Preservation leader wants downtown Columbia's brick streets restored

Saturday, September 18, 2010 | 9:42 p.m. CDT; updated 10:11 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — Brent Gardner would like to see a downtown lined with brick streets, where motorists slow down to see the shops and restaurants rather than speed by them.

Gardner wants to begin at Eighth Street, but he needs funding and support.

Earlier this month, he presented a plan for Eighth Street to the Historic Preservation Commission, of which he is vice chairman. He says he will continue his efforts with proposals to the Avenue of the Columns Committee and the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council.

The plan is still in the proposal stage, and sources of funding are undetermined. Gardner hopes for a financial pledge by the city and possibly federal funding.

“What really needs to happen is for the city to be behind it,” Gardner said.

Gardner calls the process of uncovering the bricks on Eighth Street "daylighting." It consists of scraping off existing pavement to expose the red pavers underneath. Damaged bricks would need to be replaced.

Gardner estimates the cost to be about $100,000 per city block, but he said that a brick street may not need to be relaid for 80 to 100 years. Paved streets need resurfacing every few years.

He describes the brick streets as “a little treasure right below our feet.” He argued that uncovering them would set downtown Columbia apart aesthetically, complement the city's historic buildings, add charm and warmth, slow traffic, and save money.

Mike Martin, who lives on Glenwood Avenue, agreed.

“They have a great aesthetic appeal, and they’re universally well-liked,” Martin said.

But some members of the Avenue of the Columns Committee have expressed concern over maintenance issues and large vaults that have been cut out of the original brick to accommodate utilities, according to Mary Wilkerson, the committee chairwoman.

The Historic Preservation Commission included Columbia’s brick streets in its 2010 Most Notable Historic Properties, which Gardner said was a good way to let people start thinking about protecting them.

To make the list, a property has to be within the city limits, at least 50 years old, and have architectural or historical aspects that add to Columbia’s social or aesthetic resources.

Gardner said other comparable cities have worked to restore bricks hidden under pavement as well, including Lawrence, Kan., Dade City, Fla., and Evansville, Ind.

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Ellis Smith September 19, 2010 | 6:32 a.m.

Marvelous! But from an aesthetic standpoint why not go all the way? Let's restrict traffic on those streets to horse-drawn vehicles. Send those horseless carriages packing!

To make certain there's no lingering odor or unsightly horse manure we'll enlist folks like Brent and Mike to run around with scoops and buckets - and maybe a little lime as well.

I grew up in a city where the older streets were brick. On more than a few of them motorists definitely needed to slow down - or risk an unscheduled visit to a suspension and alignment shop. In a residential situation a brick street may go a long time without major repair, but not a commercial street.

(Report Comment)
Bill Fisher September 19, 2010 | 8:20 a.m.

Columbia is supposed to be bicycle friendly, and there are always a lot of cyclists traveling through downtown, either because they live there, need to get to school, or just for other reasons. In the 2 blocks on Cherry St. where we currently have bricks, it's nearly impossible to ride a skinny-tired road bike, and only slightly acceptable on a fat-tire mountain bike.

Either Gardner is trying to make downtown impossible for cyclists to travel through, or he hasn't thought this plan out well enough. Either way, it's a terrible idea.

How about spending that $100,000 per city block where it's needed, and not just on cosmetics.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 19, 2010 | 1:01 p.m.

("Brent Gardner would like to see a downtown lined with brick streets, where motorists slow down to see the shops and restaurants rather than speed by them.")

If motorists are zooming through "The District" too quickly for Brent Gardner's liking, then put in speed bumps.
There's really nothing very fantastic to see with regards to a few restaurants or shops from a "touring car" to make downtown a meandering excursion anyway.
And what about the slippery surface of brick and how it impacts the city's snow and ice removal liability during the winter? Or does "The District" plan to shovel these ancient roads themselves or accept responsibility for mishaps, accessibility and maintenance?
(Oh wait. They don't even want to pay for their own "safety" cameras or personal security patrol force.)

Also does Brent Gardner care about the safety of these bricks for pedestrian traffic?
("In Harvard Square near where I witnessed the fall this fall, another person fell in October and was transported to the hospital for stitches. Maryan Amaral, a wheelchair user who frequents the area and witnessed the accident, convinced the City of Cambridge to re-build the sidewalk and crosswalk on the street after collecting 125 signatures on a petition. Happy with the new crosswalk ramps, she’s concerned about the material the city chose, however, pointing out that brick sidewalks often come loose. A lone comment on the online version of the news article about the case begs, “Please, let’s get rid of the brick sidewalks. I know some like their historic charm, but they’re just terrible in the ice and snow, both because they’re difficult to clear and because they tend ice over more readily than concrete. They’re also terrible for the handicapped.” Maybe the next petition will take up the issue.")

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 19, 2010 | 3:56 p.m.

It seems that several of us think this is a poor idea. Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

1- The bricks, whether made a century ago or last month, are a special class called "pavers." Different product specifications apply than for bricks used in the construction of homes and commercial buildings.

2- As far as I can determine no manufacturing operation in Missouri makes this class of brick. Pavers are available from plants in Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Indiana. (I know for certain that Indiana bricks are being shipped routinely to the St. Louis metro area.)

3- This branch of the ceramic industry is known as "structural clay products." Product unit weights are high, restricting how much product can be legally shipped per truckload. If a large number of pavers are needed, transportation costs can be substantial. (Structural clay products are normally shipped on flat bed trailers, but occasionally rail shipment is used.)

4- Perhaps the intention is to dig up and then re-use the original pavers. Technically that's possible. Structural ceramics are some of the most durable materials on earth. But whether old pavers or new pavers are used, keep in mind that we are talking about labor-intensive work, and when those pavers were originally laid down the workers' DAILY wage was maybe $3 or $4! Can't we find more productive ways to spend limited financial resources?

5- If more pavers are needed than can be dug up, it would be necessary to use a combination of old and freshly purchased pavers. It IS possible to get a color match, but you will be charged extra for that.

(Report Comment)
Tim Kilgore September 20, 2010 | 12:13 p.m.

Just a side-note, but Mexico, Missouri supposedly will have a brick factory coming online next year. They've been trying to get the old AP Green plant operational again.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 20, 2010 | 12:51 p.m.

Thanks, Tim. I'm aware of the work to start a structural clay products operation in Mexico, Missouri. While I don't know their projected product line, I doubt their initial manufacture will be paving bricks.

An interesting sidelight of structural clay products manufacture is production of "brick sculptures" (bas relief), used both in residences (fireplace mantles, etc.) and on the exteriors of commercial brick buildings. All you need is an artist (sculptor), either in residence or on retainer; the manufacturing part isn't difficult.

An example of someone who sells brick sculptures nationwide is Endicott Corp., Fairbury, Nebraska. You can order from a catalog (at set prices) or they will make what you want (at a price!). There are eagles, bison, people, etc. Endicott is also a major supplier of paving bricks.

(Report Comment)

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