Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Mayor's Design Award honors a very new building on a very old block -- Stoneman's Row

"What is that thing at the end of your block?" For the last year, that's been a regular query from people heading to Highland -- from I-25, from Speer Boulevard, from 15th Street -- who inevitably catch sight of the imposing structure that now stands at the edge of the bluff overlooking the highway, overlooking downtown... and blocking the view to much of historic Stoneman's Row. For over 120 years, this piece of land had been the location of a Victorian bungalow. Before I-25 was built, similar houses stretched all the way down to the river; this structure was the last vestige of that historic period. But another row of historic houses remained: the stretch of stone houses (red stone, not brownstone, since this is Colorado) built in 1890 by the same masons who constructed the Brown Palace, and granted national landmark status almost a century later. The occupant of that bungalow, David Spencer, was instrumental in getting the block on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

For many years, this block, like much of Highland, was a sleepy enclave. But then the area started getting hot. Spencer moved to the mountains and sold his house to neighbors who promised to keep it. They didn't. They flipped it to a developer, who wanted to build a giant duplex on the property -- which necessitated getting Spencer's house delisted as a historic landmark, so that it could be scraped. The Denver Landmark Preservation Commission didn't approve the duplex project -- it would have been too intrusive in that historic neighborhood, the commission determined. But it did okay delisting the bungalow.

And the commission also approved the plans of the next owners of the property, for a single-family house -- a very large single-family house. And so they scraped the bungalow, the oldest house in a historic neighborhood, and proceeded to build their dream home. It's a stunner, all right, and for its smart, contemporary use of the space deserves the Mayor's Design Award it won last night. But it's also stunning for what it's done to the neighborhood -- blocking the view of the historic area that people used to see as they headed to Highland, and blocking the view from some of those houses altogether.

Then again, the house has given Denver a new look... a view not of the past, but of where this city is going.

Watch our Show and Tell blog for photos of all the other winners.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Travel + Leisure says Denver is tops in microbrews, at the bottom in diversity."

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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