KBTV Channel 9 went on the air on October 12, 1952, when few homes in Denver had televisions. But that changed quickly. The next year, the station left its makeshift studio for spiffy new headquarters at 1089 Bannock Street, a former auto dealership, which remained its home until 1992, when Channel 9 — now going by the patriotic call letters KUSA — moved into even spiffier new headquarters at 550 Speer Boulevard. But Channel 9 definitely left its mark on the building it left behind.
For forty years, the station was affiliated with ABC (it switched to NBC in 1995), and during that time, many of that network’s stars visited the studio, stopping to leave signatures and handprints in cement insets in the sidewalk outside, creating Denver’s own version of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Jackie Coogan, Uncle Fester in The Addams Family, dropped by and dropped his name in the pavement. The late Bill Bixby was here, courting the public during his time in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Linda Evans rode into Denver in 1965, when she was attracting plenty of attention in The Big Valley. (She later resided in Denver, at least in TV’s imagination, as a star of Dynasty.) And the station corralled more cowboys, including Roy Rogers, Chuck Connors and Jack Kelly. There were even two late editions to the collection, made after Rocky Mountain PBS had taken over the building: Don Johnson — the PBS station's longtime manager who left in 1993, not the Miami Vice star, signed in when he left the job, and outgoing manager James Morgese also left a permanent memorial to his time at the station in 2008. But it's the '60s and '70s starts who really made an impression.
As a result, the sidewalk outside of 1089 Bannock Street is a very concrete record of a certain time in television when the networks ruled the airwaves, before cable and then YouTube and Hulu.
But is it historic? Not according to the City of Denver. This summer, RMPBS applied for a “certificate of non-historic status” with the city, which would “allow a demolition application to be processed without further review by Landmark Preservation for a period of five years.” Because no one objected by the October 14 deadline to the application — which was posted in a window of the building on 11th Avenue (where one presumed preservationist covered the notice with the word “fuck”) — the city issued the certificate.
Over the past few months, Denver residents have gotten quite a history lesson in such applications, thanks to 2329 Eliot Street in hot Jefferson Park. When homeowner James Sonnleitner applied for a certificate of non-historic status on his circa 1880s Queen Anne home so that he could sell it to a developer who wants to build townhomes for sale there, an objection was filed at the last second (or even past the last second, depending on who’s watching the clock — and there will be a ethics hearing this morning on new Denver City Council member Rafael Espinosa's role in the filing). Earlier this month, the Denver Landmark Historic Preservation Commission sided with neighborhood activists who would like the Eliot Street house to be declared a landmark that could not be demolished, no matter what its owner wants. If a council committee agrees, Denver City Council will have the deciding vote on November 16.
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So far, though, no one is standing up for the fading stars.
But all is not lost. According to Doug Price, CEO of RMPBS, the organization is considering a land swap with the State Land Board — but that deal is just in the talking stages. “The notice is to affirm what is expected with respect to historic status so we’ll actually know what the conversation is when we get that far along,” he says. Which means that the status of RMPBS’s current home is far more certain than that of the home it left behind more than two decades ago: the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Three years ago, Denver Public Schools applied for a certificate of non-historic status for the circa 1925 structure, but after an outcry from Historic Denver and other preservationists, that application was withdrawn. Now the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development is leading a group considering the future of the building, which could be the site of a convention-center expansion. Then again, it's an awkward time to wipe out anything with Emily Griffith's name, even an empty school building: The Emily Griffith Foundation is gearing up to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the school she founded in n 1916.
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Bill Bixby’s name doesn’t carry nearly as much clout in Denver. And not only is the history of the building at 1089 Bannock relatively undistinguished, but so is its architecture; the architect of the “late-modern” structure is unknown, and it’s been remodeled numerous times. “We would try to preserve hand and footprints," Price promises.
Which should come as good news to Patti Dennis, vice-president for news at 9News, who got her start at KBTV back in 1981 and knows the celebrity signatures well. “We would look for several things that might be history that would be worth preserving,” she says, “whether it would be the cement tiles out front or anything else about the building, and put it in with all of the historic memorabilia that we have from the sixty-plus years of 9News.”
And that could give the final word to perky, if barely remembered, EJ Peaker, who etched the name of her musical series into wet cement along with her name, committing both to eternity (or close enough): “That’s Life!”
Here's a look at more stars and notables who left their marks.