Celebrate Colorado Architecture Month
DOORS OPEN DENVER: JUST ONE WAY TO TAKE IN THE SIGHTS
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 02:04
With a carefully selected assortment of Denver landmarks, this past weekend’s Doors Open Denver ushered the public into Denver’s parks, mansions, churches, and schools. The annual celebration of Denver buildings offers free access to some of the city’s most interesting structures and spaces.
A themed event, this year’s weekend focused on the historic and legendary buildings of the metropolitan area. From the Byers-Evans House Museum, built in 1883 for the founder of the Rocky Mountain News, to the Emerson School, finished in 1885, the program included 80 sites across the city.
A tribute to Denver’s past presented by the city’s office of Arts and Venues and the Denver Architectural Foundation, the event was an exploration of history told through the iconic structures that are still standing. “Denver has a lot of history in its buildings and we learn about our history and our city through its architecture,” said event manager Carol Hiller.
Denver’s historic Capitol Hill neighborhood is home to a handful of mansions built by the early aristocrats that settled the city. The Grant-Humphreys Mansion, the residence of Colorado’s third governor, James Benton Grant, was completed in 1902. In 1917, the mansion was sold to A.E. Humphreys, an oil, mining, and lumber baron, whose sons went on to open Denver’s first commercial airport.
The overwhelmingly opulent, neoclassical brick palace is fronted by towering Corinthian columns and has 30 rooms, including a basement ballroom with a stage and a library with mahogany woodwork. The Colorado Historical Society now owns the mansion with an aim at preserving its original décor.
Just around the corner sits the governor’s residence at the Boettcher Mansion. Designed by early Denver real estate mogul Walter Cheesman, the three-story mansion was later owned by the wealthy Boettcher family. Claude and Edna Boettcher used the mansion to host parties for the elite of Denver society and to house antiques and furniture collected on their world travels.
The mansion, bequeathed to the State in 1959, is home to French chandeliers, Chinese vases, and a regal dining table carved from Italian walnut. The Palm Room, a bright and spacious solarium at the end of the hall, features gleaming white marble floors and floor-to-ceiling windows. Filled with sunshine and stocked with plants and statues, the room is a jaw-dropping display of early Denver luxury.
Some of the featured sites are among the longest standing structures in Denver and include many churches and schools of the early city. “Most of the buildings are public buildings. But again, most of them just aren’t buildings that people would normally walk into or think of as a Denver landmark,” Hiller said.
Ted Halsey, president of the Denver Architectural Foundation, said the weekend event serves as a “statement to Denver and beyond about our architecture and its impact on our quality of life, how important we think it really is to become more familiar with Denver architecture for one, but secondly we would like to promote expectations, to the quality of architecture and what we think helps raise quality of life and a sense of value of our city.”
The architectural virtues of the city, founded on the momentum of gold strikes and hardened by the harsh climate of the frontier, are subtle and often go unrecognized and underappreciated. “One of the things that we find here is that Denver architecture has always served a purpose,” said Ted Halsey. “Denver, for the most part, is pretty pragmatic.”
“We have a pretty short but rich architectural history,” said Mike Wisneski, the 2013 President of the Colorado branch of the American Institute of Architects. “For a period of time the tallest building west of the Mississippi was the D&F [Daniels and Fisher] Tower.”
Denver architecture is as unique as the people that live here and the architects that shape her concrete countenance. “What I like best about Colorado architecture is that we’ve chosen to be in Colorado, and most of us have moved from someplace else. And we bring that breadth of life experience to Colorado that other places in the nation don’t have, and so the talent pool is pretty deep,” said Wisneski. “So it’s not like Chicago, or New York, or LA, where there’s a bigger PR machine for the work that they do there, but we do some really good stuff on our own.”
With brick bungalows, Victorian cottages, and turn-of-the-century warehouses, Denver’s architectural scene is diverse and almost eccentric. “There is no one architectural style of Denver or of Colorado. There are so many different styles, and there’s so many different ways to learn about the history of Denver through its architecture,” Hiller said.
The built environment of Colorado is continually evolving, affected by trends like adaptive reuse and renovation, finding new uses for existing buildings. “We know that in the last couple of decades we’ve seen an ever-increasing vocabulary of architecture, probably more modern,” said Halsey. “We’re seeing neighborhoods enhanced through revitalization and the remaking and repurposing of buildings [like] the Santa Fe Art district. We’re seeing increased movement into the city and making buildings that serve the community. We’re adapting what we have and that’s very much a vibrant aspect of Denver.
However, the architectural fun does not have to end with the closure of Doors Open Denver. April is Colorado Architecture Month, and the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects has a few other events planned.
Delicious Designs pairs a local architecture firm with restaurants and bakeries to sculpt desserts inspired by architectural icons. Coohills, Sugar Bake Shop, and Zi South are all participating this year with creations based on the Eiffel Tower and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater residence. There will also be a kickoff for a Habitat for Humanity construction project in the foothill community of Kittredge, Colorado on April 27. Additional information can be found at coloradoarchitecturemonth.org.