Mary Voelz Chandler on Denver's demolition history and her updated architectural guide

Mary Voelz Chandler knows her structures. An art and design critic for the Rocky Mountain News until it folded in 2009, Chandler now works directly in the building field, as a communications specialist with G.H. Phipps Construction. She shared her knowledge in 2001's Guide to Denver Architecture; now she's back with a new and improved version that covers fresh architectural developments of the last decade as well as long-gone structures of the past.

Chandler is a master at surveying and assessing the changing Denver skyline. In advance of her speaking engagement at Tattered Cover LoDo tonight, we spoke with her about the city's booming development and the architectural marvels of Denver's past that have been lost to demolition.

See also: I.M. Pissed

Westword: Why did you choose to rework, revamp and release this second edition of the Guide to Denver Architecture now, in 2013?

Mary Voelz Chandler: This book builds off the first edition pretty heavily, which came out in 2001. Along with committee that I was working with, I think we started this in 1991. So it was an eleven-year project. It just went on and on. Then, when it became apparent that the AIA (American Institute of Architects) was coming back here in 2013 for its national convention, we sort of re-grouped in late 2010.

I had brought home all of my files from the Rocky Mountain News, which had closed in February of 2009. Where we started with the second edition was, I made a list by looking at all of these files and just by knowing what buildings had been demolished. It was such a bad period -- there was very little development in early '09 through I'd say about '10, because the economy totally tanked. But it was amazing to me how much was built between 2001 and 2008 and how much was started, and eventually did make it out of the ground.

I don't know how many new buildings there are in this book -- I haven't counted. We took some things out because to add new things, we didn't want the book to be so big that people needed a sherpa to help them with it. I mean, it is supposed to be a guidebook.

The last National AIA Convention here in was in June of 2001, and the big thing then was that they wanted to see LoDo and there was the new airport and the Buell. This time around, there was so much more to see -- Stapleton, Lowry, the new Denver Art Museum, Central Platte Valley -- which appeared overnight, out of the ground. When I moved here in '84, I called it "the Black Hole of Denver" because it was just train tracks and mattresses and junk.

Stapleton and Lowry grew out of old transportation and military development and then the Anschutz Medical Campus -- it's just like, wow. I go out there every once in a while just to look at. It is just extraordinary what goes on there.

To me, that is one of the most interesting parts about Denver right now -- we don't just have one particular area where we're seeing growth happening. Even our city skyline has changed over the last thirty years.

That has changed, and I think the push to, well... the horrible Skyline Urban Renewal Project of the late '50s and early '60s cleared 27 square blocks. Some of that was residential, some of it was deemed blighted. It was immigrant and minority (neighborhoods) and some of the city fathers just didn't quite approve.

So, the very last infill for that was, I think, Tabor Center. But then, other buildings were being torn down, and they were just lying there becoming parking lots. I have nothing against occasional parking lots -- we all need them. But the infill really started again with The Spire and the Four Seasons and a lot of other things. The Pavilions, which I think has improved greatly -- they did some revamping of it so it looks better, though it is still not the Taj Mahal. But that was two square blocks of parking lots -- along the mall, of all places. I think gradual infill has been really wonderful.

What's going on at Union Station now and this new bus route along 18th and 19th streets is pretty exciting. I live in north Capitol Hill and the growth here has been like, whoa. Where did all of this come from? In some cases, there has been a loss of nice, older homes. But in other cases, I don't think it was a terrible loss. It is a vibrant neighborhood and I love it. I work in the Tech Center -- which is like going to a different planet everyday.

Look at Highland -- all of these things are happening in little neighborhoods that were almost, not given up on, but...
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies

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