Middle-Age Modern

The news is even more promising on the residential front. In spite of years of scrape-offs and remodels, most of the important Fifties houses on Hilltop survive, and almost all of them are in tip-top condition. The neighborhood features the only post-war house in Colorado listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the 1951 International-style Josel Residence by visionaries Joseph and Louise Marlow, on South Dahlia Street between Alameda Avenue and Cedar Street.

But the Denver area could soon top that with the country's first Fifties housing development to be entered in its entirety on the National Register.

Englewood is not the first--or even the fiftieth--place you think of when the topic at hand is national-class architecture. Nonetheless, this suburb is home to Arapahoe Acres, a remarkable neighborhood located between Bates and Dartmouth avenues from Marion to Franklin streets that's filled with more than a hundred modernist homes.

The continuing value of Arapahoe Acres as a cultural asset is owed to many factors, not the least of which are the series of owners--some original buyers, some enthusiastic newcomers--who keep up these homes. With only a few exceptions, these modest yet magnificent houses have been preserved, cherished and maintained over the decades. When one resident recently tore out landscape elements, greatly expanding the driveway and erecting an obtrusive fence, a score of neighbors signed a protest letter. And just last week Arapahoe Acres residents met at Charles Hay Elementary School to discuss how changes can be made that are "neighborhood-friendly." This on-going, positive peer pressure is one of the main reasons the development retains much of its original character and will likely receive historic designation.

There were many gifted people who brought Arapahoe Acres from the realm of ideas into the northern reaches of Englewood. First and foremost was Edward Hawkins, a builder who conceived of the project and became its developer, designing many of the neighborhood's finest houses and much of the unifying landscape plan. Also important was Eugene Sternberg, architect and professor at the now-closed School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Denver, who designed the oldest houses in Arapahoe Acres and laid out the original site plan. Other architects (notably Jerry Dion) and landscape designers (notably Stanley Yoshimura) also made substantial contributions to the character of Arapahoe Acres.

The Arapahoe Acres history on which the National Register nomination is based was put together by Diane Wray, a historic-preservation consultant who's become the neighborhood's de facto historian. Since she moved to Arapahoe Acres in 1990, Wray has interviewed scores of original residents as well as surviving designer Sternberg and original construction foreman Clyde Mannon; she's researched the neighborhood both through the city of Englewood's records and in the national architectural press. (Arapahoe Acres houses were often featured in magazines; the first article appeared in 1950, when only a few had been built.)

Wray is working with other residents to establish a historic preservation committee for the neighborhood that will be "an information- based-thing," she says. The few insensitive changes that have been made to the neighborhood over the years, she explains, were more the result of misunderstandings about the nature of the houses than willful attempts to destroy the overall character. "Everyone who lives here was attracted in the first place by the distinctiveness of the area," she says. "So to own a home in Arapahoe Acres is to have an obligation to preserve it."

Wray is right. Fine Fifties architecture--whether downtown, in Cherry Creek or in the suburbs--represents a valuable equity that we have inherited and have a duty to preserve. Unfortunately, those worthy souls in Arapahoe Acres and in Hilltop notwithstanding, all too often we in the metro area have failed as caretakers of our local architectural legacy. And shame on us for that.

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