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Shaping Denver's skyline: city's landmarks tell a century-old tale.

Pick any weekday to stroll through Downtown Denver, and the scene is the same: Smartly dressed women talking on cell phones, bike messengers running red lights, and buses along 16th Street disgorging hundreds of passengers.

Now, squeeze your eyes partially shut and open your imagination just a bit, and the women can be holding parasols, the bicycles could be horses, and the bus a carriage, fresh from Union Station with a load of guests being dropped off at the Brown Palace.

For nearly three years now, Who Owns Colorado, a recurring feature in ColoradBiz, has examined new development across the state, barely able to keep up with all the growth and change the state has enjoyed -- and endured.

But one area the feature has overlooked is the development, and redevelopment of some of Downtown Denver's most important and historic buildings.

Looking at just a handful of those buildings paints a remarkably accurate picture of Colorado's developing capital city over the past hundred years. And the same look, with again a little imagination added, could well offer a glimpse into Denver's future.

When the Brown, still Denver's finest hotel, was built in 1892, the city was giddy with the first rush of prosperity from the booming silver industry Henry C. Brown spent $2 million, an unbelievable sum at the time, to build and furnish the lavish retreat.

Deborah Dix, the current public relations director for the Brown, said critics thought the founder of the hotel was crazy to build it 13 blocks from Union Station. The distance would require guests to board a carriage, and later a trolley, for the long, and sometimes cold, ride up 17th Street.

But the journey also took visitors through the city's business and financial district, often called The Wall Street of the West, and it also showed off some of the Queen City's finest assets. The then-recently completed Equitable Life Assurance office was the tallest building in town and an architectural marvel of its own day, costing its New York-based insurer/owner $1.7 million. Historic photos looking east from the building's upper floors show the newly constructed Capitol dome before workers installed gold leaf that makes it shine today.

"In a lot of respects," said Victor Cortes, development manager at the Equitable Building, "(Equitable Life Assurance) was making a statement about their confidence in the West."

Hundreds of other important buildings filled Downtown Denver's turn-of-the-century landscape, but just when everyone was ready to celebrate the coming 20th century, the silver market crashed, leaving businessmen like Brown bankrupt, and forcing him to sell.

"It changed hands a few times right away," Dix said of the Brown. "But it has never closed, not even for one day."

Nearly half a century later, Denver was transformed again with its first skyscrapers.

The city's original high-rise office tower was the 23-floor Mile High Center, built directly across Broadway from the Brown and designed by famed architect I.M. Pei. "That was the first great modernist building in Denver," said Ron Mason of Anderson, Mason, Dale Architects, who started his career working in Pei's Denver office. "A lot of architects in Denver still admire that building."

One admirer, Philip Johnson, another world famous architect, thought enough of Pei's building to emulate its curved roofline when he designed what's now called the Wells Fargo Center -- lovingly dubbed the Cash Register Building -- a 51-story companion tower that is perhaps the city's most recognizable building.

But even as Denver's skyline became dominated by office towers, urban-renewal experts say it has only been in the last decade that the city's center has been reborn as a shopping and entertainment Mecca.

"I think there was a vision for a traditional downtown with stores like Macy's and other big department stores," said Marianne LeClair, redevelopment manager for the Denver Urban Renewal Authority But Downtown boosters had to recast that vision.

"There was a realization that this couldn't compete with suburban shopping malls like Cherry Creek, and (so) it (was) repositioned as a destination, with 16th Street Mall, Six Flags Elitch Gardens, and the large sports venues as attractions."

Coors Field lit a fire under revitalization of Lower Downtown, an area once synonymous with crime, prostitution and homelessness. Preservation efforts there drew in residential developers who built dozens of loft projects that have attracted thousands of urban transplants, giving the city a 24-hour heartbeat.

The completion of Invesco Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos, and the resurrection of the Platte Valley, spurred in part by Recreational Equipment Inc.'s $30 million rescue of the former Denver Tramway Power Co. building, has made LoDo one of the hottest residential addresses in the city.

Plans for transforming old Union Station into a multi-modal transportation hub, where light-rail lines, bus routes and a dreamed-of high-speed train connecting Downtown with Denver International Airport all converge, may yet offer 21st century visitors to the city one of the traditions resurrected from the 19th. Arriving on a jet airplane, you could take the train Downtown to disembark at Union Station, and then, bundled up against the cold, ride up 17th Street in a horse-drawn carriage to the Brown. Just like an old silver baron.
1. THE BROWN PALACE HOTEL


LOCATION 18TH ST. AND BROADWAY
PROJECT TYPE HOTEL
ORIGINAL OWNER HENRY C. BROWN
CURRENT OWNER BROWN PALACE HOTEL ASSOCIATES LIMITED
PHONE (303) 312-5921
ARCHITECT FRANK EDBROOKE
ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION COSTS $1.6 MILLION
CURRENT VALUE UNKNOWN
GENERAL CONTRACTOR GEDDES AND SEERIE
SQUARE FEET 220,320
YEAR BUILT 1892

The hotel has been open 24 hours a day for its entire 110-year
existence. The lobby and atrium are covered in 12,400 square feet of
Mexican onyx. In addition to the construction costs, Henry C. Brown
spent another $400,000 on furnishings. In 1937, the hotel underwent a
major renovation, including converting the top two floors to apartments,
where several people lived for more than 40 years (in 2000 the
apartments were converted to suites and deluxe staterooms). Water for
every faucet and drinking fountain in the hotel still comes from
original 720-foot-deep artesian wells now shared by Deep Rock Water Co.

2. THE EQUITABLE BUILDING


LOCATION 730 17TH ST.
PROJECT TYPE OFFICE CONDOMINIUMS
ORIGINAL OWNER EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE CO. OF NEW YORK
CURRENT OWNER HEX/SCT EQUITABLE LLC
PHONE (303) 595-8710
ARCHITECT ANDREWS JAQUES AND RANTOUL
ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION COSTS $1.7 MILLION
CURRENT VALUE $21 MILLION
SQUARE FEET 174,000
YEAR COMPLETED 1892

The Equitable, which is built in the shape of the back-to-back 'E' of
Equitable Life Assurance's logo, was the finest office building of its
day. The lobby contains two massive stained-glass windows created by
Tiffany's and engraved with the company name. They were appraised at
nearly $3 million. Since it opened, the building has contained an
extensive law library and even today is home to several law firms.
Though the current owners contemplated converting it to residential
lofts, the massive construction and thick concrete floors made it
impossible to add the necessary plumbing required for individual
bathrooms. The building is now being marketed as office condominiums.

3. THE PAVILIONS


LOCATION 500 16TH ST.
PROJECT TYPE RETAIL MALL
ORIGINAL OWNER SCOTT MOORE, CHESSMAN CENTER
CURRENT OWNER DENVER PAVILIONS LLC (BILL
 DENTON AND ART HILL)
PHONE (303) 260-6001
ARCHITECT ELS ARCHITECTS, BERKLEY, CALIF.
ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION COSTS $110 MILLION
CURRENT VALUE $130 MILLION
GENERAL CONTRACTOR HENSEL PHELPS CONSTRUCTION
COMMERCIAL SQUARE FEET 345,000 AVAILABLE FOR LEASE
COMPLETED NOV. 4, 1998

Though relatively new, the concept for Pavilions was decades in the
making. The original landowner, Scott Moore, said his family had held
about half of the property since before 1900. Moore originally planned
to build an office tower dubbed the "Reliance Center" in a partnership
with the real estate arm of Reliance insurance, but the office market in
the early 1980s would not support the project. About that time, The
Brookfieid Co. made plans for Centerstone, a retail complex anchored by
large department stores, which involved using Moore's land. When he
wouldn't sell to Brookfield, DURA sought condemnation of the land, which
Moore fought in court for nearly eight years before the new mayor,
Wellington Webb, stepped in and settled the matter over a handshake at
the Brown Palace. Ironically, DURA and Brookfieid became Moore's allies
in the Pavilions plan. Moore finally sold the land to an LLC managed by
Bill Denton that would go on to build what is now downtown Denver's
hottest retail attraction.

4. THE DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY


LOCATION 10 WEST 14TH AVENUE PARKWAY
PROJECT TYPE PUBLIC BUILDING
ORIGINAL OWNER CITY OF DENVER
CURRENT OWNER CITY OF DENVER
PHONE (720) 865-2009
WEB SITE WWW.DENVER.LIB.CO.US
ARCHITECT KLIPP, COLUSSY, JENKS, DUBOIS ARCHITECTS,
 WITH MICHAEL GRAVES ARCHITECTS
ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION COSTS $46.6 MILLION
GENERAL CONTRACTOR HYMAN ETKIN CONSTRUCTION
SQUARE FEET 133,900 IN THE ORIGINAL BUILDING;
 538,350 TOTAL SINCE THE RENOVATION
YEAR COMPLETED 1956, REMODELED AND EXPANDED IN 1995

The library contains 2.2 million books, 2.3 million government
publications and subscribes to 2,625 periodicals and newspapers, most of
which it pays for. There is seating for 1,114 people, and the staff of
325 serves nearly 1.2 million people who visit the library each year. It
also holds about 50,000 videos, CDs and books on tape. There is also an
impressive collection of original artwork; the most striking is the
Albert Bierstadt painting of Estes Park, which the library has owned
since the original building was completed.

5. REI DENVER TRAMWAY POWER CO. STORE


LOCATION 1416 PLATTE ST.
PROJECT TYPE RETAIL STORE
ORIGINAL OWNER DENVER TRAMWAY CO.
CURRENT OWNER RECREATIONAL EQUIPMENT INC.
PHONE (253) 395-7531
ARCHITECT MITHUN PARTNERS (REMOEL)
REMODEL COSTS $30 MILLION
GENERAL CONTRACTOR HENSEL PHELPS (REMODEL)
SQUARE FEET 100,000
YEAR BUILT 1901

The building originally housed the power plant for Denver's trolley car
system. Prior to REI's purchase and remodel of the building in 1998, it
held the Forney Transportation Museum. According to public records, REI
paid $3.985 million for the building, and another $1.65 million for
adjacent land. There were no original plans for the building, but REI
was careful to follow historic records, which consisted entirely of old
photographs. During the two-year project, bricklayers tuck-pointed more
than 2 million bricks and glaziers restored or recreated all of the
windows to exactly match the originals. Today the store employs about
325 people.

6. MILE HIGH CENTER


LOCATION 1700 BROADWAY
PROJECT TYPE OFFICE TOWER
CURRENT OWNER TIAA REALTY INC.
PHONE (303) 837-3431
ARCHITECT I.M. PEI
GENERAL CONTRACTOR WILLIAM ZECKENDORF
SQUARE FEET 394,151
YEAR BUILT 1955

Mile High Center was Denver's original high-rise office building and is
still a major landmark and architectural showpiece for the city. The
architect is world-renowned for his modernist structures, including the
Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York, the J.F. Kennedy Library in
Boston and the Pyramide do Louvre in Paris.

7. WELLS FARGO CENTER


LOCATION 1700 LINCOLN ST.
PROJECT TYPE OFFICE TOWER
ORIGINAL OWNER HINES DEVELOPMENT
CURRENT OWNER COMMONWEALTH PARTNERS (LOS ANGELES)
PHONE (303) 863-1303
ARCHITECT PHILIP JOHNSON
CURRENT VALUE $200 MILLION IN DEC. 1999
SQUARE FEET 1.2 MILLION ON 51 STORIES
YEAR BUILT 1982

Houston-based Hines Development originally constructed the building for
United Bank of Denver, which later merged with Norwest. The building
then was called One Norwest Center. In 2001, Wells Fargo merged with
Norwest and the named changed again. It's currently about 82 percent
leased. Wells Fargo occupies 20 percent of the building; other major
tenants include Newmont Mining, and Holme Roberts & Owen LLP, a law
firm, it is the third tallest building in Denver, but because it sits on
a hill, it appears taller.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Wiesner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Titus, Stephen
Publication:ColoradoBiz
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:1942
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