Architect Ed White changed the way the world looks at Denver -- not just through his architectural designs, but through his friendship with Jack Kerouac. That friendship is documented in the form of Tim Gray, a White-like character in On The Road, as well as in the structure of the book itself. Back when he was an architecture student at Columbia University in the '40s, White told Kerouac he should create word sketches. "I was making sketches, and it occurred to me, because he was always observing things, that it would help if he carried notebooks with him," White explained. When Kerouac visited the young architect in Denver a few years later, he found plenty to fill those notebooks.
Kerouac's work lives on, of course. But White's? Not so much. Last night, Denver City Council voted against landmark preservation for two buildings that White had designed with Victor Hornbein for the old University of Colorado medical campus, now the site of a proposed major development by Shea Properties.
Ed's son, Jamie White, had only learned of the importance of these buildings, classics in the Usonian style, at the eleventh-hour last fall, when they were listed for demolition, and he followed the city's proscribed steps for saving them, taking a proposal to the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission, which approved designation last December. "I thought, I have to step up to the plate -- especially considering everything my dad did," Jamie told me at the time. "He battled to save so many buildings over the decades."
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Yes, that's right: The elder White not only created buildings, he saved them. He served on the landmark commission himself and was one of the founders of Historic Denver.
But that didn't really matter to the Denver City Council. After much testimony at the long-postponed hearing on the proposed landmark designation from architects, historians and developers alike, councilmembers voted unanimously -- and regretfully, they insisted -- against landmark designation.
Shea's plans were too far along to stop now, they said.
But if this economic downturn has taught us anything, it's that there's always time to stop, reconsider and weigh what a project might bring to the city -- and what it might take away. In the case of these two buildings, it's not just their physical presence, but what their design said about life in the early '60s, when science was the new frontier and its promise was endless.