BOULDER, Colo. -
Urban legends sometimes take a long time to die, but one whose time has come is the myth that the flood of May 1894 raised the level of Pearl Street. The Camera called the flood "a deluge from Heaven," but after the waters receded, the street -- and the buildings on it -- remained the same.
1047 Pearl St., the former location of Tom's Tavern, is an excellent example of a pre-flood-era building, and the current remodeling of its basement has provided an opportunity to peek into the past of Boulder's underground architecture.
In its early days, this building, on the northwest corner of Pearl and 11th streets, was an undertaking parlor, owned by John Trezise. As Boulder County's coroner from 1893 to 1902, and again from 1908 to 1912, he pulled up his horse-drawn hearse wagons to the 11th Street side so his employees could move bodies into and out of the basement.
The undertaking parlor was constructed before electricity was brought to the city in 1886. Other early commercial buildings include the Kenneth McDonald building (with a faade added on in 1899) immediately to the west, as well as the original Daily Camera building across Pearl Street.
Since there were no electric lights at the time, the architects of the day designed the buildings with basement windows and rounded window wells in order to get natural light into the structures' lowest levels.
In contrast to the rough stone in the basement walls, the window wells were formed of carefully mortared bricks. Above the window wells, and flush with the sidewalks, were semi-circular metal grates. These grates conformed to the shape of the window wells and allowed light into the basements while keeping out debris, or passersby.
Easily viewable from inside the basement at 1047 Pearl St. are two windows with window wells that once opened up to Pearl Street. The metal grates above the window wells are long gone, as are all traces of the window wells from the sidewalk level.
The sidewalk on the 11th Street side now covers up all except a square metal plate over the former staircase, half buried in debris that once allowed visitors (and coffins) to go through the basement-level entry. Curved brickwork, however, at the sidewalk level, is evidence of basement windows (and their now covered-up window wells) also on the 11th Street side.
Photos of Pearl Street buildings, both before and after the May 1894 flood, can be viewed at the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, 1125 Pine St. Perhaps the most photographed building in the immediate vicinity of the Trezise undertaking parlor building was the first (and no-longer-standing) Daily Camera building, at 1048 Pearl Street, on the southwest corner of the same intersection.
The day after the flood, the Camera reported, "Bright and early this morning, the sun, which has not shone for three or four days, was out and on tap -- the little birds were singing songs of comfort to those who had suffered by the flood, the waters had materially subsided, and no new danger had presented itself."
Not even the level of Pearl Street.
Silvia Pettem and Carol Taylor now alternate as authors of the history column. To reach Pettem, write her at the Camera, P.O. Box 591, Boulder 80306, or email firstname.lastname@example.org