Is this a thing anywhere other than Vancouver?
June 9, 2013 7:30 PM   Subscribe

A friend just mentioned suiting up to go trim her razor tipped holly tree, and it reminded me that when I first moved to Vancouver in 1990, the house we rented had that crushed beer bottle stucco all over it and a holly tree in the front yard. Many long running jokes were made about how dangerous it was to come home after a night of drinking, plus also the beer bottles exacting their revenge. We'd never seen anything as nasty as that stucco before, though it's quite common on post-war houses in East Van, and I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. The deadly material looks like this. My friends call it the kid-grater and woe be unto the child who falls against it. Has anyone ever seen it anywhere outside of the Vancouver/the Lower Mainland? And can anyone tell me anything about the history of it and how anyone could ever have thought it was a good idea? And is it really beer bottles? It really looks like beer bottles.
posted by looli to Home & Garden (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Grew up on the northwest coast (Kitimat/Prince Rupert) and this was very common there. My house in Kitimat for the first twelve years of my life had this glass stucco.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:35 PM on June 9, 2013

I have seen it on a few houses in Seattle (which is interesting since we're so close to Van). I'm trying to remember where exactly they were, but I remember thinking each time I saw it that they must have been crazy to do that.
posted by emcat8 at 7:39 PM on June 9, 2013

It is very common all over Mexico to embed the glass from smashed bottles on the top of concrete walls to discourage trespassing.

That picture looks like the glass is embedded in the side of the wall though, so I can't really tell if it is the same phenomenon.

Usually they are formed from glass Coca Cola / Fanta bottles.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 7:41 PM on June 9, 2013

FWIW, I've seen the embedded-glass fences in some movies about rural France
posted by box at 7:47 PM on June 9, 2013

I've seen it in the Midwest, in an old river town. I used to get in trouble for picking the pretty glass bits off a relative's house, which I'm sure dated from early in the 20th century. The glass wasn't just brown and green. As I recall, there were some pretty pinks and blues (and clear) mixed in.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:51 PM on June 9, 2013

My house in Victoria, BC is covered in this. You can see it sparkle from down the street!
posted by atropos at 7:52 PM on June 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am sure it must have been common in the Kootenays, as well. I sure remember it from my youth. We'd pick bits of it off the house when bored!
posted by Savannah at 7:54 PM on June 9, 2013

Best answer: Bottle-dash stucco is a common BC thing. But oddly difficult to find online info about.

See this page, where there is a photo.

"When I first saw this product in Canada, it looked like a variant of pebble-dash with some kind of shiny pebbles in it. But no, it was explained to me in the sort of horrified tones that preservationists usually reserve for aluminum siding, Insulcrete was retrofitted onto numerous Canadian homes with the encouragement of the government. The shiny pebbles were, in fact, crushed beer bottles. There were two basic colors: gray with green beer bottles and pinkish with brown beer bottles."
posted by litlnemo at 8:03 PM on June 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Note also this page by a BC company discussing the history of stucco, which mentions the broken bottle stuff.
posted by litlnemo at 8:10 PM on June 9, 2013

Reminiscent of Watts Towers in East LA -- and the Concrete Park in Wisconsin by primitive artist Fred Smith. One of the more famous traditional works may be Chagall's Four Seasons in Chicago.

In truth this sort of mosaic has a very long history, although modern transparent colored glass is only one part of that. The amount of care taken in placement of the mosaic bits may or may not be a reflection of security needs. There's a particular Mexican tradition here known as Smalti.
posted by dhartung at 8:10 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

In New Orleans (especially on older houses) you see this in the form of broken-bottle barbed wire on the top of walls...unlike Hobo's example, though, the bottles are usually whole (well, with just the bottoms smashed off anyway), upside down, and usually wine bottles...because fancier? :/
posted by sexyrobot at 8:28 PM on June 9, 2013

I know exactly what you're talking about. In the far reaches of my memory, I've seen this same stucco in rural Quebec in the early 70's.
posted by lois1950 at 8:32 PM on June 9, 2013

This type of broken-glass stucco was practically everywhere in Edmonton when I was growing up. Especially away from the valley, out around King Edward Park, Bonnie Doon, Avonmore, Idylwylde, Mill Creek, that sort of area. My house was pink granite, white quartz, brown, green and some clear glass.
posted by aramaic at 8:34 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 60s house in Kamloops has extremely sharp crushed white rock rather than the glass but glass shards in stucco is pretty common around here. I've gotten many a road rash on the back of my hands where they've brushed up against the glass embedded in a house.

It was done because it is cheaper to do than a plain trowelled finish.
posted by Mitheral at 8:40 PM on June 9, 2013

Lord, I had some serious nostalgia looking at that photo. This was very common in Alberta in the 80s, though I haven't seen it in years.
posted by ZaphodB at 9:01 PM on June 9, 2013

Yep, I remember it from our house in Kamloops too when I was young. My brother and I had to be careful not to scrape up against it when we were trying to peel paper off the birch tree in the front yard. I was not always successful.

I'd also notice it often when driving into Vancouver proper, from the border, after I moved to the States, though I never saw it when I lived downtown. I don't see it at all this far north but I've noticed it in Edmonton a couple of times when I've been down there.
posted by mireille at 9:20 PM on June 9, 2013

My grandparents' house, built after the war on Cumberland Road in Victoria, had this sort of stucco, and it's not rare at all in Victoria.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:32 PM on June 9, 2013

oh also related: Heineken Bottle Bricks
posted by sexyrobot at 9:36 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Very common where I grew up on acreages outside of Edmonton, usually on houses built in the 40s, 50s, 60s, etc. It often included broken china. An easy way to get a "unique" exterior.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:38 PM on June 9, 2013

I've seen this in both New Orleans and New York City in areas where there's a strong need for a deterrent to people breaking in and a lot of weird old-fashioned architecture that doesn't work well with razor wire, barred windows, and the like.

I have never seen it in a suburban style residential area, or outside of dense urban places.

You mostly see it in longer, sharper shards at the tops of brick or stone walls, or on parts of a building that would be attractive hand and footholds for climbers.

I've never seen it used aesthetically like your example seems to be.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 PM on June 9, 2013

I don't know if you knew that crushed glass art was popular in the 1970s. And you might cut yourself when you went to clean it or try to adjust how it was hanging on the wall.
posted by cda at 11:19 PM on June 9, 2013

I've seen this in Calgary as well; in the 1970s/80s working-class and middle class suburbs on commercially built homes, but not ubiquitous by any stretch. Richer people tended to have fancier wall coverings; we had vinyl siding, but my dad was a siding salesman so what do you expect. I've actually seen something similar recently, with little bits of green glass embedded in a concrete surface on the Riverwalk (a new, fancy pathway by the Bow River in downtown), but the surface is ground smooth so the glass just sits mixed in the concrete. This is stupid in a different way than the kid-shredder; when riding at night, the lights catch the glass and produce the same familiar broken-glass glint that cyclists look for to avoid -- except it's everywhere.

I've seen the broken bottle as barbed wire substitute (in China for one) that hobo gitano, sexyrobot and Sara C. are talking about; this is an entirely different phenomenon. This has no antiburglar value, the bottle bits are crushed small -- like, grains of corn sized -- and the bottle bits are applied to the side of the wall. It's a decorative stucco.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:32 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My grandmother's house in Regina, Saskatchewan had this finish, along with many others.
posted by fatbird at 11:37 PM on June 9, 2013

I live in the US and have never seen the stucco here.

I've seen the broken bottles embedded in the tops of walls all over Guatemala though.
posted by univac at 12:21 AM on June 10, 2013

The stuff I have seen in the US is not like the Canadian stucco. When people here talk about seeing it in New York or New Orleans I wonder if they are thinking of a different type of thing.
posted by litlnemo at 12:34 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've seen it in the Karoo in South Africa. Link.
posted by floweredfish at 12:46 AM on June 10, 2013

one of my favourite books, The House of the Seven Gables, describes the house as being covered in plaster with glass embedded in it:

"Its whole visible exterior was ornamented with quaint figures, conceived in the grotesqueness of a Gothic fancy, and drawn or stamped in the glittering plaster, composed of lime, pebbles, and bits of glass, with which the woodwork of the walls was overspread.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:15 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Flint Dash is a thing in the UK. I may still have the scars from colliding with a flint dash wall on my scooter when I was six. Deadly sharp.
posted by scruss at 4:37 AM on June 10, 2013

Response by poster: Seems to be primarily a western Canadian thing!

Just to clarify, I don't mean mosaics, or glass art, or big jagged pieces of glass atop a wall to deter robbers. This stuff is all over a house, the way regular stucco would be. This page, which is where I drew the sample photo in the original post, has a photo of a house with the finish (among others). The blog is about tearing it off and putting up cedar siding. It makes me wonder how it was put on in the first place. Seems like a crappy job!!
posted by looli at 8:37 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

After the finish coat is trowelled but before it hardens the glass gets scooped up with a trowel and floated into the finish coat.
posted by Mitheral at 9:00 AM on June 10, 2013

It is somewhat common in Scotland, on 50's, 60's houses. I haven't seen it in years, but I remember it being very sharp to lean against!

I also found this link

"In 1887, when Daniel Webster Shuler commissioned his grand home, he instructed the builder to add pieces of broken glass to the exterior pebbledash so it would sparkle in the sunlight."
posted by iamsuper at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2013

I imagine this was caused by a similar impulse to the urge to landscape one's yard with broken-up glass "gravel" from the recycling plant.

how anyone could ever have thought it was a good idea?

It looks like they did a fairly nice job of it if you like that sort of thing. Takes all kinds, as they say. No accounting for taste. YMMV. One man's trash is another man's stucco extender.
posted by yohko at 6:02 PM on June 10, 2013

Growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Chinese restaurant nearest us, Great Wall, has red walls, and the front and sides of the building are covered in crushed red glass. It's only glass, no pebbles (?) like in your picture. I ran my hands over the walls many times as a kid, nothing outright dangerous sharp.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:11 AM on June 11, 2013

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