Saturday, July 09, 2011

Molded Concrete Block Construction In Delmar

Delmar has been destroyed by two catastrophic fires that destroyed the commercial district. The first was in 1892 and the second was in 1901. After the fire of 1901 the town tried to go to a code requiring new building to be made of masonry construction. One of the building materials that was becoming popular at that time was molded concrete blocks. It was considered ‘modern,” it was fire resistant, it eliminated the danger of termite & rodent infestation, it needed no paint, and it was quick, cheap, and easy to make.

Delmar has a number of examples of molded concrete block construction. What is today the barber Shop but what started out as First National Bank of Delmar is constructed of molded concrete block, also the building next to it. Of interest the Barber Shop still has the original Bank vault in the back wall of the shop.

This is a nice example of a home built of molded concrete block

The Frank Brown Garage on first street is built of molded concrete block.

Some buildings used brick on the front and molded concrete block on the other three sides.

It was also very popular for foundations, porches, columns, and porch pillars

The prime time for molded concrete block construction was between 1900 to 1930 after 1930 it’s popularity faded.

The buildings constructed of concrete blocks showed a creative use of common inexpensive materials made to look like the more expensive and traditional wood-framed stone masonry building. The Face designs of the block seen most often were rock face, cobblestone, panel face and ashlar, plus it had ornamental potential as any number of wreaths, scrolls could be reproduced. If you look at the front of the barber shop you will see scroll designs faced blocked, in addition to the rock face design.

Helping to create the popularity of these molded blocks was Sears roebuck and Company. In this time period their house kits from a mailorder catalog was popular and although they did not sell the blocks they did sell house designs for molded blocks and machines to make your own block.

To cover all the bases Sears Roebuck offered its version of the block machine in 1905, asserting that ease of production was such that anyone could start their own cottage industry or make blocks for their personal use. The ideal being a farmer, in the winter and on rainy days could manufactured block for their own use or to sell. Due to the weight of the machine and the raw material; molded block were mostly made near towns on a railroad line or waterway.

They sold forms for all kinds of shapes - corners, round for porch columns; even column bases and capitals.

Sears sold a cast-iron machine called the Wizard, which builders used to make their own hollow-core forms by pouring a liquid mixture into the mold, allowing it to dry, slipping them out, and making more. Interchangeable molds allowed the builders to create different finishes: rough-cut stone, cobblestone, brick, diamond, and faux brick. Home owners could tint cornices or glaze their blocks with a glittery granite patina, which was highlighted during dusk and dawn.

Moulded concrete blocks were known by several names. Sometimes called “Art-Blocks”, and other times “Artificial Stone”, the attempts to append a new descriptive name to the product at the time showed that even then there was some resistance to the concept of “Concrete Blocks”.

At the time the concrete-block house was built it often had a matching garage. These early buildings can be identified by their narrow garage doors, originally built for Model T autos and a small storage space. As cars increased in size these garages were usually the first to be knocked down and replaced.

A Competitor of molded concrete blocks was formstone, of which there a couple examples of in the area. More about them later.


swampcritter2 said...

As a recovering and an ex-bricklayer I can appreciate everything about rock face block except when it came time to lay them. they are only twice as heavy as a regular 8 inch block, and most of the ones I had the misfortune to handle were of the 12 inch variety. They went about 60 lbs, and you were expected to lay 240 a day of them. Many bricklayers who routinely worked with these monsters had no skin on their fingers, myself included. A lot of guys taped their fingers with duct tape which helped a little. Worse still most rock face block are laid in a colored mortar which irritates any cut or lesion you already have. No fun at all.
The company I worked for built nearly every building in the North Point shopping center. Superfresh, Target, Home Depot etc.

Fortunately I was not often called upon to work those jobs as I was primarily a residential brick mason.
A few months ago I attended an auction in Parksley, Virginia. The house at the auction was one of the finest example of rock face block I'd ever seen. Built in 1920, 3 stories with a full basement. It was listed at $180k, a relative steal for such a beautiful home in a nice town. If I hadn't just moved into a new house I might have jumped on it. I would have enjoyed being surrounded by all that masonry that I didn't have to handle.

Classic Rock Face Block said...

We are one of 2 companies in North America that still produces an old Rock Face Concrete Block. Most of these homes built in the late 1800's and early 1900's used this block to build foundations and sometimes the entire exterior of the house or building. We use the original cast mold from these machines used at the time and many patterns where used. The most popular is the standard (what we call) Classic 8x8x16 mold. Others are the 8x8x16 Panel mold and the 8x8x24 Mold. If you are looking to update, add-on, or repair your house or building. Our product is what you have been looking for. Restore your home with the same look it had 100 years ago with Classic Rockface Block.
Please contact us on our website for an estimate