Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

McNichols Building, a former Carnegie library, opens a new chapter

The McNichols Building, which will be launched this morning as a cultural and event space, got its start as a Carnegie Library -- the biggest one in Colorado. But it was far from the only one. Over two decades at the turn of the last century, the Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded almost $750,000 to towns across this state, covering the construction of 35 libraries.

Thirty of those buildings are still standing today -- and eighteen of them continue to operate as libraries.

For historic photos of the building, visit our slide show.

The first Colorado city to get a Carnegie Library was Leadville, which won a $20,000 grant in 1901; the structure was completed in 1904. Today, the former library holds the Leadville Heritage Museum. Littleton was one of the last to get a grant; its library opened in 1917 and now is the home of the Melting Pot restaurant.

Denver was granted $360,000 in 1902, which went to the construction of nine city libraries. The main branch library, which was built at the edge of Denver's Civic Center at 144 West Colfax Avenue, was dedicated in February 1910 and was the centerpiece of mayor Robert Speer's City Beautiful vision.

Denver's other Carnegie libraries included the Warren Branch at 3354 High Street, which today holds lofts, and the Dickenson Branch at 1545 Hooker Street, now an office. But the Woodbury Branch, at 3265 Federal Boulevard, is still in use, as are the Decker Branch (1501 South Logan Street), the Byers Branch (675 Santa Fe Drive), the Smiley Branch (4501 West 46th Avenue) and the Park Hill Branch (4705 Montview Boulevard). The Elyria Branch, at 4725 High Street, was the last to open, in 1923; it closed in 1952 and stands empty today.

When the main branch library outgrew its original space, the former Carnegie library became home to the Denver Water Board in 1955, then the Denver Treasury. In 1999, it was renamed the McNichols Building, after Colorado's 25th governor, Stephen McNichols -- an honor that was followed almost immediately by the structure's standing vacant for a decade. In 2010, it was resurrected as the site of the inaugural Biennial of the Americas, with public-private funding taking care of basic renovations. (The Biennial will be back next summer, a year behind its original schedule.)

Since 2011, Arts & Venues Denver has invested $1.8 million in the second phase of the building's renovation. As a result, the first and second floors are now ready for events and can be rented through Arts & Venues; the third floor will eventually be occupied by a long-term tenant.

But first there will be a series of public events in the space -- including a free gathering that's particularly appropriate to this former library. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, October 27, the city will sponsor an evening with author Sonia Nazario, who wrote Enrique's Journey, this year's One Book, One Denver selection.

And a new chapter begins.

Want to see more? Check out Susan Froyd's Show and Tell post "Works in progress: Behind the scenes at the revived McNichols in Civic Center Park."

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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