Last night, I trudged into Machebeuf Hall on the Loretto Heights Campus along with about 220 other people. We were there to attend the first meeting organized by the City and County of Denver to give neighbors (and, really, anybody) who had concerns or ideas about what should happen to the campus with new owners. The most recent school in operation there, Colorado Heights University, closed in 2017.
As people were signing in, I kept thinking of the potential opportunities (and/or potential failings) for this campus, which is on South Federal Boulevard in southwest Denver.
I remembered when DIA was being built, and literally overnight in February 1995, DIA was our airport, and Stapleton Airport was going to become a residential and commercial community — bigger than I ever expected. Even earlier, when Lowry Air Force Base got the dreaded BRAC notice in the early 1990s, Lowry also became a place for homes, offices, and commercial buildings. The saving grace was that the preservation community helped convince officials to keep some of the old Lowry buildings, which have given the new Lowry a true identity. (FYI: BRAC is Base Realignment and Closure, which apparently is a fancy name for closing something.)
As for Loretto Heights, the new owners, Westside Investment Partners, Inc., also wanted to know what people were thinking about for the campus. What they wanted. What they didn’t want. What they wanted things to look like. Or not. And so on.
After a quick welcome by District 2 City Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had urged residents in his district to attend, put in a big plug to find people who would use the May Bonfils Stanton Performing Arts Center, which is quite beautiful. Then, Denver city planner and project manager Jason Morrison explained to the audience that the process going forward would involve three phases: visualize, strategize, and realize. And that those in the neighborhood – or even not, like me – were urged to weigh in.
There was not really what I would call a presentation. Instead, the new wave of doing this type of program means setting up various “stations.” Like a station on History, on Architectural Styles, on Geographic and Environmental issues, even a station for kids to draw buildings they liked. People really got into it, and by hanging around the stations, I learned that people really care about the Loretto Heights Campus.
There will be more meetings, I’m sure. There is a survey to fill out. And I hope that along with the 1891 Main Building, designed by Frank Edbrooke, other historic buildings can be saved, as well as the early-1960s Performing Arts Center, designed by Musick and Musick, and Machebeuf Hall, which might have been another Musick and Musick design. Historic and Modern can live peacefully together.
But there also will be new homes and shops and other buildings, which need to be well designed and well made. The planning for the campus is being handled by Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects in conjunction with Lake l Flato.
The cemetery, in which numerous nuns from the Sisters of Loretto have been laid to rest, will stay in place, according to the new owners.
Below are some links, including three to local television stations that aired the story last night the news, and a link to the page devoted to Loretto Heights on the City of Denver’s website.