Art Review

Steven Turner leaves Historic Denver behind

Last week, the Colorado Historical Society announced that Steven Turner will become the director of the State Historical Fund. That means that Turner is resigning as the director of Historic Denver. The promotion is good news for those of us who appreciate the old buildings of Denver. Not because Turner will be doling out millions for historic preservation, but rather because Historic Denver will be rid of someone who was an incredibly ineffective leader.

During his two years at HD's helm, Turner did a number of contemptible things, and he'll definitely be a better fit as a bureaucrat than as an advocate for historic preservation.

One example concerns the proposed redevelopment of the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center at Colorado Boulevard at Ninth Avenue, which is being vacated as the school decamps for Fitzsimons. Turner signed off on plans that call for the demolition of the Victor Hornbein psychiatric complex on Eighth Avenue, a masterful pair of red-brick Usonian-style buildings. Hornbein, best known for the Denver Botanic Gardens, specialized in residences, and his buildings on the medical-center campus are rare examples of his talent applied to major structures. Maybe Turner's successor at Historic Denver will take developer Shea Properties back to the drawing board on this one.

Another example is the way Turner rolled over on plans to plop a Colorado History Museum in the middle of the Civic Center, making no objection to this stupid idea, which would have destroyed the integrity of this jewel. With the museum now set to build elsewhere, it seems like Turner degraded Historic Denver for no reason at all.

I'll close with a personal story: Last year, I worked on one of HD's guide books, and, in a conversation with Turner, he informed me that the publications were not about preservation. Gee, I wonder what he thought they were supposed to be about. By the way, I was brought on to that project by Kathleen Brooker, Turner's predecessor. I doubt Turner would have wanted someone like me involved, since I think historic architecture should be cherished.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia