To get a feel for the changing face of Denver, drive the twenty blocks of Larimer Street -- which is now two-way northeast of Broadway -- down to Larimer Square, and take note of all the businesses popping up along the way, all the people on the streets that were once empty. And then take a quick turn onto 20th Street, where Diamond Lil's Adult Emporium once ruled.
In 1889, as Westword told the story in the January 1999 feature "A New Dress for the Old Gal," Albert Kopper, a German-born businessman, hired one of Denver's most noted architects, Frederick Eberley (designer of the Tivoli Brewery and the Barth Hotel), and built an elegant Queen Anne structure at 1215 20th Street: Kopper's Hotel and Saloon.
But anti-German sentiment during World War I and the rise of Prohibition combined to put Kopper out of business. In 1919, he sold the building to Elmer Sommers, who renamed it the Airedale Hotel, reportedly after his favorite breed of dog.
Over the next seventy years, the building went through several uses -- many of them nefarious -- and several owners. By 1989 it was home to Sun Books, an adult store, when businessman Art Greer acquired the property and turned it into Diamond Lil's. Greer also owned several more respectable downtown businesses -- including Jerry's News, Jerry's Used Books and Jerry's Record Exchange -- and as the construction of Coors Field began to transform the neighborhood, he decided to give the dilapidated structure a respectable renovation. And not just a respectable one, but such a conscientious facelift that the adult store would be eligible for landmark designation.
Those who never set foot inside the place could still appreciate the stunning work that transformed the outside of the old gal, as well as the seasonal displays in those distinctive Queen Anne windows, with mannequins in Bronco outfits, Rockies outfits, old West outfits.
But now the curtain is closed on Lil's. Greer passed away early this year, and the store closed. Now the building is for lease -- and whoever gets it will not just acquire some great space in one of the hottest parts of town, but a real piece of history. Very adult history.
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Fortune Valley bets on a new name: Reserve Casino Hotel."
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