A neighbor, who has completely relaid three walls of his alley house from the ground up (AWESOME), just came by with his brick guy so that they could give us an opinion and an estimate on correcting some of our house's numerous and varied brick-related ailments. After he surveyed the damage, his parting words to me were:
"Brick house. Brick project. Brick headache."
I laughed. His statement might not be true everywhere, but Old North St. Louis has some of the oldest remaining architectural stock in the city, so here it is very true.
Brick problems can be especially frustrating because in most cases, if simple basic maintenance had been done over the years, the brick problems could have been greatly lessened, if not altogether prevented. That's the case with our house--if the roof had been kept up, it wouldn't be in such dire need of major brickwork right now.
Still, I love brick. One of the most jarring things for me about moving to Chicagoland from St. Louis as a kid was that I no longer had immaculate red brick to look at. Chicago bricks are blander in color, larger, more crumbly in quality due to inferior local clay, and are put together with huge, wide, sloppy stripes of mortar--somehow, it just lacks the charm of an immaculately laid, bright red, sturdy wall (esp. if that wall is accented with ornamental Hydraulic Press Brick, once made in Forest Park Southeast--ooh la la!). Chicago was built with such economic fervor that most of its everyday residential stock was built very rapidly. But when I look at a red brick St. Louis wall, I get the warm feeling that someone really took their time on it.
And one more reason to appreciate masonry construction: If our house was made of wood or vinyl, it wouldn't be here anymore! It had a major fire in 2003, starting in the basement in the newer, rear portion of our house. The fire heavily damaged the basement room and the first floor room directly above it, as well as the basement stairs. All the way up on the second floor, in the back part of the house, cracks in the plaster have smoke stains stretching up from them, where smoke must have been pouring up from back inside the walls. But you know what? The front part of the house had very little damage, because it's separated from the back part by an 18 inch thick stone fire wall in the basement. Upstairs, the same wall is brick, and it's still very, very thick. As a consequence, the only smoke stains you will see in the front part of the house are along ceilings and the tops of walls, from smoke that billowed in--because of that thick masonry wall, the front part of the house did not burn. THANK YOU, BRICK! PLEASE KEEP IT UP!