There are days when Denver seems to be a soap opera, dramatic “ups” and upsetting “downs”. This sensibility especially pertains to preservation in Denver, during the past few weeks and certainly last year.
Instead of writing something yesterday that would have been sad and murky, it was a respite to attend a Denver Landmark Preservation Commission meeting in the afternoon. The reason? For years, there have been unfortunate tinkerings with Red Rocks, one of the most stunning places in Colorado. But something good was in the wings.
In the late 1980s, the city erected a stage cover that stood out like a sore thumb when contrasted with the beauty of the rocks and sensitive architecture. Last year, the city decided it was time to do better, but renderings indicated that there were going to have some issues: first, a stage cover that was white (think of DIA’s sparkling peaks), and a video screen hung from the stage cover that could show ads and other “important” information.
That was shot down, with the help from Friends of Red Rocks and preservation organizations. But yesterday, a new iteration was unveiled: a stage cover of weathered copper with no video screen hanging under the cover. There are still some concerns about the use of video screens at the side of the stage, but there was agreement that something could be worked out. The team working on this – Short Elliott Henderson, Inc.; Anderson Hallas Architects, Martin/Martin, and others – figured out the right plan. (This is Phase I: Mass, Form and Context; the next step will focus on design elements.]
Let’s be honest. In the past several years, rumblings in the preservation universe in Denver have become louder. In 2019, there was more push-back from various communities to keep the city’s current over-development from removing any sense of history or architecturally significant buildings.
So, this week:
The Olinger Moore Howard – Berkeley Park Funeral Chapel at 4345 West 46th Avenue apparently seemed poised to become a designated landmark via Council Bill 19-0913. With extensive discussions between the neighborhood organizations and the owner (and the developer that wants to build townhomes on that land), it seemed there was an owner in the wings. But… Apparently, there is still a search for another. The previous application was withdrawn.
Anyone who read the Denver City Council’s agenda for last night’s council meeting might have wondered why there were two references to the designation, leading to some confusion.
City Council District 1 Representative Amanda Sandoval has been working to get the groups together to work to a goal, but something has gone dark at this point. So last night, she asked her fellow council representatives to vote no on the designation. Rather than having this in limbo, it has cleared the air, with an ongoing process to find a new owner.
I would think that those who live in the neighborhood – and those of us who appreciate the architecture of that building – could rebound with the help of organizers and Sandoval. It would be a terrible loss, in many ways.
Finally, there was a huge splash last spring when the Bonnie Brae Tavern suddenly had a placard affixed to the building, basically saying that it was available for redevelopment. That’s a simplistic version, but the city’s Community Planning and Development agency posts properties that are potentially available for demolition and redevelopment. The name of this page is now Demolitions & Certificates of Demolition Eligibility, rather than billing itself as a list of properties that reference non-historic status. “Demolition” is the key here.
(If you search that list today it includes a building that is part of Denver Water, a 1978 late modern/International Style that was designed by Bart “Alan” Pasqua, who was with the firm of William Muchow and Associates. The structure is termed the old administration building, at 1600 West 12th Avenue. Another one of the buildings designed by Muchow’s firm may vanish from the Denver landscape.)
And, now, this week, we learn what is going to happen to the Bonnie Brae Tavern. Last spring, the long-time owners of Bonnie Brae (and other contiguous properties) said that they were looking to the future. At that time, there were numerous stories about this, and I wondered if some people would band together to file an owner-opposed designation application. The building has many fans, and the restaurant has those, too, but despite the splash of news, no one came forward.
The replacement of that large piece of land would host a 68,000-square-foot building with apartments and retail.
The owners of Bonnie Brae Tavern, which has been in the family for more than 80 years, have faced a huge decision, and it has again raised the issue of how much of Denver will be wiped off the map. One can imagine that running a restaurant for that many years, they are tired; on the other hand, those who have supported the tavern may feel let down or will mourn its passage.
In my eyes, it’s not just a loss to history (and food) but also a loss to a building that does not look like every other building. Denver has lost buildings you could call quirky. Everything is now smoothed out, bland, repetitive, cheap, and sometimes just awful.
The highlight last year was the rally to save Tom’s Diner, which is also unusual, though designed in a known architectural style, known as Googie. A group of people stepped up to the plate (and paid the $825 or so) to submit an owner-opposed designation application. It took months to work this out, but the response from the community was mixed: The owner wanted to cash out after 20 years to sell to a company that would scrape it and build – oh, yes – a five-story apartment building (at market-rate housing). Others mourned the loss of a community gathering place and a design that was unusual. The application was withdrawn.
Eventually, through numerous discussions now allowed by a change in the landmark ordinance, preservationists and community members found a buyer just before the holidays. Then, of course, the density bros were weeping in their beer that it would be better to have a five-story apartment building than a distinctive building serving the community. Somehow, there are people who equate density with affordability, which makes no sense.
Here’s to 2020! Put on your seat belt; it’s going to be another bumpy ride.
Below are numerous links, beginning with the page devoted to Demolitions and Certificates of Demolition Eligibility, which is much less subtle in terms of the old name (hey, developers learn from this, so people in the community need to know this, too).
Information on Bonnie Brae Tavern:
Above is a video from last night’s Next on 9News.
Information on the Olinger Moore Howard – Berkeley Park Funeral Chapel:
Information on the Red Rocks stage cover: