Best Pop Architecture
Grill Next Door
9730 W. 44th Ave., Wheat Ridge
DIA's archi-tent-ure is stunning, but for a bit of genuine Western architecture, make sure you circle the Grill Next Door, a burger joint masquerading as a covered wagon. The Conestoga has been in its present location since 1957; before that, it was "somewhere on Colfax," according to Steve Sklar, who owns the business but not the wagon. While you're there, scare up one of Steve's excellent buffalo burgers.
Best Architectural Lost Cause
American Institute of Architects, Denver Chapter
Architects make their money designing new buildings, not saving old ones. So when they come out for historic preservation the way they did regarding I.M. Pei's endangered Zeckendorf Plaza, it means something. The local AIA took a vigorous position in favor of rescuing the modernistic structure from the excavation plans of its out-of-state landlord--a brave bit of civic paraboloidism while it lasted.
Best Surviving Bit of Urban Decay
Pride of the Rockies Flour Mill
Central Platte Valley
Known among local teens as the "towering inferno," the Pride of the Rockies is a burned-out, seven-story concrete shell just off I-25 in the shadow of Coors Field. Now developer Dana Crawford wants to convert it into--what else?--condos. For the time being, though, think of it as a mute monument to the days when Denver was a railroad boomtown and an agricultural capital.
Best Historic Rehab (Large-Scale)
Byron White U.S. Court of Appeals
1929 Stout St.
When the ex-Federal Building and U.S. Post Office, built in 1910, reopened to hoopla last August--with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on hand--all evidence of chipped marble, unsightly partitions and hemmed-in hallways had vanished. In its place now stands a magnificent beast of a building, with airy, vaulted interiors and graceful stairways. Thanks to architect Michael Barber's painstaking adherence to original drawings and design concepts, the structure's five courtrooms now drive home the dignity and solemnity of the law.
Best Historic Rehab (Small-Scale)
2944 Zuni St.
Prior to its recent makeover, calling the Romeo Block an eyesore would have been a compliment, since the building's Italianate charms were almost completely hidden by a gloppy coat of stucco. Now that frosting-like outer layer of goo has been removed, exposing the original brick, and the show windows of the shop bays have been reopened. It's all the product of a thoughtful loft conversion undertaken by Murphy Stevens Architects with the engineering firm of Monroe and Newell. Together they've made the Romeo Block a place as romantic as its name.
Best Restoration Group
The Park People
715 S. Franklin St.
What makes a city great? In some cases, it's the little things--a tree here, a fountain there. The Park People are dedicated to just such miniature slices of beauty. Their Denver Digs Trees program not only distributes young trees to residents but passes along tips on how to prune and maintain them. The group is also working with the city on plans to restore three fountains, including the list-heading, weed-choked Dolphin Fountain by East High School, whose original character today can be gleaned only from old photos. Long may the Park People grow.
Best History in the Making
History students, University of Colorado at Denver
A better example of learning-by-doing can't be found: UCD professor Tom Noel, one of Denver's most loving historians, rounded up a classful of his Western Art and Architecture students and had them research facts about 29 historic downtown sites. The resulting factoids were engraved on bronze plaques and placed on location as lasting tributes to such landmarks as the Clark and Gruber Mint and the 14th Street Viaduct. It's a ready-made walking tour you can take at your own leisure. Move to the head of the class.
Best Place to Learn Denver History
1310 Bannock St.
This historic old manse, nearly lost in the shadows of the nearby art museum and library, is a fun excursion for kids and others who under normal circumstances can't be torn away from their computer terminals. The house is equipped with interactive videos explaining Denver history--visitors can choose from a plethora of categories, losing themselves in biographies, exploring the origins of local street names or calling up photos of old churches and mansions. And even if they do keep their noses glued to a video screen all day, rest assured in the knowledge that your loved ones had to pass through the outdoors to get here.
5201 Brighton Blvd.