Colorado History

Tom's Diner Could Soon Be History

Tom's Diner today...still serving.
Danielle Lirette
Tom's Diner today...still serving.
Tom's Diner had a date with Denver City Council on August 26, when members were slated to vote on whether the circa 1967 coffeehouse would be designated a historic landmark and protected from possible demolition. But that date's been canceled.

On August 15, the five community members who'd applied for historic designation for the building at 601 East Colfax Avenue withdrew their application with Community Planning and Development, according to communications director Laura Swartz. They'd applied over the objections of owner Tom Messina, who has plans to close the restaurant and sell the property on which it sits; in early May, he'd applied for a certificate of non-historic status, which would allow for the building to be demolished.

With the hostile historic-designation application withdrawn, the city will now issue that certificate of non-historic status today, August 16. It will be valid for five years, and while demolition permits would still be required, as with any other project, no further landmark review would be necessary for the next five years, Swartz notes.

Messina opened Tom's Diner in a former White Spot two decades ago; in 2004, he bought the restaurant and surrounding parking lots for $800,000. Earlier this year, he got an offer to buy the property for $4.8 million; plans called for building an eight-story apartment building with 130 units on the property. But the sale was also contingent on that certificate of non-historic designation.

click to enlarge Tom's started out as a White Spot, the last of nine outposts in a homegrown chain that started in 1946. - DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY
Tom's started out as a White Spot, the last of nine outposts in a homegrown chain that started in 1946.
Denver Public Library
During their review of the historic-designation application, Landmark Preservation Commission staffers suggested that the building would qualify as a landmark. The design is classic California coffeehouse, a space-age look known as Googie, after a now-gone 1949 Los Angeles coffee joint that debuted the style. During a council committee hearing earlier this month, Historic Denver suggested that the Tom's Diner building could be incorporated into any future apartment project, saving the structure to remind future generations of an epic era on East Colfax.

Now such a move won't be required...but it could still happen. In the letter withdrawing their application, the five community members said that they still hoped for a "preservation-oriented outcome," and explained that they were withdrawing their application in an effort "to find alternative solutions for this site and hope that the property owner and current developer will engage with us in good faith moving forward."

Also moving forward, city council will consider some changes in the landmark-designation process, including one that could call for a mandatory meeting with the property owner before any citizen is allowed to file for historic designation over the owner's wishes.

Tom's Diner is still serving 24/7, but at the August 6 council committee meeting, Messina said he planned to close the restaurant regardless of the outcome of the process.

Googie, Googie, gone?