Roofs on homes today, especially here in Las Vegas, are most often either asphalt shingles or the Spanish style ceramic tiles. However, midcentury homes displayed a wider array of roofing materials from asphalt shingles and cedar shakes to tropicool and tar & gravel. While many uniquely midcentury roof materials have been replaced in favor of asphalt shingles and ceramic tiles, there remains a large number of original roofs in the Valley. In particular, tar & gravel roofs are quite common and even a number of Tropicool roofs still exist.
Before we get into the story of Wendy and Mike’s 1962 tar & gravel roof, it might be helpful to distinguish between it and Tropicool roofing. There are many similarities between the tar & gravel and Tropicool roof styles. Both use an under layer of tar paper affixed to the roof substrate with molten asphalt. The main difference is in the final layer of rock. Tropicool roofs use much larger rocks, sometimes 4 inches in diameter. The first two pictures here are of the Tropicool roof on the home of John Delikanakis and German del Gado. You can also see the same type of roof on the Morelli house on Bridger Avenue downtown. These roofs were quite popular in mid-century construction, being used on homes by notable architects like Hugh E. Taylor and Paul R. Williams.
Different from Tropicool roofs, Tar & gravel relies on quite small pieces of rock that often have a layer of roof cement between them and the tar paper. The roof cement assists with retention of the small rocks in windy and rainy environments. Tar & gravel roofs were among the more ubiquitous roofing materials used in the mid-20th century. They worked well with the low-pitched roofs common to these homes. In fact, tar & gravel is the roofing material that was put on Joseph Eichler-designed homes in California.
Having distinguished between these two similar types of roofing, let’s take a look at how Wendy and Mike fixed their aging tar & gravel roof.
Wendy Kveck and Mike Shetler bought their 1962 home in the Beverly Green neighborhood in 2001. Before Wendy and Mike bought the house, it was owned by only two other families. Max and Effie Tenesch were the original owners of the home, living in it until 1972. In 1972, Clarence and Ruth Pyles purchased the home and remained there until 1998.
Over the years since the home was built, there had been few changes to it. So when it came time to do some repair work to the roof, Wendy was intent on keeping to the original materials. They did contemplate switching their roof from the original tar & gravel to asphalt shingles, especially once it became clear that finding someone who knew how to repair a tar & gravel roof was not a simple undertaking. However, Wendy persisted and in the end was able to re-create and retain their original roof.
The need for a new roof became clear when Wendy and Mike had their house painted. The house originally had gutters that had been inappropriately mounted on the house. Whenever it rained, water got under the roof edging. When they removed the gutters they could see that the tar paper under the gravel was no longer properly affixed to the roof substrate. Moreover, there were spots across the roof that were bare of the white gravel rock.
Wendy spoke with several roofers and found only one willing to repair it. However, the cost was not inconsequential and they were unwilling to provide a guarantee. In the end, Wendy and Mike hired Ken Levine (the brother of Nevada Preservation Foundation board member Jack Levine) to patch the tar paper where needed and add additional gravel.
They tried out a couple of sizes and types of rock to supplement the existing gravel. The smaller rock they found had too much of a pink hue after it had been rinsed, but a slightly larger size gravel had a gray hue. Wendy and Mike decided that the gray worked better with the color scheme of their house. Plus, the slightly larger rock they hoped would have the added benefit of being able to withstand winds and thus remain on the roof more easily. In order to further cut down on gravel loss, they also trimmed a few branches on their tree in their front yard to eliminate contact between the tree and the gravel.
Ken spent several days patching the tar paper and applying the gravel. He used more of the larger rock around the edges of the roof with the idea that the larger rocks won’t move as easily. Wendy told me that they have been quite happy with the roof so far. They are waiting for a good rain to really test out its durability. When I spoke with Wendy on Tuesday, she said that the recent wind did send a few of the rocks off the roof, but it seemed that using the slightly larger rock had cut down the number that landed on their sidewalk.
Mid-century homes were innovative in so many ways. During this period, architects were trying out new materials and innovations in almost every aspect of these homes and buildings. Tropicool and tar & gravel roofs are just two of the many types of roofing materials used during this period. While these roofs may have their downside, it is important to keep in mind some of the big wins that rock roofs bring:
- Extremely fire retardant.
- Inexpensive to install and keep up.
- Last MUCH longer than asphalt shingles. (When we put new shingles on our house, we were told we could expect a 15 year life. With rock, you can get more like 30+ years.)
Besides, rock keeps the original look of the house. And as we all know, keeping to your house’s original look as much as possible protects the value of your home.
Before I close, I also want make sure you all notice Wendy and Mike’s swell, new front door. It’s a Therma-Tru door from their Pulse Line. If you are looking for an affordable period appropriate door, check them out!