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Students Mull Future of Historic Sites


For many, the future of history is more promising than ever. Among them are CU Denver graduate students from Professor Tom Noel’s (aka “Dr. Colorado”) Colorado history and preservation classes, who delivered presentations at the recent Colorado Preservation, Inc.’s 19th annual convention.

Built around a long-standing “Saving Places” theme, the four-day gathering drew more than 600 preservation activists, city planners, architects, students, and elected officials to 50 separate sessions at the Colorado Convention Center.

The Auraria Campus’ Tivoli building, parts of which date back to the 1860s and today is used by hundreds of students daily, was often cited during conference sessions as a successful example of “adaptive reuse” for historic buildings. Reuse not only saves and preserves the structures, but gives them new life.

Well-praised was preservationist and developer Dana Crawford’s pioneering effort to save the nearby 1500 block of Larimer Street from the wrecking ball that later decimated much of what is today Denver’s trendy LoDo neighborhood.

Kansas-born Crawford is lauded as a guiding force behind the redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station, with its upscale hotel named for her. But Crawford’s ahead-of-her-time effort on Larimer Street began 50 years ago. Only San Francisco’s Ghiradelli Square, that opened a few years earlier in converted 19th-century chocolate factory buildings, preceded Crawford’s Larimer Square as the first historic adaptive reuse project in America. Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, and similar venues across the US followed in later years.

Colorado Governor and LoDo entrepreneurial pioneer John Hickenlooper launched the Wynkoop Brewpub in 1989, and delivered the kickoff conference address. “Preservation transcends politics—even Donald Trump and John Kasich say they support it,” said Hickenlooper during his address.

“Historic preservation connects us with our past and helps define who we are,” Hickenlooper said. “But we have a long way to go. And one of today’s big challenges is getting kids who are used to looking at smartphones interested in preservation.”

The young people Hickenlooper would like to better engage were well-represented by the graduate students from Noel’s CU Denver classes.

Student Kirby Page-Schmit spoke of a proposed “Skyline Freeway” that might have destroyed Denver’s yet-unnamed LoDo in the 1960s. Both Larimer Street and today’s LoDo were then the heart of Denver’s “Skid Row.” Bulldozing large urban tracts and calling it “urban renewal” plus freeway spurs into the hearts of downtowns—often in tandem— were all the rage for city planners.

Had that plan been realized, large swaths of LoDo—including Union Station and what is now the Auraria Campus— would have been obliterated by a partlysunken freeway, said Page-Schmit. The plan eventually died due to waning public support and growing preservation sentiment. Also, federal funding—once available at a 90:10 federal-to-state ratio, began drying up in the late 1960s.

While Page-Schmit offered the Skyline Freeway as a cautionary tale against efforts—far from dead today—to favor ease of auto traffic over livable cities, Noel related it to today’s controversy over the wider-or-sunken-roadway future of I-70 North of downtown Denver.

Students Krystal Marquez and Angela Smelker delivered presentations on the lost worlds of Denver’s downtown movie palaces and the vanished charms of Boulder’s roadside architecture. A few of those landmark theaters like the Mayan and Paramount survive.

Marquez noted that the Paramount’s timing was poor when it opened in 1930 with one of the most elaborate grand organs in the nation—at a time when talking movies were replacing silent films, and theater organs were in less demand. This observer recalls a Junior League fundraising event there when then-First Lady Barbara Bush made a malaprop comment on the organ best left unrepeated.

Leslie Krupa spoke about initiatives to preserve part of the World War IIera Japanese internment compound at Amache, in Southeast Colorado. Jolie Diephorst presented on the unappreciated legacy of prominent Denver Judge Ben Lindsey’s 1899 Dutch Colonial house at 1343 Ogden Street on Capitol Hill. Doug Fowler said the vernacular “Rocky Mountain Rustic Style,” seen at the Grand Lake Lodge that touches Rocky Mountain National Park and elsewhere, evoked a “sympathy with nature” romanticism and led to the birth of the landscape architecture profession.

Erica Fontenot said the new brew pubs in the Tivoli represent a return to some of that building’s original uses in the 1860s for a structure that stopped being a brewery a century later in 1969. “Brewpubs,” she said, “draw people together, and not just for the beer.”

In his kickoff talk, Hickenlooper shared his experiential knowledge of brewpubs. “I found that when you bring people together in places like the Wynkoop (the building dates to 1861), you can also make a buck,” he said. “But if we do nothing to save our past, our future is less reliable.”

—J. Sebastian Sinisi

Above: St. Cajetans is one of the historic structures on CU Denver’s campus

photo: Bobby Jones • CU Denver Sentry

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