a terrace?  There are already enough phrases in architecture that are senseless

and misleading without adding further to the list.  The evil started in Denver

when a row of brick houses of something more than the usual pretension was

dubbed a terrace.  Since that time terraces have multiplied at an alarming rate.

The blocks and terraces are also very apt to confuse a stranger.  Number 3,

London Terrace, Mountain View Place, between Thirty-second and Thirty-

Third avenues, off Lafayette street, is not the simplest address in the world,

but then it has a foreign air, which pleases some people.”[v]

Naming a building with an exotic address to increase its status was not just a twentieth century idea.  It was done the previous century, and was even criticized then by those in the profession.  The term terrace was used to add to a building’s appeal.

Combining these definitions, a description of a Denver terrace can be extracted and put to good practice.  The term “terrace” is short for a “terraced house.”  A clarification of the term “terrace”, combining those definitions already mentioned, would be: A terrace is an adjoined residential unit, made of brick, with a uniform façade, and in most cases a flat roof and of one story.  Since there are many terraces found in Denver, named by their architect, which do not fall into this definition, it is not the intent of this article to rename those structures.  This article wishes to clarify the term “terrace”, meaning the multi-unit structures found in Denver of one or two stories and a unified façade.  It is these buildings on which this article will focus.

The towns of Auraria and Highland were Denver’s neighbors.  Their architecture was similar, including terraces.  Nice examples can be found in all three towns incorporated as Denver.  Terraces were built in Denver as a result of zoning advantages.  A 1925 Denver zoning map shows that R-3 and R-0 zoning, designated as multi-family use, were located on the end of residential blocks.[vi]  Multi-unit residences “may be built up to the lot line towards street or avenue on long side of lot…”[vii]  This means there were two advantages to terraces, they were multi-family units, meaning rental income, and they could take up more of the foot print of the property, meaning more building per square foot of land.  Small, unused corner lots were used to maximize the advantage of available land for rental units.  The advantage of the corner lot was emphasized by Mr.W.A. Marean of Marean & Norton Architects in a February, 1902 article in the Denver Times.  He writes: “Not long ago riding on a Colfax car from the City park to the statehouse I counted thirty-two vacant corners.  A tenement of some sort, a terrace, flat, or apartment house would pay on each and every one of these corners.”[viii]  The concept of corner terraces was not new in 1902, a dozen years earlier in 1890 the Rocky Mountain News, (RMN) ran a classified that read: “TERRACE SITE, $6000 CASH…4 lot corner on Glenarm & 13th.”[ix]  And 9 years before, in 1881 The Rocky Mountain News ran an ad for “FOUR LOTS, CORNER, On Holladay; desirable for business block or tenement row. Price $2000.”[x]  Situated on main streets, built to the sidewalk, and on corner lots, terraces became a way of filling in empty lots in Denver’s neighborhoods for investment and profit.

However, there was division between those who needed housing and those that were able to provide the housing.  Larger terraces of 2 or 3 stories attracted the “right type” of tenant.  In the same article, the architect W.A. Marean, referred again to corner property owners when he said; “It has been suggested that they will sell to terrace builders and erect their [own] homes farther south on the hill.”[xi]  Meaning investors built, but did not live in areas where they built multiple dwellings.  He then continues: “The Colfax corners will no doubt be built up with elegant apartment houses that will command high rentals and be occupied by the very best people…”[xii]  Able to tolerate apartments of the best quality he still worried about other multi-unit dwellings and writes: “Therefore Denver must have a fine residence quarter practically free from tenements.”[xiii]  Terraces were put in the same category as tenements and apartment buildings. They were acceptable as long as they were located on main streets, away from ‘better” neighborhoods.  This sentiment was expressed in the late 20th century by the expression NIMB, (not in my backyard).

For a period in 1902 the Denver Times continued to pursue the exclusion of terraces from certain Denver neighborhoods.  On February 18th of that year there is an article titled: Only Way to Fight Tenements.”  The article calls terraces, flats, and apartment buildings “tenements” and are distinguished from separate single family homes.  The article said that building codes were enacted to protect the city from fire and it should be possible to enact laws to protect the city from multi-unit dwellings.  A distance of 4 feet should be law between residences, insuring that this requirement would eliminate tenements houses from being erected.[xiv]  This would apply to units built next to each other or on top of each other.  The writer of another article used an example of “cheap terraces” which were attempted to be erected at 11th and Downing.  The Times article told of how nine neighbors organized an investment company to buy out the planned development for $4250.  The writer points out that even though it was legal, “nobody should be allowed to build as to injure his neighbor.”[xv]  This was the view of some neighbors toward terraces.

A building craze was credited for the increase in terrace construction in 1902.[xvi]  But this was not the first time terraces were built as part of an upswing in new construction.  Ten years earlier, in 1891 an article in The Western Architect and Building News claimed terraces were in demand.  It states that 5 or 6 terraces were sold within the span of a few weeks, and brought good prices.[xvii]  Just six months earlier, the RMN had two notices a couple days apart celebrating one building planned as “another fine ten-house terrace”[xviii] and yet another described as “a magnificent terrace”.[xix]  Denver’s boom and bust cycles were responsible for the build up of multi-family housing.

Single family homes were looked upon as more favorable than other forms of housing.  An 1890 RMN’s article espoused the benefits of single family homes and the new suburbs by claiming: “…there is combined with the pleasures of a suburban home all the conveniences of downtown residence, yet without the skeleton of disease and death that haunts every compactly-built city…”[xx]  Twenty years later, in 1910 the RMN wrote: “Denver has always claimed a better right to be called ‘the city of homes’ than any other city of its size.”  It continued: “The claim is based upon the number of its residences, as compared with the number of buildings devoted to business interests, and upon the general superiority of these residences in architecture and construction.”[xxi]  The years in between saw terraces as a bonus for the short term investor, attracting renters from older tenements to newer terraces.  But those in favor of the single family home claimed single family homes would be a better investment for the builder, renter, and city, establishing a better future.  The article continues with the prediction: “Every real estate man of extended experience knows that in dull times there is no white elephant like a terrace-tenement.”[xxii]  Terraces were getting a bad reputation.  They attracted the undesirable clientele, they were not liked in some neighborhoods, and in ‘dull economic’ times they were vacant.

Zoning laws helped the popularity of terraces as an investment property.  It used building sites that were not attractive for single family homes.  Building codes were also favorable to terraces.  Thin separation walls only needed to be a minimum of 4 ½ inches.  This decreased construction costs.  Foundations need to be “not less than 18”, once again saving building costs.[xxiii]  Lower building costs however did not necessary mean poor construction.  In other ways building codes also worked in favor of building a solid, long lasting terrace.  Denver fire proof building codes meant terraces were constructed of brick.[xxiv]  Brick has weathered better over time than wood exteriors and have left better looking buildings.  Also flat roofs, common on most terraces, had separation walls “carried at least 18 inches above the roof and coped with stone, iron, or terra cotta.”[xxv]  This gave a reason to finish off the façade with decorative brick, as it had to hide the 18 inch walls between units for a finished look to the building.  Many of the parapet fronts seen on terraces are the result of architectural techniques used to hide functional building elements.  In addition, if the parapet wall were too tall, as defined by the codes, they had to be secured with iron brace, thus giving another architectural detail.

Terraces may have had only 500 square feet of finished living area.[xxvi]  A second story was needed to increase interior space.  Those multi-unit buildings with two stories confuse the distinction between terrace and row house.  Remembering the rule of the façade helps clarify this distinction.  Another house that has similar traits to the terrace is the duplex.  There were many multi-unit dwellings that have building styles similar to terraces but at closer inspection are actually duplexes.  Zoning in many parts of the city was R-2, meaning a two family house could be erected.  There may be four or six identical units in a row but each double unit was built as a separate building.  Examine the extra finished exterior walls of these multiple duplexes and it is easy to see what a cost savings it was to build multiple connected units.  Zoning laws and building codes provided elements that were designed into the initial planning of terraces and gave them their unique characteristics.

The basic style of a terrace is a single building, with multiple entry doors, all looking the same or perhaps as a mirrored image of its neighbor.  Most are built at a level that requires a few steps up to the main floor level, giving an opportunity in many examples, for a small porch.  This also gives the architect an opportunity to set back the entry a few feet from a busy street, if possible.  Two or three story examples may have a small yard in front.  Kinneavy Terrace, 2700-2714 Stout Street, by architect John J. Huddart is an example with a set back, allowing a yard.  Another example is the building at 1030 East 17th.  Both of these larger units are referred to as terraces but are closer to row houses, especially when noting the architecturally interesting façades that were not flat as in single story terraces.  Terraces, like any type of building, were built in many architectural styles.  Kinneavy Terrace, already mentioned, was built in the Queen Anne style.  Spanish Colonial, Greek revival, and Mission style were the most popular styles.  Mission style, with its parapets, typifies the Denver type terrace.  One example with parapets was located at 32nd and Williams. Another is found in drawings by Gove and Walsh Architects of the terrace on 13th and Acoma.[xxvii]  Brick detail, in many cases was the distinguishing characteristic of terrace architecture.  The brick work was unique to a particular building, highlighting windows, horizontal lines (belt course), cornices, quoins, porches, or door ways.  When building in brick it was important that the edges of the brick are laid with respect to water drainage.  If not constructed properly water runs down the building’s outer wall, leaving dirt stains.  Staining was an important concern because of cinders that rested on the exterior brick as a result of coal heated buildings.[xxviii] The mixing of building material was also limited by function.  Wood shrinks at a different rate than brick and if used as window ledges could cause cracks in the mortar.[xxix]  Hence, wood framed windows are used, but wood is not used as support material around doors or windows.  Most windows and doors openings are framed in similar exterior brick material.  Terra cotta is used for decorative material because it has the properties of brick, being made from a better quality of clay.[xxx]  Therefore many details found in terraces are the result of an economical, maintenance free way of decorating the building with minimal future care, yet simple lasting beauty.

Two factors insured the life of terraces, its income producing potential, and its low maintenance, sturdy building style.  Want ads through out the 1800s and 1900s list terraces in both the investment sections and the rental sections.  As an indication of boom times, the newspapers would announce the building of terraces.  In 1881 the RMN lists a “block of eight city houses…for R. Harry Worthington; Nichols & Canman, architects, $12,500.[xxxi]  Ten years later, in 1891 a brick terrace of eight units costing $16,000 was built between Arlington and Witter.[xxxii]  Another example at the same time is a six unit terrace house on 13th between High and Williams that was selling for $12,000.[xxxiii]  There was money to be made from terraces.

In 1890 an ad the RMN offered a 7-house terrace, “close in, well rented and well built, paying 10-percent; a bargain at $60,000.”[xxxiv]  A year later, at South 10th and West 14th a seven-room house at Senior Terrace rented for $35.00 per month.[xxxv]  Senior Terrace, according to their want ad in 1890, had eight 7-room and two 8-room houses to rent.  The rents varied from $45.00 to $55.00 per month.[xxxvi]  This would produce an income of approximately $450.00 per month for the owner.  In 1910, $15 per month would get a 3-room terrace at 3052 Stout.[xxxvii] While other speculators were taunting investors to the new subdivisions on street car lines, downtown investors would feature “close-in” as a desirable feature to their classified ads.

The history of terraces as income producing properties insured their existence in neighborhoods as changes occurred.  Curtis Park is an excellent example as a neighborhood that has experienced boom, then bust, then boom again.  There are many terraces located there.  There is a term for this boom and bust cycle. Gentrification is defined as a more affluent population moving into a blighted area.  In the past decade, another area, the Highlands, has experienced this transition.  Part of gentrification is the risk that a neighborhood will change.  Some speculators are anticipating Five-Points and North Denver as targets for re-gentrification.  All these areas are rich in terraces.  As a neighborhood changes, an owner is more likely to sell units individually, maximizing his profit potential.  Two examples found south of downtown were recently listed individual units in the $185,000 to $200,000 price range.[xxxviii]  This could make a 4-unit or 6-unit terrace worth more than a million dollars to an owner.  High individual prices and pride of ownership would theoretically establish the terrace as anchor in a neighborhood since there is little likelihood of numerous units would go on sale at the same time.  A characteristic of gentrification would therefore be that terraces change from a single owner of the complete building to separate ownership of each unit.  The owner sees maximum potential as the parts are worth more than the whole.  In Baker neighborhood, rich in terraces, investment companies hold title of some terraces, indicating there is profit in this area.  Once again this is an indication of gentrification.

One stunning example of the individual sale of units is the terrace located at 2300-2320 East

3rd Avenue. On the fringe of the Country Club Neighborhood, this maybe the most desirable terrace in the city.  Very near Cherry Creek North one unit of this 6-unit terrace has been owned by the Bebout family since 1948.  The eastern most unit was purchased for $5000, and estimated to be worth $113,000 in 1999, it would be hard to guess its value today, even in a bust economy.  Clara Bebout and her husband raised three children in the 5 room house.  On the west end unit in the same building, the Hilderbrand-McCleery family has owned the unit since 1920.  They have used it as overflow housing for their family.  Three of the middle units have been owned by the same family for four generations.[xxxix]  These attached houses, because of their location in Country Club, has made advertising for tenants un-necessary, and the owners realize steadily rented properties.  These units reinforce the number one rule in real estate, location, location, location.

Location, in reference to terraces, has been their draw for more than a century in Denver.  Taking the “left over” slices of real estate, terraces added to neighborhoods.  Terraces were a dwelling that, at the time it was build, were perhaps questioned by the surrounding neighbors. But, as time passed and neighborhoods filled in, terraces added a positive dimension to their surroundings.  Compact, small, in great locations, and less expensive when compared to neighboring housing, they offer alternative to home ownership.  In some cases they offered rental units to the neighborhood, to others they were a source of income.  In an era of McMansions they offer small housing to those of either limited means or the common sense that a small house offers.  Terraces make a good choice for singles, either the young who need little to subsist, or elders who do not wish or cannot care for much.  Terraces were transitional housing.  They are a tradition of Denver, and the west.  Western cities were built on codes and zoning.  Officials saw what happened in towns like Central City, Cripple Creek, and Victor where there were few building codes: fire and prospector camps.  Building codes and zoning provided solid housing for both the individual starting off economically and the city trying to get a foothold in the wild West.  Eventually the inhabitants, like the terraces, were hopefully included into a more affluent situation.  Maybe some, like the terrace on 3rd avenue, made it to County Club status.  The humble terrace described in newspapers of the time was part of the rising Western city.  The building codes and zoning shaped and nurtured its future.  Its economic promise of rent kept it around until it was included into the surrounding neighborhood, finally being accepted as a viable part of single family housing.  Terraces diversify their neighborhood with viable housing options for those looking for something different yet practicable.

[i] Burden, Ernest. 1998. Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 216.

[ii] Curl, James Stevens. 1999. A Dictionary of Architecture. Oxford: University Press. p. 663, col. 2.

[iii] Muthesius, S. 1998. The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, 5th ed.Ed. John Fleming

Hugh Honour, Nikolas Peusner. New York: Penguin Putnam.  terrace definition 2.

[iv] Wiegelman, Andrea. 2006. Semi-Detached & Terraced Houses. Ed. Walter Stamm-Teske, Lars-Christian

Uhlig, and Patrick Jung. Basel-Boston-Berlin: Birkhause Publishers of Architecture. p. 9.

[v] Editorial. 1890. Western Architect and Building News. Vol II, June, No.4.

[vi] Building Zone Map. 1929. City and County of Denver. Denver Public Library no. CG4314.D4.G44

[vii] Denver Building Codes. 1905. p. 14.

[viii] Choice Residence Section of Denver. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 19. p. 12. col. 1.

[ix] Classified ad. 1890. Rocky Mountain News. Dec. 24. p. 10. col. 2.

[x] Classified ad. 1881. Rocky Mountain News. Jan 1. p. 5. col. 4.

[xi] Choice Residence Section of Denver. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 19. p. 12. col. 1.

[xii] Choice Residence Section of Denver. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 19. p. 12. col. 1.

[xiii] Choice Residence Section of Denver. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 19. p. 12. col. 1.

[xiv] Only Way to Fight Tenements. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 18. p. 3. col. 1.

[xv] Cheap Terraces in Fine Quarters. 1902. The Denver Times. Mar. 2. p.2. col.1, 4.

[xvi] Hayden & Dickenson Building to be Remodeled for Offices. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 21. p.5. col. 4, 5.

[xvii] Demand for Terraces. 1891. The Western Architect and Building News. Aug. vol. III. No. 6. p.82.

[xviii] Another Terrace. 1890. The Rocky Mountain News. p.6. col. 1.

[xix] Another Fine Terrace. 1890. The Rocky Mountain News. p.5. col.1.

[xx] Building News. 1890. The Rocky Mountain News. p.36.col.6

[xxi] New Theater Is Projected for Downtown Site. 1910. The Rocky Mountain News. p.18.col.1.

[xxii] Hayden & Dickenson Building to be Remodeled for Offices. 1902. The Denver Times. Feb. 21. p.5. col. 4, 5.

[xxiii] Denver Building Codes. 1905. pgs.33, 37.

[xxiv] Denver Building Codes. 1905. pgs.18-19.

[xxv] Denver Building Codes. 1905. p.39.

[xxvi] Sunny Wash Park Townhome. 2010. Sales Brochure, Denver Home Experts.

[xxvii] Twelve apartment terraces for Dr. M.J.Dunleavey, Denver, Colo. Main floor plan / Gove and Walsh Architects.

  1. Western History and Genealogy. Denver Public Library. Call Z-13304

[xxviii]Kidder, F.E. 1906. Building Construction Superintendence. Pub. William T. Comstock. Ch. VII. Sect. 189.

(assessed 11-28-2010)

[xxix] Kidder, F.E. 1906. Building Construction Superintendence. Pub. William T. Comstock. Ch. VII. Sect. 191.

(assessed 11-28-2010)

[xxx] Kidder, F.E. 1906. Building Construction Superintendence. Pub. William T. Comstock. Ch. VIII. Sect. 276.

(assessed 11-28-2010)

[xxxi] Building News. 1881. The Rocky Mountain News. Jan.1. p.12. col. 6.

[xxxii] Building News. 1891. The Rocky Mountain News. Jan. 1. p.10. col. 4.

[xxxiii] Building News. 1891. The Rocky Mountain News. Jan. 1. p.10. col. 5.

[xxxiv] Classified ad. 1890. The Rocky Mountain News. Oct. 22. p.10. col. 4.

[xxxv] Classified ad. 1891. The Rocky Mountain News. Jan. 1. p.15. col.2.

[xxxvi] Classified ad. 1890. The Rocky Mountain News. Oct. 24. p.10. col. 2.

[xxxvii] Classified ad. 1890. The Rocky Mountain News. Jan. 1. p.14. col. 6.

[xxxviii] Sunny Wash Park Townhome. 2010. Sales Brochure, Denver Home Experts.

[xxxix] Bakemeier, Alice Millett. 2000. County Club Heritage. Okla.:Heritage Press. p. 167-168.



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This entry was posted on May 26, 2018 by in Larimer Street.
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