As you stroll through the streets of Christiansted and Frederiksted, you discover an assortment of buildings possessing a solid dignity and restraint, yet lightened by the graceful arches that dominate their facade. Their architectural style can be described as neo-classical, but the era in which these buildings were erected spans over 100 years and as a result various architectural styles, but all were built during the time that Denmark owned the island, between 1733 and 1917. Common to many of them is the use of imported Danish bricks, primarily from an area in southern Jutland, the peninsula connecting Denmark to Germany. These are characterized by a flatter shape than regular bricks and are invariably yellow rather than the usual terra cotta color. Occasionally, some historic buildings use uniquely tropical building blocks of coral, carved out of the reef that then and now surrounds the harbor of Christiansted and other locations near the shores of the island. That material, despite its surprising ability to support a building, would be totally illegal to remove and use for any purpose today. Coral reefs are recognized as being vital supporters of fish and other important marine life.
Our brick buildings, often covered with plaster in vibrant pastel colors, offer eloquent testimony about an era of prosperity that gave St. Croix the reputation of rivaling much larger islands like Barbados in wealth, thanks in great part to a terrain and soil favorable for sugar cane cultivation. Their solid construction by enslaved workers have shown them to weather many serious natural threats such as hurricanes and tsunamis that in recent years have inflicted serious damage to modern buildings. Special features such as the half-hipped roofs deflect strong winds and have preserved even modest wooden buildings of former days that were built to last. Still, it is masonry/brick structures that dominate the historic zones, at least in Christiansted. Parts of Frederiksted were rebuilt after suffering damage in the great Fireburn in 1878; there we find that many houses were rebuilt with a wooden upper story in Victorian gingerbread style that was popular at the time, but re-using the masonry ground floor.
The characteristic arches, with a center keystone, are known locally as "Danish arches" and the colonnades they created provided a shady and dry area for pedestrians to window shop and enter the merchant establishments in town. The merchant would often have his residence in the same building, and the colonnade allowed an open or closed balcony above it known as the gallery, with additional room for keeping track of activities in the street.
Regrettably, some historic buildings did suffer damage in the devastating 1989 Hurricane Hugo and have not been repaired, primarily due to the high cost and lack of dedication and commitment by the owners. It is tragic that this valuable legacy be lost forever, and it is hoped that a way of subsidizing their restoration can be found.