On January 15th, a Mid-Century modern ranch style home in Belcaro known as the Wallbank/Parker House will meet its maker. The home, built in 1958, was designed by Tician Papachristou and Daniel Havekost. A huge brouhaha developed over the fate of this home when two individuals tried to save it from demolition in the 11th hour, after learning that the current homeowner planned to raze the structure in order to build a 21st century house on the site. While the homeowner saw little worth in saving the structure, others attempted to use a four-year-old city ordinance that allows any individual to seek landmark designation on potentially significant buildings. Needless to say, the homeowner was livid. You may read more about this issue in the Denver Post. This ordinance was passed in part to help stem the tide of mass demolitions occuring throughout neighborhoods like University Park and Hilltop, among others—neighborhoods that have changed overnight as housing that was seen as outdated, inferior or tacky has been replaced by “McMansions.” Of course, McMansion is in the eye of the beholder. This has pitted those who uphold private property rights at any cost against preservationists and older homeowners. As Assistant City Attorney Kerry Buckey said in the Denver Post, “You have property-rights people on one side saying, ‘It’s my house. I should be able to do what I want,’…. “On the other side you have the general history of Denver. Some of these structures, in a way, are owned by the whole city.”
Cities are ever-changing creatures, and we certainly cannot hold on to everything from the past. I certainly recall, however, a similar argument back in the late 1980s in a place we now call LoDo, when private landowners and building owners were livid that the city was considering a “hostile” historic district designation for their area. This foresight has benefited us today and has benefited those landowners. In fact, the success of LoDo has benefited Denver and the entire region.
The difficulty is in knowing what the future will bring. Will “we” lament the continuing loss of mid-20th-century architecture as it is currently being wiped away, much like the old Victorian mansions were in Capitol Hill in the 1950s? Or will “we” say good-riddance to it as a post-war atrocity? How does time and history affect our tastes or is it just the luck of the draw in what remains after everything else is demolished? Whether house, business, church or school, who should have a say in protecting the built environment in which we all share?
I do know one thing: if this law had been in effect back in 1965, and had I been alive, I would have been the first person to put this “hostile” designation into play in order to save the Tabor Grand Opera House at the corner of 16th and Curtis. Not only would it make that corner look better today (instead of the Federal Reserve Branch Bank), but it would have also saved a significant structure from Denver’s past, one that will never be replaced. At the time, no one with power saw this as a building worthy of saving for posterity. Today, its loss is generally lamented. The question therefore is: are the Wallbank/Parker House and other Mid-Century architectural examples on par with the Tabor Grand Opera House? I suppose only time will tell.