From Pillar to Post

Bonfils entrusted the design of the paper's new home to Temple Buell, the premier Denver architect of the period and, along with Bonfils, one of the people instrumental in the development of Denver as a modern city. And the conservative yet luxurious building he gave her reflected both of their tastes. When it opened, it was heralded as a state-of-the-art publishing facility. There was a five-story office block for editorial and advertising connected to a two-story printing plant. The paper was so proud of its new digs that it lauded the structure with a special supplement and organized daily guided tours.

Born into a wealthy Chicago family, Buell came to Denver, as many others did, to recuperate from tuberculosis. In 1921 he entered the Oakes Home Sanitarium in north Denver. Throughout his life, he frequently said that getting TB was a lucky break because it led him to Denver, where he gained both fame and fortune. Apparently, the disease had no lasting effect on Buell's health; he died in 1990 at the age of 95.

Buell established his Denver architectural firm in 1923 and became known for traditional architecture in the Tudor revival style. In the late 1920s, though, he really came into his own when he embraced modernism--in particular, the art deco style. Buell designed two of the city's greatest art deco treasures: the Paramount Theatre on Glenarm Place downtown and the Katherine Mullen Memorial, part of St. Joseph's Hospital, at East 19th Avenue and Franklin Street.

The Great Depression left the glitzy art deco style in the dust. But austerity is the mother of invention, and the art moderne style gained fans, among them Buell. During the Depression, Buell was awarded many federal commissions, including Public Works Administration jobs for the design of low-income housing projects. Buell designed scores of them throughout the West; one of the finest was his terra-cotta-clad art moderne-style Lincoln Park Homes across West Colfax Avenue from the Auraria campus. This handsome cycle of buildings was torn down recently to make way for new public-housing units. If you want a quick lesson in how not to replace a landmark, check out the sorry Highlands Ranch-style substitutes currently nearing completion on the site.

By the time he designed the Post building, Buell's interest in the art moderne style had reached its apex. And unlike the cash-strapped federal government of the 1930s, the wealthy Bonfils had the money to spring for the bells and whistles. Thus the building was decked out with expensive travertine on the first floor and terra-cotta on the upper floors, which was nearly as costly. Shiny metal trim and glass blocks completed the look.

It may be hard to appreciate these architectural qualities given the building's current down-at-the-heels appearance. Times Mirror has allowed the structure to deteriorate seriously since the Post moved out in 1989. Not only has the building become coated with a thick layer of dirt, but the travertine panels that cover the first floor are turning up missing or broken, victims of vandals or thieves. The windows are meeting the same sad fate.

But if you look through the grime and past the missing parts, the building reveals itself as one of the region's finest examples of art moderne architecture. Despite Buell's handful of other local projects, the art moderne style, which ran its course from the mid-1930s to the 1950s, is quite scarce around here. In fact, there's only one other example in all of downtown: the old Chicago Title building of 1937 by Fisher and Fisher at 17th and Champa streets, now being restored into a luxury hotel. For this reason alone, the Post building is worth saving. Even more important is the pivotal role it played in Buell's career, anticipating his mature modern style of the 1950s and '60s, best exemplified by the formalist State Service building of 1960, at Colfax Avenue and Sherman Street. Just like the Post, the State Service building is covered with deluxe materials and is rigidly symmetrical. Both buildings thus manage to be crisply modern and vaguely traditional at the same time--no mean feat for an architect of any period.

Should the Post building fall, it wouldn't be the first time the city lost an important historic asset just to gain a few more parking spaces. But should Berger succeed in his plans, there may be another casualty heretofore overlooked: the credibility of Mayor Webb's planning department, whose vision for downtown was codified in the B-5 regulations.

On second thought, that was lost years ago.

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