Changing Views

Additions to downtown's built environment and possible subtractions in the hinterlands.

As a result of the considerable weight of the evidence presented by historic-preservation consultant Diane Wray Tomasso, Englewood community development director Robert Simpson ordered that no demolition permit be issued for the bank pending a hearing on its eligibility under city landmark guidelines. Unfortunately, this provision was rescinded.

There had been a hearing planned to discuss making Commercial Federal an Englewood landmark on November 9, but it didn't happen. That is, testimony was given, but it wasn't a hearing. The Nebraska corporation that owns the building refused to allow hearing notices to be posted on the property, and the city administration decided it was improper to post the notices on the public right-of-way. Because there was no proper notice for the hearing, it could not proceed.

Nonetheless, corporate suits did fly in from Omaha to give the typical song and dance of those who want to tear down buildings. How they're normally for preservation, just not this time. One of their principal arguments is that the building is laden with asbestos, as are most that date before the 1970s. I guess that kind of argument flies in the backwaters where those suits are from, but here in metro Denver, it's well known that proper asbestos removal must be done in precisely the same way, whether the building is torn down or saved.

Model of the Hamilton Building and its surrounding 
complex, by Daniel Libeskind.
Model of the Hamilton Building and its surrounding complex, by Daniel Libeskind.

There is talk of a moratorium on demolition on South Broadway until planning guidelines for the street's redevelopment can be completed. However, it may already be too late for Commercial Federal, since its out-of-town owners applied for a demolition permit on November 22 and may have it in hand as early as December 3. By the way, if the bank were listed as an Englewood landmark, it would be only the second building in the town so designated. The other one is the Skerritt House, homestead of the city's founder.

Landmark protection is much further along in Denver, and that's why there's more hope for Hangar 61, in the 8600 block of Montview Boulevard at Stapleton. The Denver Landmark Preservation Commission referred the building's fate to the City Council, with hearings yet to be scheduled. That means there's an indefinite stay on demolition. However, there's an ironic twist to this story: The City of Denver owns Hangar 61 through its Stapleton Development Corporation, while Stapleton developer Forest City, the entity endangering it, does not.

Hangar 61 was built in 1960 to house the Ideal Cement Company's plane. It's a bold expressionist triumph created out of steel and thin-shell concrete. It was designed by the distinguished Denver architectural firm of Fisher and Fisher and Davis and engineered by Milo Ketchum. The structure is in a somewhat rundown condition, and rehab costs are estimated to be in the $200,000 range, which is quite a small amount in the big scheme of things. Unfortunately, the Hangar is an eyesore to the people in city government and those who work for Forest City who apparently believe that beauty is achieved through vinyl siding and pseudo-traditional architecture. To those of us who love architecture, though, it's an irreplaceable gem. The volunteer effort to save the marvelous Hangar 61 is being headed up by David Walter, an artist and partner in Ironton Studios and Gallery. Surely some imaginative use can be found for the building, which is one of the only airport-related resources still standing at Stapleton.

It's ironic that as new versions of the expressionist ethos such as the DAM's Hamilton Building and the adjacent Museum Residences are under construction, the existing examples of the same mid-twentieth-century zeitgeist -- e.g., Commercial Federal and Hangar 61 -- are being threatened with demolition. Modernist expressionism has been hit especially hard in recent years around here. There's I. M. Pei's lost hyperbolic paraboloid at Zeckendorf Plaza on the 16th Street Mall, as well as two missing gems by James Sudler: the badly remodeled Daly Insurance Building and the stripped Columbine Building, both once gracing Sherman Street just north of the State Capitol. Think of how great it would be if these buildings were still around, each only a few blocks from Libeskind's Hamilton Building and complex. Neither Commercial Federal nor Hangar 61 is that close to the new museum, but stylistically speaking, they're not that far away, either. Public officials in Englewood and Denver have the chance to correct the mistakes of the past by saving those two buildings, but we'll just have to wait and see if, against all odds, they will.

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