Monday, August 27, 2007

The Arapahoe County Courthouse

circa 1900

circa 1902

Welcome again everyone and thanks for visiting this blog and the Denver History Nugget. Since I showcased a very prominent building last time that was demolished relatively recently, I thought I'd show a treasure lost during the 1930s. That would be the Arapahoe County Courthouse.

Now you might be asking yourself the following question: Why is there an Arapahoe County Courthouse in Denver? Well, prior to 1902, Denver was the county seat of a much larger Arapahoe County, not Littleton. Due to something called the Rush Amendment, and a whole bunch of other stuff, Denver and Adams Counties were carved out of Arapahoe County and voila--the 1883 County Courthouse was suddenly obsolete. But it stayed around for another 30 years while city planners, architects, mayors and the public struggled with how, when and where to build a new city hall.

A rather famous image of the Arapahoe County Courthouse is seen below:

Many people mistake the domed building in the middle of the picture as the state capitol but it is not. This photo is circa 1894 and was taken by photographer William Henry Jackson from the dome of the capitol when it was under construction. The main road in the picture is 16th Street.

The Arapahoe County Courthouse, along with City Hall at 14th and Larimer, were both demolished in the 1930s and replaced by this familiar building, the City and County Building.

The Courthouse was put up for sale and then demolished to make way for "Courthouse Square", a park in the middle of downtown.

But no sooner had "progress" brought on the park, then a parking lot took over the park. By 1957, the land was being transformed into a skating rink called Zeckendorf Plaza, along with a new department store that combined the May Company and Daniels and Fisher into May D&F. The building is seen under construction here:

This department store and the adjacent Hilton Hotel were designed by I. M. Pei. The modernist design of May D&F was a striking example of 1950s style architecture. It was called a hyperbolic parabaloid. But Denver is not a city that dwells on the newest fad for long. The 1990s brought its demolition and an "elegant black box" along with some dancing ballerina statues replaced the structure as part of the Adam's Mark Hotel expansion which had taken over the adjacent Hilton/Radisson Hotel.

The only reminder today that anything such as a courthouse once stood here is the street name: Court Place. To see what is here today on Block 208, click here to be taken to

All historic photos are from the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection. Some of the hyperlinks above direct you to to view present day photos and maps of Downtown Denver.


Anonymous said...

Ugggh. To see what used to be there and the mundane that replaced it. Nice job researching this and great pix. Not sure I've ever seen any that depicted the construction of May D&F.

Anonymous said...

In the early seventies, my sisters and I would skate at the rink outside the May D & F store. Those were good memories. It really is a shame that the building was not saved or that there are so few photos available.

BruceQ said...

The third picture down... an earlier version of the building? I can almost believe the closer/lower angle is responsible for the missing top floor, but the top half of the tower section is significantly different, also.

Any idea what's going on there?

VegasEditing said...

Bruce Q

According to DPL, the 4th story was added ten years after initial construction.

Here's the link: