Artbeat

Brief sketches of what's happening in the Denver art scene.

At the beginning of last week, after forty years in operation, the White Spot, a quintessential 1960s coffee shop and restaurant, closed its doors. The contents were liquidated a few days later. Soon the site will be scrapped to provide a location for a new multi-building complex. It's a sad and ignoble end to this marvelous landmark, but one that was unavoidable, despite the Children's Crusade of a last-minute preservation struggle mounted by the restaurant's former manager and some of its patrons. They'll be lucky if the building still stands by the time the nomination reaches the Denver Landmarks Commission.

Too bad, because the building's shabby appearance notwithstanding, it truly is a landmark and a distinctive example of mid-century expressionist architecture. That double-butterfly roof is really something, as are the stone piers that hold it up. In fact, the White Spot isn't unlike the now-lost hyperbolic paraboloid from I.M. Pei's Zeckendorf Plaza. And it even bears a stylistic relationship to the new Denver Art Museum wing being designed by Daniel Libeskind, which itself soars with expressionist angles.

The White Spot was designed by the Los Angeles-based architectural firm of Armet & Davis, specialists in the design of coffee shops and restaurants nationwide. A copy of the rendering of the White Spot, prepared by the firm before the building was constructed in 1961, is seen above. The illustration was sent in by a California preservationist, John English, who fights for the conservation of roadside architecture like the White Spot in his home state.

There are several things that make the building essentially unsavable, though. First, the developer for the new complex is Mile High Development, and it's downright omnipotent. Second, maintenance on the building has been deferred for decades, and now its facia boards are falling off the eaves and the roof is on the verge of failure. It would take millions of dollars to fix it. Another factor against the White Spot is its high-status location at 8th Avenue and Broadway. It's too valuable a lot for a single-floor restaurant to remain there much longer.

If there is a bright side to the story, it is that the White Spot is to be replaced with what promises to be a handsome set of buildings being designed by the Denver architectural firms of Shears & Leese Architects and Klipp, Colussy, Jenks, DuBois Architects. And the complex will be done in a contemporary polychromed neo-modern style; it will not look like a chateau from EPCOT on steroids like the Beauvallon, being built just a block up Lincoln Street.

But it's still a terrible shame to see that fabulous old White Spot go.

 
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