After attending the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago every civic leader in America boarded the train to return home knowing exactly what his city should look like. Large swaths of landscaped grounds with plenty of green grass and surrounded by orderly sparkling white buildings designed to look like Greek temples. In Denver the main champion for the City Beautiful movement in the early 1900s was mayor Robert W. Speer.
Denver already had a leg up on achieving the urban ideal with its recently constructed State Capitol that looked a lot like the United States Capitol. The Capitol had been sited on a hill just a few blocks from the central business district and was already attracting its share of stately mansions. Speer hired Charles Mulford Robinson to develop plans for the area and Robinson proposed creating a Civic Center flowing down from the Capitol to be lined withe new municipal buildings around the park grounds.
All was proceeding according to Speer’s vision and then the plan was voted down in the 1907 election. An then Speer got voted out of office. He continued to collect ideas for a Civic Center, however, and was eventually voted back into office in 1917, with a new charter giving the mayor expanded powers. Civic Center Park was officially opened in 1919 and the area has been the center for government, the arts, history and learning in Denver ever since.
Our walking tour of Denver’s Civic Center will begin in the center of the 15 acres of landscaped grounds with the Rocky Mountains at our back and a golden dome in front of us...
bounded by Colfax Avenue, Grant Street, 14th Avenue and Lincoln Street
The Colorado State Capitol building was constructed on a slight rise above the surrounding city in 1896 on Brown’s Bluff, land owned and donated by Ohio carpenter-turned Denver developer Henry C. Brown. The spanking new government home made a fine companion for Brown’s recently constructed Palace Hotel a few blocks away. Elijah E. Myers, the only architect to design three state capitol buildings - Michigan and Texas are the others - drew up the Neoclassical plans using the United States Capitol as a model. Corinthian porticoes grace all four elevations; the main entrance faces west, towards the city and boasts a statuary group symbolizing the progress of the State and its resources. Some of those resources were used in the construction - Colorado white granite for the exterior and Yule Marble from the Elk Mountains that is the only marble mined in America for the floors. The entire known supply of rare Colorado Rose Onyx quarried near the town of Beulah was used on the inside walls. In 1908, $4,000 of gold leaf was applied to gild the central dome. The steps on the west flank are used to measure the official height of the City of Denver - or whatever technology is “official” at the time. The original engraving of “One Mile Above Sea Level” was on the 15th step; in 1969 it was determined to be the 18th step and in 2003 the 13th step was deemed to be exactly 5,280 feet above sea level.
EXIT THE STATE CAPITOL GROUNDS ON THE SOUTH (14TH AVENUE SIDE) IN THE MIDDLE AT SHERMAN STREET. ACROSS THE STREET TO YOUR RIGHT IS...
Colorado State Capitol Annex Building and Boiler Plant
1341 Sherman Street at southwest corner of 14th Avenue
One of the things the federal government did to help alleviate the Great Depression of the 1930s was go on a building spree. The style of choice was usually the stripped down classicism of Art Deco which was put to fine use here in 1939. Although not a fan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s free-spending New Deal administration, Arkansas-born architect George Meredith Musick cashed the checks as head of the design committee for the State Capitol Annex and other big projects around town, including an expansion for the U.S. Custom House on 19th Street.
TURN RIGHT ON 14TH AVENUE AND WALK WEST (THE CAPITOL IS ON YOUR RIGHT).
Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center
southeast corner of 13th Avenue and Broadway
The thing the former 1977 Judicial Building on this site will be most remembered for was its implosion on August 15, 2010. This new home of the Colorado Supreme Court comes with a $256 million price tag and carries the name of the Colorado governor who is best remembered for his vocal denunciation of the displacing and interning Japanese-Americans during World War II.
TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY.
Denver Public Library
10 West 14th Avenue at southwest corner of Bannock Street
The first books were lent in Denver in 1889 from a wing of the public high school. It would be more than twenty years before the library moved into its own digs, thanks to the largesse of the steel magnate and richest man in the world, Andrew Carnegie. After Carnegie sold United States Steel for $400 million he tried to give all the money away, mostly by funding libraries - some 2,500 around the world. Carnegie money not only helped create a Greek Revival Central Library fashioned of Turkey Creek sandstone but eight branches as well. The current composition is the result of of a 1956 building and a 1990s post-modern creation from celebrated architect, Target product designer and New Jersey Hall of Fame member Michael Graves.
Security Life Center
1290 Broadway at southeast corner of 13th Avenue
This 17-story blue-glass curtain wall joined the Denver streetscape in 1986.
TURN RIGHT ON 13TH AVENUE.
Denver Art Museum
100 West 14th Avenue Parkway
The Denver Art Museum unveiled its first galleries in the City and County Building in 1918 under the auspices of the Denver Art Association which had incubated from the Denver Artists Club in 1893. Although famous for its collection of Indian Art some of the museum’s most unique works are on display on the outside in its buildings, which began at this location in 1949. The North Building at the corner of 14th Avenue and Bannock streets is a 1971 creation of Italian architect Gio Ponti and local designer James Sudler. Standing seven stories tall, its 24 sides are dressed in custom-designed glass tiles from Corning Glass. The main entrance to the museum is through the Frederic C. Hamilton Building that is a jumble of geometric planes covered in titanium shingles, none parallel or perpendicular to another. It is the vision of architect Daniel Libeskind.
1310 Bannock Street at northeast corner of 13th Avenue
Byers was William Newton Byers who printed Denver’s first newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. Its first issues appeared on the street on April 23, 1859. Byers, who was one of Denver’s leading cheerleaders in its early days, built this fine Italianate house in 1883. In 1889 it was purchased by William Gary Evans, the oldest son of John Evans, Colorado’s second territorial governor and a close friend of Byers. Evans would go on to head the Denver Tramway Company and his family would stay here until 1981 when the property was given to the Colorado Historical Society to operate as a house museum.
Native American Trading Company
213 West 13th Avenue at northwest corner of Bannock Street
Here is a slice of Mission Revival style architecture from a yellow brick house constructed in 1906.
TURN RIGHT ON BANNOCK STREET. CROSS 14TH AVENUE AND WALK INTO THE PARK ON YOUR RIGHT.
Civic Center Park
bounded by Bannock Street, Broadway, West Colfax Avenue and 14th Avenue
Plans for the formal landscaping of this open space were hatched in 1904 when America was in the grip of the City Beautiful stampede that sprung from the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. At the heart of the movement was a return to the classical style of architecture and a departure from the picturesque forms of the Victorian Age. Mayor Robert W. Speer was the point man for the City Beautiful movement in Denver and he hired Charles Mulford Robinson to sketch out the plans that included a plaza and classical entrances. At the south end of the park, across from the Art Museum and Library is the Colonnade of Civic Benefactors, an open-air Greek theater designed in 1919 by Willis Adams Marean and Albert Julius Norton who formed an architectural partnership in 1895 that would last more than four decades in Denver. The bronze statues at the middle of the Center, Bucking Bronco and On The War Path are works of Alexander Phimister Proctor. Proctor was a Canadian who moved to Denver with his family as a youngster; he became known for sculpting monumental bronzes of animals and human figures, several of which are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
LEAVE THE PARK AND WALK ACROSS BANNOCK STREET TO...
City County Building
1437 Bannock Street between Colfax and 14th avenues
This is the building you get when 39 architects put their heads together. The grand capstone of Denver’s Civic Center was finally completed in 1932 after 26 years in the making. The Beaux Arts tour de force is composed with curved wings around a Corinthian portico carved from 26-ton blocks of granite from Stone Mountain, Georgia. The bronze entrance doors are among the largest ever cast and open into a lobby festooned with panels of Colorado travertine. Surmounting the confection is a slender carillon clock tower supporting a golden eagle; the chimes ring every fifteen minutes.
CONTINUE TO COLFAX AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.
United States Mint
320 West Colfax Avenue between Cherokee and Delaware streets
In 1863 the federal government purchased the private mint of Clark, Gruber & Company that had been churning out gold pieces over at 16th and Market streets. The Denver Mint began as a melting and assaying operation and did not begin coining itself until 1906. With a “D” mint mark it became one of three coinage plants in the United States along with Philadelphia and San Francisco. Today’s mint can press out over 50 million coins every day. It was also one of the two federal gold depositories, the other being at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The Renaissance Revival mint building, that burrows three stories underground, dates to the expansion of responsibilities in 1906 and came from the offices of James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury.
TURN RIGHT ON 13TH STREET AND MAKE ANOTHER QUICK RIGHT ON TREMONT PLACE.
Denver Firefighters Museum
1326 Tremont Place
Although billed as Historic Station No. 1, there was actually an earlier Station One a few blocks away at 15th Street and Broadway. That building was sacrificed in 1909 for the Pioneer Mountain Fountain and this festive Beaux Arts firehouse went up in its stead. Since 1978 this building has hosted the museum of the Denver Fire Department, a collection of more than 30,000 artifacts, photographs and manuscripts.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 13TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT ON GLENARM PLACE.
Denver Athletic Club
1325 Glenarm Place
The Denver Athletic Club was founded in 1884 so that those “engaged in indoor pursuits might gain healthful diversion.” Architects Frederick Janius Sterner and Phillip Varian drew up plans for aclubhouse in theRomanesque style in 1889; it stands as the best representation of their work before the partnership dissolved in 1901.
TURN RIGHT ON 14TH STREET. TURNLEFT ON COURT PLACE.
1439 Court Place
One look tells you there must be a story. Here it is. James Curry, who traded in building supplies, bought the 25-foot wide lot in 1887 and erected an eclectic Victorian brownstone home with asymmetrical massing and a picturesque roofline. One of the subsequent owners was Vaso “Chuck” Chucovich, a gambler with useful political and underworld connections who was said to funnel his money back to his homeland in Yugoslavia to fill the nation’s treasury. In 1978 high-powered defense attorney Daniel Gerash purchased the property and restored it to accommodate his law office. In the 1980s this block was ticketed for a new high-rise and developers bought every scrap of land and razed all the buildings. But Gerash refused to sell. The tower was never built and the 125-year old building stands as a stone lighthouse amidst a sea of parking spaces. Gerash went on to use the building for his law office for over 30 years, into his eighties.
1550 Court Place at northeast corner of 15th Street
With 1,225 rooms and covering two blocks, this is the largest hotel complex in the Denver metro area. In 1961 Conrad Hilton poured over $26.5 million into his first hotel in Denver, hiring modernist architect I.M. Pei to design the building which copped an American Institute of Architects Award of Merit. The project represented the first large-scale use of architectural precast panels on a building. Following the success of the Hilton’s construction architects across North america started to use architectural precast on important buildings. Its architectural pedigree hasn’t done much for the hotel business, however. Through the years it has been a Radisson, an Adam’s Mark and, most recently a Sheraton.
TURN RIGHT ON 15TH STREET AND WALK TO COLFAX AVENUE.
Civic Center Park at 15th Street and West Colfax Avenue
Architects William Ellsworth Fisher and Arthur Addison Fisher, brothers who were credited with 67 structures around Denver, designed the curving Ionic colonnade that constitutes the north entrance to Civic Center Park along Colfax Avenue. Crafted of buff-colored sandstone and featuring murals of Western animal life by Denver artist Allen True, the gateway was funded by John H.P. Voorhies who made his money in Silverton mines and came to Denver to be a banker. He lived across the street at 1425 Cleveland Place.
TURN LEFT ON COLFAX AVENUE.
Denver Newspaper Agency Building/The Denver Post
101 West Colfax Avenue at northwest corner of Broadway
The Denver Post was founded in 1892 as an organ for Democrats supporting Grover Cleveland for President. Cleveland won the election but in office he opposed the government purchase of silver, the state’s most valuable product. The economy collapsed and the Evening Post closed its doors. Harry Heye Tammen, owner of a curio and souvenir shop, and Frederick Gilmer Bonfils, a Kansas City real estate and lottery operator, purchased the bones of the paper for $12,500. They knew nothing about newspaper work so they came at the business from the other side - discovering what people wanted to read. That turned out to be the new “flamboyant circus journalism” of the day and by the time the paper name was changed to The Denver Post with the first day of the new century it was a success. This $80 million modern office temple was constructed in 2006 as a joint home for the Post and the Rocky Mountain News that was Colorado’s oldest continuing business until it was closed in 2009.
Smoky Hill Trail/Pioneer Monument and Fountain
northwest corner of Colfax Avenue and Broadway
This symbolic monument was placed here in 1911 and marks the western terminus of the Smoky Hill Trail that was traveled in the 1850s from the Missouri River through Kansas Territory. It was the quickest route to the Rocky Mountain gold fields and David Butterfield used the 592-mile Smoky Hill Route to send all his passenger and freight wagons before selling out to Wells, Fargo and Company. Although ensconced in Paris, France at the time, award-winning sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies created the iconic Western image of horseback riding scout Kit Carson. MacMonnies had originally wanted to crown his fountain with a bronze Indian but those plans were quickly scuttled by an outraged Denver citizenry.
TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY AND WALK UP TO THE CORNER OF 16TH AVENUE.
Colorado Bank Building
1600 Broadway at northeast corner of 16th Avenue
Here’s a glimpse at how Denver has grown in the last generation. When it was completed in 1972 this 26-story glass box was the seventh-tallest building in Denver. Today its 352 feet rank it 30th. The Colorado State Bank and Trust took its first deposits back in 1908.
World Trade Center Denver
1625 Broadway at northwest corner of 16th Avenue
The World Trade Center exists to foster tradebetween Rocky Mountain businesses and over 100 countries around the world. Their home is these twin curtain wall glass towers that were constructed in 1979.
TURN RIGHT ON 16TH AVENUE.
Denver Downtown YMCA
25 East 16th Avenue at northwest corner of Lincoln Street
The YMCA was set up by George Williams in 1844 to help get young men off of English streets and give them something to do. The movement reached America in Boston in 1851 and the Denver chapter started up in 1875. Willis Adams Marean and Albert Julius Norton designed this classically flavored building in 1907 and, with a few touch-ups, it has served the association ever since.
TURN LEFT ON LINCOLN STREET.
Wells Fargo Center
1700 Lincoln Street at northeast corner of 17th Avenue
Denver’s third-tallest building has been tagged as the “Cash Register Building” or “Mailbox Building” by local wags for its resemblance in silhouette to an elephantine blue dropbox. It stands 698 feet, 12 feet shy of being Denver’s Sky King but the bank office resides on a hill so its elevation is actually the highest in the City. World famous modernist architect Philip Johnson designed this building for Houston, Texas but it got built in 1983 for United Bank in Denver instead. The transplant was not a complete success as snow and chunks of ice flowed off the rounded roof to the street below before heating lines could be installed.
TURN RIGHT ON 17TH AVENUE.
1673 Sherman Street at northeast corner of 17th Avenue
The University Club organized in 1891 “to promote social intercourse among ourselves and... the encouragement of literature.” After a peripatetic existence in its formative years the club settled into this Neoclassical home in 1895 that was designed by Frederick Sterner and Ernest Phillip Varian. Sterner left the partnership a few years later and went to New York City where he earned lucrative fees crafting elegant town-homes that looked a lot like this.
Central Presbyterian Church
1660 Sherman Street at northeast corner of 17th Avenue
This is the third meetinghouse for the congregation that traces its roots back to the arrival in Denver from Buffalo, New York of the Reverend A.T. Rankin in 1860. Church lore maintains that on his first day in town Rankin helped subdue an angry subscriber in the offices of the Rocky Mountain News who was throttling the editor of the fledgling paper. Frank Edbrooke, who had been designing some of the town’s most iconic buildings since the 1870s and was often referred to as “dean of Denver architecture,” drew up the plans for this Romanesque-style stone church in 1892.
George Schiller Mansion
1665 Grant Street at southwest corner of 17th Avenue
George Schleier began his working life as a milliner, making hats in Cincinnati, New York City and Milwaukee. A pioneer spirit brought him to Denver, where there wasn’t much call for fancy silk hats, in one of the earliest settlement parties from Kansas in 1858. Schleier farmed for a bit and then began investing in real estate, evolving into one of early Denver’s shrewdest bargainers, skills that landed him on the City Council and at the influential post of City Tax Collector. For his home of Colorado sandstone here in the 1880s Schleier retained the services of go-to Denver architect Frank Edbrooke and directed him to inject themes of his native German heritage. The eclectic result, highlighted by an onion-domed tower, became one of Edbrooke’s most acclaimed designs.
TURN RIGHT ON GRANT STREET.
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
1600 Grant Street at northeast corner of 16th Avenue
Behind the English, Germans and Irish, Swedish immigrants represented early Denver’s largest ethnic group, spilling out of their Midwestern communities for the talked-about riches of Colorado. Often the hard-working Swedes could be found in the dirtiest jobs in town - smelting the gold and silver that flowed down from the mountains. Socially, Denver’s Swedish community clustered around the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, which after 1926, congregated in this Gothic Revival sanctuary.
TURN LEFT ON 16TH AVENUE.
333 East 16th Avenue
Louis W. Mack was born in Germany but spent the lion’s share of his 85 years in Denver as one of the town’s most influential property owners. The Mack family owned a mansion here that the son, Louis Mack, tore down in 1931 so he could build an apartment house in the image of the Grosvenor House in London where he had recently been a guest. Architect Walter H. Simon designed the Tudor-style building using gray stone from the original building as trim and installing the serpents with animal heads at the front door which were also salvaged from the Mack family mansion. Grosvenor Arms has remained largely intact during its 80+ years as rental property.
William G. Fisher House
1600 Logan Street at northeast corner of 16th Avenue
William Bradley Daniels arrived in Denver from New York in the pioneer days of the 1860s and began peddling dry goods with J.M. Echart in a small store on the corner of 15th and Larimer streets. William Garrett Fisher came on board in 1872 and the partners set up shop on this block a few years later. By the time of Daniels’ death in 1890 Daniels & Fisher was the go-to emporium for stylish shoppers in Denver and would remain so until the business was acquired by rival May Company in 1958. Frank Edbrooke designed this stately Neoclassical home for Daniels in 1896 with an elliptical Ionic portico and balustraded deck. Fisher only enjoyed one of Denver’s finest seats for a short while - he fell ill and died on a business trip in New York City in 1897 when he was only 52 years old.
TURN RIGHT ON LOGAN STREET.
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
1530 Logan Street at northeast corner of Colfax Avenue
The cathedral of the Archdiocese of Denver of the Roman Catholic Church was started in 1902 and ten years and $500,000 later the first mass was held here on October 27, 1912. Architect Leon Coquard of Detroit provided the French Gothic design featuring a pair of 210-foot spires. Inserted in the Indiana limestone walls are 75 stained glass windows imported from Munich, Germany.
First Church of Christ, Scientist
1415 Logan Street at northwest corner of 14th Avenue
Ground was broken for this grand Neoclassical church in 1901, only 22 years after the founding of the Church of Christ, Scientist by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston. The Denver congregation organized in 1891. Architects Frederick Sterner and Lester Varian used white lava stone from Salida, Colorado in the Greek temple that features a domed skylight roof.
TURN RIGHT ON 14TH AVENUE.
Scottish Rite Masonic Center
1370 Grant Street at southeast corner of 14th Avenue
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry traces its roots back to the 1730s; the Colorado Scottish Rite dates to 1877 and was the first organized in the state. Colorado Consistory Number One was designed by William N. Bowman, a member, in 1924 and is the home of four lodges.
First Baptist Church of Denver
1373 Grant Street at southwest corner of 14th Avenue
This is the oldest Baptist congregation in Colorado, organized on May 2, 1864. The brick church dates to 1937, designed in a classical cross formation with a pedimented entrance portico and multi-tiered steeple. This type of church can be found in many a New England town but not so much in the Rocky Mountains. The solid granite Corinthian columns were so substantial that they were turned on a lathe in the middle of 14th Avenue during construction.
Colorado State Museum
200 14th Avenue at southeast corner of Sherman Street
This is one of the last buildings designed by Frank Edbrooke, completed in 1915; his very last was his own mausoleum before he died in 1921. Crafted of granite, the three-story Neoclassical confection was the long-time home of the Colorado Historical Society and its museum until 1977. Dr. Frederick J. Bancroft, who is credited with creating Denver’s public health system in the 1800s, also founded the State Historical and Natural History Society in 1879. The nascent museum found space around town where it could before settling into the basement of the Capitol Building which worked until this much-anticipated home opened with 59,000 square feet for the growing eclectic collection.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE STATE CAPITOL BUILDING.