Above It All

Summiting the highest penthouse in the Mile High City.

The team is exhausted, but the goal is in sight.

Since heading out from base camp, we have endured unimaginable privations (lunch was a bit rushed), the fury of the elements (I hopethose were raindrops I felt pelting my shoulder downstairs) and the harsh demands of the ascent itself (although as elevators go, it was a pretty smooth ride). It's taken all of our skill, training and superb physical conditioning to get this far.

Now only fifteen steps of polished granite stand between us and the apogee of all our hopes and desires. Fifteen steps to the highest bedroom in downtown Denver.

I can't speak for the rest of the expedition, but I'm feeling a bit lightheaded. What will I find up there? And if I can scrounge together $2,475,000 -- forgotten lottery ticket, unexpected tax refund, an online auction of my collection of Spider-Man comic books -- should I buy the place?

In old movies about corporate striving, all those 1960s how-to-succeed-by-backstabbing flicks starring the likes of George Peppard or Stephen Boyd, this was always the pivotal moment, the scene that tells the audience the hero has made it to the top. Welcome to the penthouse, baby. The world's at your feet. Was it worth the trip?

In this case, there can only be one answer: Yes, baby, it was. Check out the view, which takes in the mountains from Longs Peak to Pikes Peak and everything in between. Stroll those gleaming black floors. Sip Grey Goose, shoot pool and pick up the hum of the city from the three terraces. Climb that steel-and-granite stairway to the stars, and then tell me that 1020 15th Street, Apartment 42D, isn't the sleekest, hippest, highest pad in town.

It's fitting that this particular penthouse is in Brooks Towers. Built in 1968, Brooks pioneered the notion of high-rise downtown living long before lofts began to rise in LoDo. The building later went co-op, giving apartment dwellers the opportunity to become urban real estate speculators. Today, a 533-square-foot studio in the Towers sells for around $125,000; an extra parking space in the garage can command $50,000.

The steepest price tag belongs to 42D -- which, until a few years ago, was merely one of four top-floor units. The current owner, a Lockheed Martin executive, decided he wanted more space than the 1,800 square feet provided. He gutted the original apartment, added another 800 feet by expanding onto a terrace, then did what so many Washington Park bungalow denizens have done: He popped the top.

Building on the roof added another level to the floor plan -- and gave the executive the right to bill his penthouse as the top of the town, lording it over his 42nd-floor neighbors by a few yards. "The owner calls it the uplifting of Brooks Towers, not a pop top," says John Todd II, one of the Kentwood City Properties agents now showing the penthouse to qualified prospects. "This is literally the highest residential space in Denver."

According to Todd, the 2001 renovation required a battery of special permits and even, briefly, the closure of surrounding streets, as materials that were too heavy or too large for the elevators were carried to the site by helicopter. The floating stairway to the second level -- each granite step individually cut and shaped, each rail bent by hand -- required the aid of several contractors; the sales brochure credits the owner, trained as an aeronautics engineer, with its design. His wife, an interior designer, selected a range of pricey, shiny finishes and accessories, including jazzy track and recessed lighting, Italian marble in the baths, iridescent Venetian plaster in the powder room, and shimmering maple cabinetry and galaxy-black granite counters in the kitchen.

All of that granite and glitter gives the pad a distinctly masculine feel. The feeling is underscored at every turn. Forget the formal dining room, the two guest bedrooms and 3.5 baths; what greets you at the entrance is the wet bar and the pool table, the Vargas pinup girl on the wall. The flat-screen home entertainment center beckons from the corner, and a $60,000 stereo system pipes in tunes. Ascend to the magic upper level and you find an arena-like master bedroom, a cavernous master bath, and enough faux leopard and zebra trimmings to make Hef or even P. Diddy proud. Curtains sealing off this inner sanctum from the rest of the pad can be operated by remote control from the bed itself. At night, with the lights of the city blazing in on all sides, this could be Party Central.

At roughly $700 a square foot, 42D is probably beyond the means of the kind of party animal who would most appreciate it. Old-money types may find it a bit too nouveau for their tastes. Still, the amenities are nothing to sniff at. The asking price includes not one, but two parking spaces. You're a short walk from the DCPA, the Pepsi Center, Larimer Square or anything else that matters downtown. And just how do you put a price on that view -- an unimpeded, panoramic, Master of the Universe vantage point on Denver and the Front Range?

The place has been on the market since March. Todd says he's had a few serious inquiries, less than a dozen. The demand for $2.5 million penthouses in downtown Denver is admittedly limited, but 42D is not the only property in that stratosphere. Todd expects that, with time, the right buyer will find the crib of his dreams.

"You never know who it's going to be," he says. "It could be a corporate executive, or perhaps even a corporation that uses it as a residence for its people. Perhaps an athlete or an entertainer. You need to be capable of earning a lot of money."

Yes, you do. That's how you get to the penthouse, baby. Standing on the upper terrace, watching the little people going about their business in the streets 43 stories below, I do some quick calculations on the probable online value of two boxes of Silver Age Marvel comics in fair-to-grubby condition. Then I rejoin the team for the swift, terrible descent down the elevator shaft.

Two minutes later, I am back on the street.

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