The bridge at Genesee Pass, which separates the Clear Creek and Bear Creek drainages, as well as Gilpin County from Clear Creek County, may well be the most elegant structure in the state. The perfect fusion of form and function, achieved with perfect economy of means, it stands in silent mockery of the many overwrought, pseudo-historical pastiches that have sprouted like weeds along the Front Range. Designed by in-house Colorado Department of Transportation engineer Frank Lundburg, it was completed in 1970 for $410,000 -- but would have been a bargain at many times that, so beautifully does it frame the view of the Continental Divide for west-bound motorists. Literally and figuratively, this is the gateway to the Rockies.
Denver Central Library
From the street, Civic Center Park may just look like a good place to score cheap dope and tweak out, but climb to the seventh floor of the central branch of the Denver Public Library, step out onto the deck -- and it's as if you're Eva Peron, staring down at a world of graciousness and beauty. In the summer, the trees form a soft, green canopy over the park and frame all of Colorado's governmental power institutions; in winter, the branches make the view look like an abstract-expressionist painting. Staring down from these heights, you almost feel sorry for the governor and mayor toiling away in their puny little buildings. No wonder City Librarian Rick Ashton had his office up here.
Like any other teenagers, homeless teens (and all the ragged posers and deadbeat twenty-somethings who lurk alongside them) need a place to hang, too. After getting run out of their long-held Skyline Park kingdom, the gangly crowd migrated up the 16th Street Mall to where it meets Stout Street in front of Walgreens -- but business complaints and motorcycle cops made that spot a bust as well. Today the fountain on the north side of Civic Center Park is the teen meeting place of choice. Though it's poor panhandling territory, the pillared amphitheater allows for all manner of hijinks away from the suits and tourists. At least for now.
Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center
The Hyatt Regency Denver got off to an ignoble start when the old Denver Post Building, an art-moderne treasure by Temple Buell, was torn down to provide a site for a not-yet-lined-up hotel at the expanded Colorado Convention Center. But then things took a turn for the better when klipp, a Denver architectural firm, was hired to design it. The firm's team, headed by Brian Klipp, with Keat Tan acting as design architect, conceived of the hotel as a sleek, neo-modernist skyscraper made up of a series of vertical rectangular volumes that are clustered cubistically and soar to 37 stories. Since the hotel is city-financed, it has lots of publicly funded art; since it's a Hyatt, there are also privately purchased pieces. Jaded Denverites couldn't have expected this building to be the best new high-rise in a generation -- but we ought to be grateful that it is.
It's been empty for more than thirty years, and before rehabilitation started nearly two years ago, the 1904 Evans School looked like it wouldn't need to be demolished, because it just might fall down all by itself. But the quality of the design by architect David W. Dryden, who did it in a Palladian style, was undeniably high, and not only were the bones of the decrepit building beautiful, but they occupied a prominent site near the Denver Art Museum complex. It seemed clear that the Evans School should be saved -- and when owner Richard Eber dragged his heels, the city stepped in to make sure he got the project back on track. Although there's still work to be done, it's now a good bet that this fine old structure will survive for another hundred years.
Ellie Caulkins Opera House
It sounds trite, especially since the analogy was repeated over and over during the construction process, but putting the Ellie Caulkins Opera House inside the historic Quigg Newton Auditorium really was like building a ship in a bottle. The auditorium -- a 1908 buff-colored brick building designed in a neoclassical style by Robert O. Willison -- had become run-down over the years and had long since lost its historic interior. In 2002, voters approved a bond initiative to pay for a renovation, and Denver's Semple Brown Design was hired to design it. Peter Lucking, the firm's principal in charge of the project, came up with a gorgeous, neo-modern interior that's all rich woods and shining glass and metal. Lucking made the best of an unimaginably difficult situation and gave this city a winner.
The Denver Art Museum's Frederic C. Hamilton Building is getting close to completion, although most of the titanium panels that cover it are still encased in plastic wrappers to protect them from airborne debris raised by the construction of the nearby Museum Residences. But from the moment the steel beams started going up, people have been drawn here to look at the site, take pictures of it, let their visiting out-of-town friends and family check it out. The jagged forms of the building designed by Daniel Libeskind aren't even contained by the confines of the block, since part of it flies over Thirteenth Avenue. And if an unfinished building is already one of the best sights in town, imagine what's going to happen when it opens.
To get a quick read on a prospective new landlord when apartment hunting, you need look no further than the lobby. If the foyer is completely devoid of adornment, turn around and run -- and don't look back. There's always another building with a beautiful theme and decorating scheme, including the ever-popular pilgrim, Mediterranean, Southwest and ski-chalet models. But nothing says "We take care of this place" better than a landlocked lobby with a nautical design. For the best example, pop through the front door of the Captain Cook Apartments, where a glassed-in alcove features regulation fishing nets and dried starfish, all framing a full-sized treasure chest. It's a display worthy of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and you're guaranteed to fall for its charm -- hook, line and sinker.
Next time you hop on one of RTD's free mall shuttles, look at the odd seating arrangement: All of the seats are located on one side, and most riders are uncomfortably bunched together, shoulder to shoulder, in an effort to avoid sitting too close to less savory passengers. But look over there, on the passenger-loading side, next to the middle door: There's one single seat that's gloriously extra wide. Its expanse guarantees a comfortable ride, and its central location is perfect for keeping an eye and ear on everyone. Fair warning: These thrones are popular with germaphobes, fat-asses and people-watchers alike, and they're rarely vacant mid-mall. Your best bet for preferred seating is to board at the Union Station end of the line.
Anyone who'd ever been to the bus stop at Colfax and Logan knew that you could catch more than the number 15 there -- until local businesses paid to install cameras at the corner last year. Today you may still see a casual slip of the sack in exchange for some cash, but now the eye in the sky sees it, too.

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