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Newly Discovered Photos of the Steel/Fontius Building’s Origins

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As work continues on refurbishing the long-dilapidated “Fontius” building on the corner of 16th and Welton, passersby are starting to get a sense of what the glory days must have been like for this historic structure, which went up in 1922 as the Steel Building, home to a Steel’s department store. Now additional clues have come to light about the edifice, thanks to some historical sleuthing halfway across the continent.

(To learn all about the building, its block and their unexpected salvation, check out Westword article from last fall).

As the story goes, Ken Schroeppel, author of the DenverInfill blog and authority on all things Denver development-related, recently received an e-mail from a guy named Dave Dyer, who’s researching the long-shuttered L.R. Steel Company because a relative of his once worked for the company in Buffalo, New York. As Schroeppel reported on his blog several weeks ago, Dyer came across a bunch of Steel company newsletters, several of which detailed the development of Denver’s Steel building. One newsletter, for example, included a photo of the building’s predecessor, a one-story commercial structure, shown above, that included a flower shop and the “Busy Bee Lunch Room.”

Other newsletters detailed the construction of the four-story Steel building, from artist renderings to groundbreaking and assembly. Here’s a shot of the structure midway through construction, which in some ways resembles the Steel/Fontius building’s current condition mid-renovation:

By the way, as Schroeppel notes, the company’s March 11, 1922 newsletter detailed the demolition of the old building on the corner of 16th and Welton. Less than five months later, the July 22 newsletter depicted the Steel building nearly complete. If those old-timey folks could throw up a structure like this in less than half a year, why does it take us years just to get a building design approved? – Joel Warner

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