Colorado History

Amid Building Boom, Denver Sees Historic Number of Landmark Applications

Even as new buildings keep popping up all over town, Denver is making history this year, with a record number of applications for historic designation going before Denver's Landmark Preservation Commission — and four already winning full approval in 2016.

Today, the commission will consider its fifth application, for the First Unitarian Society of Denver building at 1400 Lafayette Street. If the commission approves the application, it will move to the Neighborhood and Planning Committee of Denver City Council and then on to the full council for a public hearing and final vote.

The first building approved for historic designation this year was 4655 Humboldt Street, also known as the Stadium Arena, constructed in 1908-’09 as the centerpiece of the annual Stock Show that had started just two years before.

Until the Coliseum was completed, in 1951, the arena was "the sole entertainment venue" for the show, according to the historic designation application. Plans for the grand new National Western Center call for potentially using the structure as a market — but definitely using it.
Then council approved landmark designation for 1250 Welton Street, the Emily Griffith Opportunity School.

The fate of this circa 1925 structure had been in limbo since late 2012, when Denver Public Schools first proposed filing for a Certificate of Non-Historic status for the building; if granted, that would have allowed for its demolition.

DPS already had plans to move all of the Emily Griffith programs to a retrofitted high-rise at 1860 Lincoln Street as well as other facilities around town. But after Historic Denver and others objected, stakeholders met and discussed options for this prime piece of property.

In March, DPS finally submitted an application for the oldest building in the complex to be declared historic, with additional requirements for whatever developer winds up buying the property.

At that same meeting, Denver City Council approved landmark designation for a row of Queen Anne houses in the South Lincoln Historic District, on the 200 block of South Lincoln Street. Unlike the Stadium Arena and Emily Griffith applications, which reflected a lot of institutional interest, the South Lincoln push was completely community-led, notes Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for Denver Community Planning and Development, which includes the Landmark Preservation Commission.

And last month, council approved the commission's recommendation that landmark status be given a building at 1899 York Street, a Mission Revival-style home built in 1906 for Allen Ghost, a prominent Denver developer, by Wagner & Manning. Initially the commission had received a Certificate of Non-Historic Status application for that property, too; it was withdrawn in February 2015 after Historic Denver expressed an interest in landmark designation. The house was subsequently sold, and current owner Ryan Rose submitted a landmark-designation application in April.

At today's meeting, the commission will consider various permitting issues for projects in historic districts, as well as a plan for the Five Points Historic Cultural District. It will also take up the application for the First Unitarian Society building.

Here's the description from Historic Denver:

The Romanesque Revival building on the corner of 14th Avenue and Lafayette Street has been home to the First Unitarian Society of Denver since 1958. The building was originally the home of the Plymouth Congregational Church, which constructed the church in two phases between 1893 and 1899. This remarkable building was designed by the Colorado architecture firm Varian and Sterner. Varian and Sterner were well-known architects, and their prolific partnership produced some of Denver’s most ornate residences, as well as Denver’s University Club (1895), and the First Church of Christ Scientist (1901).
The application for the church building is the fifth this year, a record since 2004, according to Historic Denver. But at the same time Denver is showing an increasing interest in preserving the past, there are also plenty of attempts to make history, well, history. So far this year, the city has received 84 applications for Certificate of Non-Historic Status. In 2015, the city received 105. And the year before that, the total was just 48.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun