Colorado History

Ed White, Kerouac Close Friend, Fought for Denver's Past and Future

A Rocky Mountain News photo of Ed White (left), Tom Livornese and Jack Kerouac in Denver.
A Rocky Mountain News photo of Ed White (left), Tom Livornese and Jack Kerouac in Denver. Denver Public Library
Architect Edward D. White Jr., who played a seminal role in the evolution of the Beat Generation's most influential novel and helped to shape and preserve some of Denver's most iconic buildings, passed away on April 29 at the age of 92.

An East High graduate who served as an intelligence officer in the Navy during World War II, White went on to study literature and architecture at the Sorbonne and Columbia University. While at Columbia, he became close friends with Jack Kerouac, a dropout who'd attended the school on a football scholarship, and other members of Kerouac's fast-living, bohemian inner circle. White encouraged Kerouac to visit him in Denver — which he did in 1947, traveling by bus to Chicago and then hitchhiking to Colorado to see White, proto-hipster Neal Cassady and poet Allen Ginsberg. That trip became a major set-piece in Kerouac's On the Road, published a decade later, in which White appears as the character Tim Gray.

White would make subsequent appearances in Kerouac's Visions of Cody (as "Ed Gray") and Book of Dreams ("Al Green" and "Guy Green"). The pair visited frequently in New York between 1946 and 1955, while White was completing his graduate degree. In 1951, White later recalled, he suggested that Kerouac should carry a small sketchbook to capture fleeting impressions in prose, similar to what White did in sketching architectural designs. Years later, Kerouac wrote to White: "By the way, you started a whole new movement of American literature (spontaneous prose and poetry) when in that Chinese restaurant on 125th Street one night you told me to start SKETCHING in the streets..."

In 1955, White returned to Denver. His design projects over the next forty years ranged from buildings on several of the area's premier educational campuses — the University of Colorado Medical Center, Colorado Women's College, Graland and Kent schools — to the exuberant Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens. He also emerged as one of the city's most dedicated preservationists, helping to establish the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission in the 1960s and working on restoration projects involving numerous local landmarks, including the Customs House downtown, Ninth Street Park on the Auraria campus, Four Mile House, the Central City Opera House and many more.

"Ed was best known among friends and family for his exceptional, understated, and sometimes wry wit, as well as his welcoming and friendly disposition," notes a statement released by family members. "Even as his memories continued to fade, his great spirit, humor and outlook brought joy to those around him."

White is survived by his wife of more than forty years, Ann; son and daughter-in-law Ted and Nancy White; son and son-in-law Jamie White and Andrew Sirotnak; grandchildren Catherine, Samuel and Anne; and step-children Carol Patterson, Jenny and Joe Freeman, and Mark and Kristen Sink. Memorial contributions may be made to the Denver Botanic Gardens and Historic Denver.
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast