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The bank, constructed originally for First Federal Savings, has a complicated massing, with two pavilions of roughly equal size connected by a wing that serves as the main entrance. The entire building is constructed of buff-colored brick joined by mortar tinted to match. Though principally horizontal in orientation, the bank has a strong vertical rhythm. This vocabulary of verticals includes staircase railings, window mullions, and decorative and structural ribs that together create added visual interest.
The two pavilions correspond to the two phases in which the bank was constructed; the south wing dates from 1963 and the north from 1969. The south pavilion is partly surrounded along the front and side by a dry moat surfaced in gravel, which allows the garden level to be open to the sun. The north pavilion is more striking -- especially the unconventional roof composed of four square pyramids arranged in a grid. Clearly the north wing was designed to complement the south, which it does perfectly.
Commercial Federal plans to demolish the bank in the first quarter of 2004 and then construct a new, more modest bank at one end of the site and sell off the rest of the lot. Not that it will be readily sellable, as this part of South Broadway is lined with thrift stores, pawnshops and used-car lots. In fact, the only notable structure for blocks in either direction is this lovely little bank.
Quittner lives in Omaha, as does the architect designing the replacement bank. It's that same old thing again: Someone from somewhere else deciding to dismantle our architectural heritage with seemingly nothing to be done to stop it.
"Unstoppable" would certainly be an apt description of what's set to befall that notable Platte Valley monument Ocean Journey. Here the key name is Tilman Fertitta, the president of Landry's. As many will recall, Fertitta came to town earlier this year to snap up Ocean Journey for $13.6 million, a fraction of the $93 million the aquarium cost to build only a couple of years ago. Fertitta is renaming the place the Downtown Aquarium in Denver and plans to open a combination seafood restaurant and aquarium. No, this is not a joke: Landry's has already opened the Downtown Aquarium in Houston.
It's so sad, because Ocean Journey is such a good building, so intelligent, so sensitive to its site. It was created with a full-tilt attitude. There's cutting-edge aquarium design, an art program that includes a number of specially created pieces and architectural design of the highest order, thanks to creator Odyssea, a one-time-only partnership of RNL Design and Anderson Mason Dale.
Ron Mason did the building's exterior, which is one of his greatest accomplishments. A lot of ideas are crammed into Mason's neo-modernist approach, but they've been so elegantly laid out that it's breathtaking. The aptly named Mason used the masonry core that surrounds the fish tanks to make references to the century-old buildings not far away in LoDo, while the undulating metal-and-glass walls (which Fentress Bradburn later cribbed for Invesco Field) reflect Mason's faith in the ideas of our time.
But Mason's not in charge anymore, and others are now going to wreck his masterpiece. The first bad change -- anticipate many more -- is a fake stone cave, what Landry's calls a "grotto," being slapped onto the front of the building. (Gag me with a trident!)
In October, at a meeting of the Blueprint Denver Committee of the Denver City Council, representatives of Landry's presented the "grotto" idea. Though it will be some months before any changes are made to Ocean Journey, the good folks from Landry's are already getting their ducks in a row -- or, rather, councilmembers in their pockets.
Rick Garcia was embarrassing to watch as he explained to the other councilmembers that the "grotto" was necessary because Ocean Journey was changing from a "scientific" use to an "amusement" one. As he spoke what was transparently Landry's party line, I wondered if Garcia had memorized a script or if he used cue cards. Then it got even worse when Jeanne Robb -- very apparently ad-libbing -- said, "Denver's now open for business, and Landry's will soon be open for dinner."
Robb was referring to the slogan Mayor John Hickenlooper used during his campaign this past summer. Don't expect any leadership on Ocean Journey from Hickenlooper, though. He still hasn't appointed a planning director, so there's no one to tell Fertitta to go back to the drawing board.
It's horrible to contemplate, but it seems the Commercial Federal Bank and Ocean Journey will soon be subtracted from the ever-dwindling list of fine buildings in the metro area. And here's the irksome part: Just like Blankenship, Kummer and Mejia, Quittner and Fertitta couldn't care less.
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