Open Up, Denver!

Places that are normally out of sight see daylight during Doors Open Denver.

"I'm actually surprisingly calm, which makes me nervous," says Ginger White, consultant to the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and project coordinator for the inaugural Doors Open Denver, a free public event showcasing Denver's best architecture on Saturday, April 16, and Sunday, April 17. Though White's responsibilities are many -- organizing a behind-the-scenes tour of 82 venues across the city is no small task -- it's hard to imagine anyone better for the job. A former marketing manager for the Cherry Creek Arts Festival who also served as program assistant for Great Chicago Places and Spaces -- essentially Chicago's version of Doors -- White is the type of person who seems most comfortable juggling multiple tasks. Before leading me on a mini-tour of some of the places that will be showcased this weekend, for instance, she crams the trunk of my car full of promotional banners to deliver to the spots we'll visit -- "since we're going there anyway."

Our first stop is TAXI, at 3455 Ringsby Court, a long, squat building that sits on the Platte in the River North district. Developer Mickey Zeppelin bought the property, a former Yellow Cab terminal, in 1997 with the idea of converting a predominantly industrial area into a vital urban center. As Zeppelin and his son Kyle walk us through, they note the features left over from the building's former occupants. A booth once used for painting cabs now houses the conference room of a photography studio. Drainage troughs that ushered water from car washes now serve as illuminated floor lighting for a web design company. The main hallway is marked by two bright-yellow strips: a narrow corridor used to guide cabs. Bright and open, the floors are made of sustainable materials like bamboo.

Next up is the Denver Center Theatre Company, 1101 13th Street, where the DCTC's Chris Wiger leads us through the impressive edifice built in 1906 to house downtown trolleys, which entered under what is now Hotel Teatro. The building served as multi-purpose quarters for trolley drivers, complete with a theater, bowling alleys and a barbershop. Today it houses every stagecraft-struck kid's dream. Rehearsal rooms lead to a lighting studio, which leads to a shop full of colorful costumes hanging from the ceiling. There are fitting rooms and an elaborate craft area adorned with strange and creepy masks. In the scene shop, skilled carpenters craft sets in an enormous space where the numbers of the old trolley tracks are marked in faded lettering on concrete beams above.

Architecture takes center stage in Doors Open 
Denver.
Architecture takes center stage in Doors Open Denver.

"What's going to be amazing about Doors is that nobody ever gets to see this," Wiger comments. "We start with a script and build everything. Nobody knows that this is all here."

Finally, our tour lands at preservationist/ developer extraordinaire Dana Crawford's Flour Mill Loft, at 2000 Little Raven Street. Housed in what used to be called the "see-through" or "birdcage" building because of its dilapidated appearance, the renovated structure now boasts seventeen of Denver's poshest lofts. Crawford's pad calls to mind an Upper East Side apartment in New York, the type of place that echoes eternally of fancy dinner parties and fine wines; it's the type of space I didn't think existed in Denver. From here I can almost see the whole city, with stunning shots of the mountains in the distance.

Even the briefest glimpse of the Doors Open offerings is enough to satisfy the voyeur in all of us.

"It's an interesting opportunity to view Denver in an architectural light," White tells me, removing the remaining posters from my car before heading back to her office. "It's always nice to see things from a different perspective."

 
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