With the AIA convention in Denver, a look at ten architectural gems

With the AIA convention in Denver, a look at ten architectural gems
Philip Poston
David Adjaye’s Musem of Contemporary Art Denver.

Thousands of professionals in the fields of architecture, planning, design and related occupations, along with many vendors, are meeting in Denver June 20-22 for the American Institute of Architects' annual convention, this year titled "Building Leaders."

In honor of the event, I've given my column over to a walk through Denver's treasure chest — the greater Civic Center area. But there are many other fantastic buildings elsewhere downtown. With that in mind, here is a list of ten that I think are captivating.

Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th Street

Frank Edbrooke, the premier Denver architect of the late 19th century, moved here in 1879 from Chicago, where he was part of a dynastic family of architects. Soon after arriving, he established his own firm, with the 1892 Brown Palace Hotel being his early masterpiece. This magnificent example of the Richardsonian-Romanesque style has a triangular footprint because it follows the shape of its site, which is bounded by 17th Street, Tremont Place and Broadway. The steel-framed building, with a pinkish granite podium below a reddish sandstone-clad shaft, was as up-to-date as anything in Chicago or New York at the time. Directly across Tremont is the Navarre, a delightful Italianate folly that Edbrooke completed in 1880. A comparison of the two reveals how, in the span of a dozen years, this frontier town had transformed itself into the biggest city in the mountain West.

Rockmount Ranch Wear Building
1626 Wazee Street

Lower Downtown is renowned for its nightlife, brewpubs and restaurants, but it's also the place to find a number of early modernist buildings. For whatever reason, very few Prairie residences were built in Denver, but equally puzzling is the fact that quite a few Prairie-style commercial buildings were, with most of them in this neighborhood. Among my favorites is the 1909 Rockmount Ranch Wear Building, by William Ellsworth Fisher and Arthur Addison Fisher — and not just because the westernwear emporium inside is signature Denver. This is a very advanced building for its date, with geometric drops falling from flat pilasters and a checkerboard motif of glazed headers. While you're on Wazee Street, check out the 1912 Sugar Building Annex, at 1554 Wazee, by Aaron Gove and Thomas Walsh. It is even more Wrightian than the Rockmount, and is definitely its peer as a work of architecture.

Denver Gas and Electric Light Company Building
910 15th Street

As with the Brown and the Rockmount, the source of inspiration for the Denver Gas and Electric Light Company Building lies in Chicago. Designed by Harry Edbrooke — Frank's nephew — the beautifully proportioned building has been called a tour de force in terra cotta because it's covered in bright-white tiles. Though there are neoclassical details, the overall appearance is one of modernity, with the windows organized vertically and horizontally and the building divided into three volumes, one on top of the other, until the shaft terminates in a dramatically coved cornice. The richly detailed structure, with its cut-outs for integral electric lights (to show off, by proxy, the company's product), is the city's finest Sullivanesque work. The lighting scheme appears as dark squares in the daytime, but at night, when the lights are working, it's out of this world.

Paramount Theatre
1621 Glenarm Place

Denver was a center for the production of architectural ceramics in the early part of the last century — a natural, given all the clay around here — and the Paramount Theatre, from 1929, is covered in light-colored terra-cotta tile. The theater was designed by Temple Buell, one of Denver's most successful architects of the 20th century. For this facade, Buell cleverly reassembled rococo and baroque ornamental fragments upside down or sideways in order to turn the tired old shapes into something new — in this case, the stepped details of the art-deco style. Face the building's front door and look left and then right: you'll see a block-long art-history course in front of you. To the left is Morris Stuckert's Kittredge Building, from 1890, in the Richardsonian-Romanesque style; to the right is the Miesian Denver Club Building, from 1954, by Raymond Harry Ervin. The wonderful art-deco Paramount is in between.

Denver Club Building
518 17th Street

The International style came to Denver in the '30s with the completion of several houses that made national architectural news. But it wasn't until the 1950s that the Mile High City would see a new crop of related high-rises. Homegrown modernist Raymond Harry Ervin, who had designed some of those early residences, gained several large, high-status commissions after World War II; with his eye for form and detail, as evidenced in the Denver Club Building, from 1954, that's not surprising. Though the less-is-more, form-follows-function ideology that ruled the day can definitely be seen, Ervin put a lot more than that into the design. The aluminum trim juxtaposed with the icy-green aggregate panels, the asymmetrically balanced conception of the building's volumes and the wrap-around handling of the penthouse all come together to give the building a genuine swankiness. It's Mies meets Mad Men — and as sleek as those chrome-plated Cadillacs and Lincolns that the club's original members drove to get there.

U.S. Courthouse and Byron G. Rogers Federal Building
1929-1961 Stout Street

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The English Instructor in Denver
The English Instructor in Denver

When I first moved to Denver I admired that building each time I passed it. I thought it was an old train station from the 30s-never imagined it would be the Wastewater Management Building!

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

Prejudice and NEGLIGENT Colorado Government..not so impressed!

Deborah Watts
Deborah Watts

I sang in the hall of the Mayor's offices Thurs...the HALLS are alive with the sound of CORRUPTION! That is quite an impressive building!

Nick Murphy
Nick Murphy

As I use to call it as a kid the French fry wall

Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

Van Cise detention center!!! Lock away the poor!!!