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Please Help Me Support Denver’s Architectural Heritage on Colorado Gives Day!

Dear friends,

I serve on the board of the Denver Architectural Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to inspiring people to explore our dynamic city, experience the importance of design to our quality of life, and envision an exceptional future for Denver.

The DAF is very important to me and I am asking you for your support on Colorado Gives Day, December 8, 2015. Each contribution to the Denver Architectural Foundation—no matter the amount—is critical in reaching our $10,000 fundraising goal to help us reach thousands of people from all walks of life through public education and events, cultural programming, and school partnerships.

Why support the DAF? Some of our programs include the Cleworth Architectural Legacy Project, which gives hundreds of Denver Public Schools children a chance to learn about architectural design from a volunteer team of architects and engineers, and our Hard Hat Tours, which offer up-close contact with Denver’s changing urban landscape and the architects behind many of Denver’s new buildings.

However, our biggest annual program and what I personally work hard to help organize is Doors Open Denver—the only public event that celebrates the richness and history of Denver’s built environment! During this two-day event each spring, we host tens of thousands of community members at over 50 locations throughout Denver, bringing together people from all walks of life to discover and explore the Mile High City’s urban environment. From historic landmarks to new infill developments and everything in between, we open the doors to our city to share with the public the purpose and value of the physical city that surrounds us. Doors Open Denver 2016 will be held April 23 and 24.


Over the past few years I have personally given over 100 DenverInfill walking tours for the general public because I believe passionately in sharing the story of how Denver’s urban landscape came to be and what is planned for its future. Similarly, Doors Open Denver allows tens of thousands of people and to learn about Denver’s architectural heritage and the importance of planning and design during this time of great growth and change in our city.

Also, Box City will once again be a part of Doors Open Denver!! If you are unfamiliar with Box City, check out my blog post from 2007.


If you appreciate events like Doors Open Denver and Box City and encouraging people to learn more about Denver’s past, present, and future, then please make a donation to the DAF on Colorado Gives Day. To further encourage you to make a donation, I will match all donations made through my personal fundraising page to the Denver Architectural Foundation up to $1,000!

To schedule your tax-deductible donation to the Denver Architectural Foundation on Colorado Gives Day, December 8, please visit my personal fundraising page:

Thank you for your support!

Explore Denver Inside Out at Doors Open Denver 2015!

The 11th annual Doors Open Denver will take place Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26, when buildings throughout Denver will open their doors to the public for exclusive and rare viewing opportunities, exposing the inside of Denver’s unique urban fabric. Doors Open Denver is presented by the Denver Architectural Foundation and draws tens of thousands of attendees each year.

I’ve always been a big fan of Doors Open Denver, but I’m even more excited about the event now because I’m helping to organize it! I’m a new member of the Denver Architectural Foundation Board of Directors and I’m serving on the Doors Open Denver planning committee. My interest in working on Doors Open Denver is to help propel what is already the Mile High City’s premier urban exploration event into an even bigger and better opportunity for people to experience our beautiful city and learn about many of its interesting buildings and sites.


Free participating sites include the Historic Sugar Building, the Dry Ice Factory, RedLine, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, the Denver Art Museum, The Lobby-­Paris Hotel Building, The Source, Converge Denver and TAXI, among dozens of others. Several of the sites will offer free interactive activities and exhibits. For example, the Denver Fire Department Station #3 will provide firefighter gear demonstrations, fire safety education and giveaway items, and the Byers-Evans House Museum will host The Family Dog: Denver, an exhibition of rock posters from The Family Dog (1967‐1968).

Doors Open Denver also offers ticketed Insider Tours, providing engaging opportunities to view areas of buildings not frequently open to the public. This year’s tours include a look at the Mansions of Capitol Hill, the DaVita building, the D&F Tower, and the Counter-terrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL), along with many others. Tickets will range in cost from $5 to $25, and registration will open to the public on April 6. Proceeds benefit Doors Open Denver, a nonprofit organization.

To help celebrate and promote Doors Open Denver 2015, DenverUrbanism will be featuring brief profiles of over 50 of the free participating sites—one per day for the next 50-plus days—until Doors Open Denver weekend in April! To help with this monumental effort is our Doors Open Denver star intern Maggie Lyons, whose first site profile (featuring Denver Union Station, our Doors Open Denver 2015 headquarters) will appear here tomorrow.

FasTracks Progress: Union Station Transit Complex Opens!

It’s been a long, long time coming, but the $500 million Denver Union Station Transit Center is COMPLETE and will open for transit operations tomorrow! This is undoubtedly a game changer for downtown Denver and represents the realization of nearly three decades of planning efforts, if not more. Ryan D. covered the grand opening ceremonies in two posts (parts one and two) yesterday on DenverInfill.

The Denver Union Station Transit Center (any ideas for a nickname?) consists of three major transit components: light rail (open in 2011), bus (open now), and commuter rail (coming in 2016). Let’s take a look at each of those components and how they fit into one of the most expensive infrastructure investments since Denver International Airport.

RTD has produced (and agreed to share) this great image that gives a general overview as to how the three components fit together and where the different modes provide service to.

UnionStation-Map - Copy

The locations and facilities labeled in orange on the image above are now complete and will be open for the general public on Sunday, May 11, 2014. The Chestnut, Wewatta, and Union Station Pavilions provide the three main entrances to the underground bus station, complete with stairs, escalators, and elevators. The Platform 2 and Platform 4 Pavilions provide access from the Commuter Rail platform with stair and elevator access to the underground bus concourse (no escalators).

The light rail facility was relocated in 2011 and served as the first major component completed at Union Station as part of this massive project. This new station replaced the previous light rail platform which was located just south of Wewatta Street (right about where the Wewatta Pavilion is today). The 16th Street MallRide was also extended 2-3 blocks to serve the new light rail station at the same time.


The underground bus station (which again….nickname?) is a sight to behold. A behemoth at 140 feet wide and 980 feet long, this 22-bay bus station has more than twice the capacity of Market Street’s 10 bays. The pedestrian concourse isn’t anything to sneeze at, coming in at 44 feet wide and 780 feet long. Every bus that services Market Street Station today will service Union Station, in addition to the free MetroRide. Buses from Greyhound as well as other private bus companies are a possibility in the future (no definitive plans as of yet). CDOT announced this week that its new inter-regional bus system—which will connect Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Glenwood Springs (and points in between) with downtown Denver—will serve the underground bus station. This new service starts sometime next year!

DenverUrbanism and DenverInfill have tackled the bus station through several previous posts, so I won’t bombard you with pictures here, but let’s take a look at some before-and-after pictures of the bus facility. Better yet, head on down and take a look for yourself. Honestly, I was wary when I heard about the yellow tile (can anyone say outdated and tacky?) but I think it turned out great. Combined with the seven skylights, it really helps brighten the facility up and makes it seem even larger (if that was possible).

2014_05_09_DUSBefore03 2014_05_09_DUSAfter01

2014_05_09_DUSBefore01 2014-05-09_DUSAfter02

The final and the most visible and stunning piece of transit infrastructure at Union Station has to be the commuter rail platform. Denver is known for lots of things (300 sunny days each year, active lifestyles, marijuana, etc.) but stunning and modern architecture tends to not make most people’s lists. This canopy will serve as an iconic welcome to those who arrive in downtown Denver by transit, whether it be the coming commuter rail lines, bus, or light rail.

2013_11_18_DUSCanopy04 2013_11_18_DUSCanopy09   

2013_11_18_DUSCanopy18 2013_11_18_DUSCanopy10

Union Station is big. It’s expensive. It’s important. It serves as the hub of the $6+ billion, decade-long infrastructure investment that is FasTracks. It will serve as the heart of transit throughout metro Denver. It will change how tens of thousands of people access downtown Denver on a daily basis. Get down there and take a look. Wander around. We all paid for it, and after decades of planning and years of construction, we can finally cash in on this investment.

Union Station Transit District: 133 Years in Progress

A beacon of preservation stands tall amid all of the construction and rumbling noise of Lower Downtown: Denver Union Station. On the eve of the grand opening of the Union Station Transit Center, let’s take a look back at the history of Denver’s venerable train station.

The first train arrived in Denver on June 24, 1870 with only one “station” for the Denver Pacific Railroad. This train’s arrival was no small feat and was certainly not assured. Thanks to visionaries and the deep pockets of early Denver promoters and businessmen such as John Evans, David Moffat, Walter Cheesman and William Byers, a spur railroad line had been quickly constructed to connect Denver to Cheyenne. The Union Pacific Railroad had bypassed Denver completely by agreeing to build the transcontinental railroad through southern Wyoming rather than through Colorado’s more treacherous mountainscape. So significant was the arrival of this first train in 1870 that the city named one of its streets in the far-away eastern edge of town after the first conductor who was aboard that train—Billy Ogden.

As more railroads came to Denver over the decade, each built its own depot separate from the other. However, Union Station was constructed following national trends of combining these disparate rail stations into one. Originally opened in 1881, the station served as the gateway to Denver for those coming to the city by train. There have been three incarnations of the station. The original structure was a stunning example of Second Empire design and was a monument to Victorian-era architecture. Unfortunately, much of this building burned down in 1894 when a fire sparked inside a restroom. The stone walls remained. This edifice was reused and rebuilt with a much lower roofline (removing much of the ornate design) and a stone clocktower. Today, we see the remnants of the original building through the east and west wings, but the large Beaux-Arts lobby section of the current building was completed in 1914 as an expansion of space to accommodate the huge influx of visitors and train-travelers to Denver. As the summer months approach, Denver will be celebrating the centennial of this section and the reborn grandeur of what remains as Union Station.

1881 Union Station with original clocktower and ornate roofline. Photo courtesy of History Colorado (F50.839)

1881 Union Station with original clocktower and ornate roofline. Photo courtesy of History Colorado (F50.839)

1894 Union Station after fire with new clocktower and simplified roofline. Photo courtesy of History Colorado (F50.883).

1894 Union Station after fire with new clocktower and simplified roofline. Photo courtesy of History Colorado (F50.883).

Union Station was a prominent transportation center through the 1950s but was eclipsed in use by the growing popularity of air travel and the move toward a more auto-dependent society. What is perhaps most miraculous is that Denver never demolished its old train station during the spate of urban renewal efforts that ruled over the city during the middle and late 20th century. During the Peña administration, voters of the city rejected efforts to turn Union Station into the city’s convention center complex. That scenario from 1985 was the last big threat to the survival of the station area as we know it today. It did reflect just how vexing the “problem” of Union Station had become. What should a city do with its underutilized and empty former train station? It turns out, for Denver at least, the answer resided in what the station had historically been used for—train travel.

Through a monumental planning effort, the City and County of Denver, RTD, and numerous public and private partners (as well as Denver voters who rejected the convention center idea in 1985 and Metro Denver voters who approved FasTracks in 2004), have achieved a truly magnificent milestone in the preservation and adaptive reuse of Union Station as both a hotel and public transit space. Large numbers of people will once again walk through the station’s grand atrium in order to access transportation, including trains! For a big part of the 20th century, Denver was demolishing historic buildings and creating an infrastructure that catered to the automobile by building more roads and parking lots to appease consumer demand. All of that is changing and new choices are being promoted with the continued preservation efforts in the Lower Downtown Denver Historic District and the soon-to-be-reopened Union Station.

(Thanks to Michael Vincent, star-intern and CSU student at the History Colorado Center for his assistance in researching and writing this blog entry).

The Disappearing Carriage Lot

In a formerly quiet west-side neighborhood, there is a building boom underway. In the area bounded by 20th Avenue, Federal Boulevard, Colfax and Sloans Lake Park approximately 10 single-family homes have recently been scraped, not to make room for “McMansions”, but rather to make room for new 2-3 story, multi-unit townhome projects. Thanks to recent zoning changes, relatively large lot sizes and low land values (compared to the Highlands neighborhoods further north) and shifting demographic trends (i.e. young professionals who no longer desire the “house with a big yard” that their parents had), this neighborhood is suddenly undergoing a major architectural make-over. While there are certainly numerous pros and cons to this type of redevelopment, one aspect that I find somewhat unfortunate is the loss of a very unique land development pattern in Denver. While most neighborhoods in Denver were built with rectangular blocks, this area of town has square blocks with a “carriage lot” in the middle.

Back in 1872 when the Potter Highlands (a thirty-six-block residential district bounded by Federal Boulevard, West 38th Avenue, Zuni Street and West 32nd Avenue) was platted it was laid out in square blocks rather than the rectangular ones that predominate the Denver street grid. According to Historic Denver Inc., “this arrangement allowed for houses to face all adjacent streets and to contain a carriage lot (or carriage turnaround) in the center of the block. Many blocks still have communal garages; others have incorporated the central lot into the adjoining properties. About thirteen of Potter-Highlands’ thirty-six blocks still have a distinct central lot.” This distinct block pattern was extended a few blocks north and east of the Potter Highlands and is only replicated in a handful of areas of Denver: Parts of Jefferson Park, Sunnyside, a 15-block portion of South Park Hill and this portion of the Sloans Lake and West Colfax Neighborhoods. The following aerial photo shows clearly shows the relationship between the carriage lot blocks and the standard Denver blocks platted later.


2014-03-27_park place XII rendering

Over time many of these carriage lots have been purchased by adjacent landowners and incorporated into larger yards, paved over for church or school parking lots, or in some cases developed into single-family properties in the middle of the block. Many still remain, however, in various states of use: some are simply open gravel lots, some have become more naturalized over the years with trees and grasses, one that I found still contained an old stone garage (that I imagine once contained horses and buggies). In a few cases, however, they’ve been turned into more informal public space. The photo below shows one that has been turned into a community garden.

2014-03-27_Carriage Lot Garden 2014-03-27_Communal Stables

Unfortunately with the new zoning allowing for greater densities in the Sloans Lake/West Colfax section of this square grid, developers have their eyes on these parcels. One has recently been purchased by the adjacent land owner for potential redevelopment and another one that was divided between two land owners long ago is now being built and paved over to make way for the Park Place XII townhomes, a 3-story, 12-unit project that will dominate the center of the block as shown below. In the last few weeks, the unit to the south has also been scraped, likely to meet a similar fate. 


While were gaining density, and increasing land values in the area, I’m afraid we’re also losing an interesting fragment of Denver history, and an opportunity to create more public open space within the community (something that a good number of people in the neighborhood are calling for in light of the new development boom). Since these lots are publicly owned, they could easily be developed into community gardens, dog parks, pocket playgrounds, and communal places of refuge. If we, as a city, invested in a few of these parcels instead of selling them off to the highest bidder, we might not only preserve a piece of Denver history but create places for this new generation living “without yards” to run their dogs, meet their “blockmates,” grow some vegetables or simply relax and enjoy nature away from the din of the street. With two-three story houses on all sides, many of these carriage lots feel like little enclosed courtyards, and could be wonderfully comfortable and enjoyable open spaces: a pleasant surprise to those who find them and/or seek them out. Until then, I encourage you to seek out and explore this relatively unknown piece of Denver’s urban fabric. Check them out before they disappear.