Sunday, January 9, 2011


For my regular readers over the past three years or so, I am still posting periodic blogs but have joined up with the best of Denver's urban bloggers over at

Check out all of the great information at that site on urban planning, historic preservation, urban renewal, infrastructure development and associated topics: all with a focus on Denver and environs.

I may still post a longer blog or two here but most of my shorter posts will be over at that site and cover topics on Denver's past, just like here.

However, please continue to email me all of your great questions to

Otherwise, see you at

Shawn Snow

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Early Denver Homes: 2222 Champa

One of my hobbies is collecting early Denver related ephemera such as post cards and pictorial tour booklets. A few years back, I purchased a circa 1890 booklet entitled "Souvenir Album of Denver, Colorado". In it are drawings of numerous buildings around town, including the houses of the prominent citizens of Denver. Most of these houses were in downtown proper or close by. Doing the research on even one house takes a while but here's what I found out about 2222 Champa, the home shown above.

This lovely Second Empire house was the residence of Wolfe Londoner, Mayor of Denver. He was elected in 1889. His detractors immediately accused him of ballot stuffing and corruption. The Rocky Mountain News stated the election to be "the most disgraceful in the history of Denver politics, corrupt as they have been before." This seems to imply that although previous elections were corrupt, this one took the cake. Saloon owners and other unsavory proprietors such as Ed Chase, Soapy Smith and Bat Masterson were said to have perpetuated and encouraged this corrupt behavior. Subsequent investigations led to Mr. Londoner's removal from office in 1891 just before he was to finish his term as mayor. He has been the only mayor to be removed from office.

Wolfe Londoner

One can imagine the mayor riding his carriage over to City Hall at 14th and Larimer. Or perhaps he took the Curtis or Stout streetcar into downtown. His home at 2222 Champa was among many nice homes in the southern reaches of what we now call the "greater" Curtis Park neighborhood. At the turn of the last century, the thought of this area succumbing to the ravages of growing urbanism would have been unthinkable.

But the march of the 20th century radically changed this part of downtown. Today, the lots where the house once stood sit within the city of Denver's planning area known as Arapahoe Square. The area has among the highest concentrations of parking lots in the city. The homes that once stood here were demolished for business uses or parking lots. Only a few original houses remain in this Arapahoe Square area, mostly along adjacent Stout Street...and they are in very sorry shape. For the mayor's lot, Nate's Import Service and the adjacent parking lot now occupy the space, with an address of 2218 Champa. Investigation of the Sanborn Insurance Maps of 1890 indicate that Mayor Londoner had a double lot with the house sitting mostly upon today's parking lot with Nate's Import Service now occupying what was once part of the yard.

Mayor Londoner's home was demolished in 1940. Records and newspaper evidence indicate the home was constructed in 1878. The area near the home had begun a long decline after the Broadway road extension was put through in 1909. This endeavor sliced through the whole neighborhood and resulted in numerous demolitions. Even prior to that, the area's residential character was called into question as the house on the corner was replaced in 1904 by the Moratto Block (a building which remains).

The Londoner Home May 1, 1909
From the Denver Republican p. 12. The article talked about the declining property values caused by the extension of Broadway through the neighborhood, less than a block from Londoner's home.

These two clips come from the Denver Post, April 2, 1940

Pictures from the modern era in the 2200 block of Champa follow below:

The Moratto Block is the building that sits on the corner. For many years during the middle 20th century to circa 2000, various bohemian coffee shops occupied its walls, including Muddy's Java Cafe. Nate's Import Service is the building north of the Moratto Block.

This parking lot and Nate's Import Service, 2218 Champa, sit on the site of the former Londoner Mansion and yard. In the rear of the photo, you can view the back of one of the few remnant homes on this area south of Park Avenue. That home faces Stout Street.

Nate's was built in 1935 as an auto service garage. Its footprint encroached well into the yard of the former Londoner Mansion, leading to the home's demolition in 1940 as the residential character of this portion of Denver began to change more dramatically.

A front view of Nate's, 2218 Champa.

A close-up of Nate's with the Moratto Block in the rear.

Seeing this type of urban change over time is but one example of the amazing diversity and plethora of housing that once existed all the way from 1st Street up to 44th Street in what we now call downtown Denver. All of the housing in the current Central Business District is long gone except for the Curry-Chucovich-Gerash House at 1439 Court Place. Between 20th and 23rd Streets (Park Ave), very little housing remains. This is what makes all of the homes that make up the Curtis Park Historic District so miraculous. These old homes survived to the present day. Places like the Londoner home though are not among the survivors. Many other amazing architectural wonders were also lost. This bit of research on one such home offers a window into this lost past.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Historic Denver Brands

A summer of research has turned up some interesting advertisements from Denver's past. Taking a bit of a diversion from my normal building related posts, here are some ads from a Broadway Theater program dated January 22, 1906.

The beautiful Broadway Theater used to be located at 1756 Broadway across from the Brown Palace Hotel. It was demolished in 1955. This showplace featured numerous acts over the years.

While we lament the awful destruction of the Broadway, we can live it again (sort of) by looking at these fun ads:

This ad came out before the Daniels and Fisher Company had built its signature clock tower and flagship department store at 16th and Arapahoe. Daniels and Fisher used to be located nearby at 16th and Curtis.

The University of Denver started out its life as the Colorado Seminary in 1864. It was founded by our second territorial governor, John Evans. Dr. Evans' house stood across the street from DU until 1910 when it was demolished to make way for the Denver Tramway headquarters (today's Hotel Teatro).

The Oxford is one of two downtown hotels still in public use from Denver's early years. The other is the Brown Palace. The other 48 or so privatly run hotels have mostly been demolished over the years although a few of the buildings remain standing even though their uses have changed.

If you have been to Dixon's Downtown Grill at 1610 16th Street, you may have noticed the Solitaire name in the windows. This grocery brand was sold and produced by the Morey Mercantile Company which used both the Henry Lee building where Dixon's is now located as well as the adjacent Tattered Cover Bookstore, built originally for the Morey Mercantile Company.

Ah, Baur's. This Denver institution of candy and ice cream started in 1872 and nearly lasted one century before caving into urban renewal downtown. With much of its 20th century business related to the theater crowd located on Curtis Street, the continual closure and removal of these theaters after WWII led to Baur's demise. It relocated to the Cherry Creek Shopping Center around 1955 and was closed down completely by 1970. Today however, the name and sign live on in the same building at 1512 Curtis with Baur's Ristorante.

Deep Rock still delivers water and is still located in the Five Points neighborhood after all this time. Of course, it helps that the underground aquifer the company uses is still serving outstanding water for over a century!

Enjoy this look into Denver's past through these fun ads. More to come in the future.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Post Office Terminal Annex and EPA Building

This photo, circe 1992, shows the massive Post Office Terminal Annex rising to the left, behind the bridge over 15th Street. The old Moffat Train station is on the far left (photo from Denver Public Library Western History Collection X-23640)

The EPA building is shown from the 16th and Wynkoop corner (photo courtesty of EPA).

It wasn't too long ago when one of the more convenient post offices downtown was located at 16th and Wynkoop. The old Post Office Terminal Annex disappeared however to make way for the EPA Region 8 Headquarters and the adjacent 1515 Wynkoop office building. The building's use as the main sorter facility for mail had been taken over by a larger facility at 56th and Quebec so the majority of the building was no longer in use. Visit to learn more about the transformation of this site.

Here I am in 2000 with the initial development of the Central Platte Valley in full swing. Standing atop the new hill created when Commons Park rose out of the former railroad yards, the Post Office is clearly visible. What a difference ten years makes! And there's more to come.

The new buildings on the Post Office site are particularly intriguing, especially the EPA.

Upon entering the building, your eye is drawn upward. Is the building without a roof? No, it's up there, just way WAY up there! And the light is so bright, the illusion is harder to dispel, but that comes from bright sails near the ceiling, sails that transmit the natural sunlight down into the atrium, further enhancing the thought that you are outside. In front of you are stairs ascending, some large, some small and the sound of water is nearby. Elevators glide smoothly on their paths and people may be seen through the numerous windows that are in the interoir of the building. A vertical column of light and connectivity forms the interior of the building, a secret hidden to those on the outside, gloriously revealed upon entering.

One of the building's more intriguing features is not as impressive in scope in many ways, but more so on consideration. The living roof, covered with plants, looks like a gardener's pallette, but it does so much more than simply provde space for plants. The breathing things planted around the crown of the building absorb heat, reducing the costs to cool the building, and calm the flow of water from our tempetuous rains. Even if the intricate dance of management and growth of the roof fails to move you, the view is spectacular!

This green roof can serve as an inspiration for continuing this trend across the roofs of Denver. This movement has been very successful already in Chicago. The EPA building's innovative environmental design can only have a postive effect on the future built environment of Denver as it influences the next generation.

The EPA has expanded its offerings to the public, to help folks get to know the building and see its remarkable designs first hand. Normally, a full tour of the building requires advanced reservations. However, the public may do a shortened version of the tour on their own and without such reservations.

To learn more about the green features of this building, self-guided tour possibilities, or to schedule a full tour, click here or call Patty Provencher at 303-312-6836.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Colorado History Museum

Over the past five months, I have been working on packing and preparing to vacate my workplace: the Colorado History Museum. When I'm not giving tours, researching and writing...I have to find time to actually work! Anyway, it's been a bittersweet time, so this overdue blog covers a brief history of the Colorado Historical Society's buildings and history since 1879.

The Historical and Natural History Society, the State Historical Society of Colorado, the Colorado History Museum, the Colorado Heritage Center, the Colorado Historical Society, and now History Colorado....all of these names and more have graced our state's "history museum" over the years since its founding in 1879 with Dr. Frederick Bancroft as the first president.

History Colorado (the newest name for everything associated with the Colorado Historical Society) as an entity has manifested itself most recognizably in its various museums and collections brought together over the years since its founding. Today, along with numerous regional museums across the state such as the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose or the Healy House and Dexter Cabin in Leadville, the state's main repository for past history has been various buildings in Denver since 1879.

The old Glenarm Hotel, old Chamber of Commerce, old Mercantile Library, and the old Arapahoe County Courthouse gave space to the museum over the years. By 1895, the museum had moved to permanent quarters in the basement level of the still-under-construction state capitol. Included in the museum's collection at this point was the large cache of archaeological wonders from Mesa Verde which had been purchased from the Weatherill brothers in 1889 for $3000. All the eclectic collection fit into 13,000 square feet and it soon became apparent that more space was needed.

One of the last buildings designed by architect Frank Edbrooke, the new state museum opened to much fanfare in 1915 with 59,000 square feet of space. This was the museum's longest-lived home where it stayed for 62 years. The building still stands at 200 14th Avenue.

By the early 1970s, pressure grew for expanded space once again. Enter the Colorado Heritage Center which joined the new State Judicial Building in one big modernist complex. The museum now had over 135,000 square feet for various uses, including space to house its growing collection. A competition was held to design the new buildings and the winner was none other than Rogers-Nagel-Langhart Architecture Company, better known by its initials of RNL today. The project definitely proved to be a challenge both architecturally and monetarily. Even before the competition, RNL said that the project was for two very incompatible uses. While it was felt the Judicial Building should be quiet and restrained, the Heritage Center should be inviting to people, particularly large numbers of children.

Upon its completion, the reviews were decidedly mixed in how to regard this new modernist structure and if it indeed was "inviting to people". While the Colorado Historical Society was certainly pleased to have a new building, negative feelings still found there way into print. Said W.E. Marshall, the Historical Society Executive Director, "In a state of mountains and plains, it is psychologically inapporpriate....for the history of Colorado to be relegated to a basement." Most of the museum's exhibit space was indeed located on the underground level. He also felt that the revised layout and structure "diminishes the structure to a level inconsistent with the functions, purposes and repsonsibilities of the Historical Society." "The exterior looks like a subway station," he continued.

Indeed, the overall reputation of the building has suffered over the years as few could recognize that the building housed a museum. Signage and exterior design elements were modified over the ensuing years to make the function of the building more apparent. The relatively recent addition of the handsome signature history panel certainly helped (see below). Still, a 1982 local pamphlet called the Capitol Hill Guidebook featured this building on its list of 'Archiectural Crimes Against Denver: a Few Candidates for Demolition'. The caption for the Colorado Heritage Center gave the following description: "the physical embodiment of the word 'hostile'".

And with its age not even yet 35, this publication gets its wish. Another example of our 1970s architectural heritage will be lost. Demolition of this building is set for May 2010. The museum gets its wish for a larger facility although this reality is really being pushed by the state judicial system--it wants more space as well. That institution will build a new expanded facility on the entire block, demolishing its current structure along the way. Click this link to learn more at

The Colorado Historical Society has a new 200,000 square foot museum under construction at 1200 Broadway. While its design is certainly more dramatic than the current facility, it certainly is not going to turn any heads. Hopefully though, people will recognize it as a museum! As for the now "old" facility, soon to be razed......will we regret the loss of yet another 20th century building? Our built environment of the 1960s and 1970s is disappearing. Although these buildings themselves often replaced wonderful Victorain structures, showing no mercy themselves when constructed, are we not just repeating the same mistakes of the past. While the Colorado History Museum at 1300 Broadway has had its detractors, it definitely was a unique building that I have been proud to both work in and be involved with through volunteer work since 1999. I'm sorry to see it go.

Look for the new History Colorado Center to open in 2012 with the Colorado Historical Society, Colorado History Museum, State Historical Fund and Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation all under one roof .

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Colorado Casket Company

Oftentimes when I am doing research I come across random photos and think to myself, "Surely this building must have been demolished long ago." Such is the case with the Colorado Casket Company photo.

The picture caught my eye because of the name on the building of course! Its straightforwardness is refreshing in light of many of today's bewildering company names.

The Colorado Casket Company was located at 1213 Wazee Street and this picture dates from 1935. In my mind I was thinking the building would have been demolished during the destruction of old Auraria or perhaps as part of the widening of Speer Boulevard.

However, after consulting old maps, I found that Wazee Street corresponds partly with the current path of Auraria Parkway. In fact, when Auraria Parkway went in, part of Wazee went out! I thought of Kacey Fine Furniture at 1201 Auraria and realized that this casket building might actually still be in place.

An lo and behold, although its address is now listed as 1221 Auraria, the building in question remains! For a current view of this building, click here to go to Google maps.

Oh, by the way, the business currently listed at this address is 47 LTD LLC. Do you suppose they manufacture caskets?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

16th and Wazee

The first floor of the Henry Lee Building at 16th and Wazee is better known as Dixon's Restaurant in the modern day. But while doing research on Wazee Street, I stumbled across some old pictures showing the evolution of this building over time.

There is a Lower Downtown Walking Tour plaque stating that the building's origins date back to 1870 which would make it one of the oldest buildings in all of downtown Denver. However, Babs Gibson, in her book The Lower Downtown Historic District, gives the date of construction as 1886. Both sources agree that in 1907, the building was joined with the adjacent Chester S. Morey Mercantile Building via an elevated corridor that is still in use in 2010 (see below). Mr. Morey needed more space for his growing grocery business. Henry Lee's name remains associated with this building however since he had it constructed to house his farming implement business.

This picture shows the Henry Lee Building on the left, circa 1935. Also apparent is the 16th Street Viaduct rising past the main Morey Mercantile Building (where the Tattered Cover Bookstore is located today). The corridor is also visible as is the old elevated doorway into the Morey Building. Now you know why there is an elevated door at the Tattered Cover. It was not part of the original building but was installed after the viaduct was built!

In 1954, the Morey Mercantile Company went to considerable expense to reface the Wazee Street facade of its building. They replaced it with a modern metal covering. Research indicates that the building was in need of reinforcement on that side and it is assumed that the company felt 'modern' was the way to go. I am almost certain that their changes removed the window frames and brick work and completely replaced it with metal. So there is no chance just to remove the metal to reveal the old building underneath.

Even during this renovation, the Morey Company was under growing competition from the likes of Lloyd King's King Soopers and from Safeway. By 1956, Morey Mercantile was no more. Luckily, if that word can be used in this case, the Morey Mercantile Company left the 16th Street facade alone. Although it was painted white, the picture above shows the modern facade with the old. Today, the building's 16th Street facade has been restored to its original brick color. And the only other hint of the building's association with the Morey company is the decals in the windows of Dixon's advertising Morey's Solitaire grocery line. Click here to see part of the building today!

For more information on Block 16, home of the Henry Lee Building, click here to be taken to

All black and white historic photos are from the Denver Public Library's Western History Collection.