| Follow Us:

Features

The Temple: Art, Community and a Revolutionary Bakery

Dating to 1881, The Temple is a haven for artists and nonprofits.

Adam Gordon aims to offer affordable studios.

Shauna Lott of the Long i Pie Shop and Eden Myles of Five Points Pizza share space.

Processus co-founder, Christopher R. Perez, at work.

The Denver Zine Library is one of The Temple's resident nonprofits.

Artists can focus on their work, rather than worry about making the rent.

The Temple's bakery makes pies by day and pizzas by night.

The Temple has transformed a building steeped in Denver history into a sanctuary for artists and nonprofits. Its resident creatives have fostered community with shared resources, education and heavenly pizza and pie.
"It was a forgotten building, a forgotten past," says Adam Gordon, referring to the edifice known in its present incarnation as The Temple.
 
Gordon is sitting in his third-floor office space, surrounded by the plethora of art amassed there, and discussing the genesis of the building he's owned for just over two years.
 
On the same floor, artists' open studios invite First Friday attendees to drop in for a viewing. Ditto the floor below, which in the 19th century held 150 pews filled with congregants of what was then Temple Emanuel. The Temple's ground level is sectioned off: There's a co-op, tool-sharing workspace -- geared towards artists who don't have their own studios -- overseen by two longtime Denver artists; there's a nonprofit that provides art education to local youth; and, at the side of the building, there's a bakery, a unique, split-shift food venture.
 
While the building at 24th and Curtis streets wasn't Denver's first synagogue, Gordon says, "It was the first synagogue of note." The dedication ceremony for Temple Emanuel took place in 1881, and the building's design was overseen by the Edbrooke brothers' architectural firm; a decade later, Frank E. Edbrooke would draw-up the plans for the Oxford Hotel and, then, the Brown Palace. The exterior incorporates a mash-up of historical styles: Moorish, Romanesque, Victorian.
 
Over the years, the building has played host to a couple more Jewish congregations. Then, at one time, it was a church. A printing business used the building for years. It's also been an underground punk venue (it's said that Black Flag and Nirvana played there); it's been a rave space; it's been a squat. Looking at a photo of the edifice taken in 2012, the synagogue had clearly seen better days.
 
"It was inexpensive to buy, but really complicated to bring back to life," says Gordon. Prior to ever purchasing the building in 2014 -- shortly before it was scheduled to be condemned and then knocked down -- Gordon says that he saw various financial players investigate the site and, then, balk at buying it. "Everyone viewed it as a money pit," says Gordon. While others estimated it would take as much as $5 million to renovate, Gordon and colleagues brought it back to life for under $800,000.
 
Gordon, a  musician who has also investigated architectural ruins in South America (and can talk in his rapid-fire delivery about ancient civilizations until the cows come home), undertook the challenge of providing Denver with affordable art studios -- an interconnected "ecosystem" of creativity, where individuals artists could thrive in the company of their peers.
 
"Art, oftentimes, shows what's possible," says Gordon.
 
Touring The Temple reveals just that: what's still possible, amidst the rapid gentrification taking place in Denver.
 
Where Denver art was bornAdam Gordon aims to offer affordable studios.
 
Painter Jason Lee Gimbel, whose nudes incorporate a "push and pull" between figurative and abstract elements, says, "To have a studio in Denver is becoming kind of a rare commodity, especially in RiNo. So it's wonderful Adam has set this place up to be that sort of establishment for artists and creative people."
 
It's a sentiment echoed by others in the building: At The Temple, artists can concentrate more on producing work, rather than worrying perpetually about making the rent.
 
"It's a blessing that it's in an area that's becoming so popular -- and it stayed affordable for actual artists to come here," says Thomas Evans, who goes by the handle Detour. Evans uses house paints for his portraits of notable cultural icons like Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Some of his canvases incorporate computer touch pads, giving them the ability to be played musically. He's also photographically paired African-American subjects with African art objects.
 
Regan Rosburg's hybrid paintings/resin sculptures sometimes incorporate objects like a spider or a wasp nest into the mix, and they comment on the ephemeral nature of life and beauty, as well as her "mixed relationship" with a medium she uses: plastics. Rosburg says The Temple achieves the vision that Gordon set out to create: "A community where artists were able to afford to be able to work -- especially in the rising rents of Denver."
 
For local artists who don't have their own space, the organization Processus also offers tools and training in exchange for what they consider a reasonable membership fee. Members can use its sewing machine, glass cutter, digital printer, woodworking tools, and photographic darkroom.
 
However, when co-founder Viviane Le Courtois is asked how many members Processus has, she replies in her French-accented voice, "Not enough. Never enough, so we are looking for new members. Always." Her own work includes mycologically-inspired sculptures, as well as art prints which she's made from kombucha cultures. Fellow Processus co-founder, Christopher R. Perez, creates ambrotype photos -- ethereal images printed directly onto glass.
 
Prior to the construction of Coors Field, the area near downtown teemed with galleries. The Temple is helping to bring that vibe back, says Perez, who, along with Le Courtois, has provided an enormous amount of energy to The Temple's restoration and revitalization.
 
"This is where Denver art was born, in my opinion," says Perez.
 
A nonprofit haven and a revolutionary bakeryThe Temple's bakery makes pies by day and pizzas by night.
 
The worldwide, nonprofit service organization, United Way, traces its own birth back to The Temple (when it was Temple Emanuel) and to a woman who could be called the "Mother Teresa of Denver" (although she was neither Catholic nor celibate): Frances Wisebart Jacobs. In the 1870s, Jacobs assisted relief efforts in Denver for Jewish tuberculosis patients. Realizing health issues were an interfaith issue, she worked jointly with Temple Emanuel's rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Protestant minister to coordinate charity efforts in Denver. She was an inspiration for National Jewish Hospital (known today as National Jewish Health), which opened after she tragically died of pneumonia. Jacobs' image is enshrined in stained glass in the Colorado State Capitol, alongside other notable Coloradans.
 
Today, the nonprofit organization, PlatteForum, continues in that spirit of service, pairing rotating, resident artists with underserved youth in the community. "For me, art is a crucial component to social change," says Artistic & Programming Director Rebecca Vaughan. The nonprofit, which receives SFCD funding, has its own gallery space which combines work by students together with that of the resident artists; that day, on one of the walls, an illustration of crying, cartoonish figures in a pool of blood by artist Heejin Jang was conjoined with text by a student whose mother had been shot and killed.
 
Another nonprofit in the building is the Denver Zine Library, which has existed in various locations since 2003 and holds around 20,000 artifacts. It's a repository of alternate, underground media. One of its librarians, its keepers of the texts, is Kelly Shortandqueer, who calls the library "this amazing collection of artistic expression, of people's voices." Shortandqueer also publishes his own fanzine, aptly named shortandqueer. It functions as vehicle for him to talk "about my queer and transgender identity," especially since "I don't see it reflected in other places."
 
Not many places can boast a bakery which functions as both a pie shop by day and a pizza shop by night, run by two separate business people. Shauna Lott of the Long i Pie Shop says, "It gave both of us a home space, a home kitchen to be able to work out of, so we're not working out of someone else's kitchen."
 
Of her business' pie offerings -- like an apple crumble or a bourbon chocolate pecan -- Lott proudly exclaims, "We're all gluten, all butter!"
 
Eden Myles, who's been called a "revolutionary baker," runs Five Points Pizza. Given that the St. Francis Center is near The Temple, Myles says, "We help the homeless as much as we can."
 
While his business' whimsical graphic design features a pentagram (hence, Five Points), there's also Star of David tattooed onto Eden's left earlobe.

Myles comments on the juxtaposition between his six-pointed tattoo and his business being situated in a place that began as a synagogue: "It's not that ironic, because most young Jewish men like myself, we find connections to God in every single thing that we do. We don't have to seek it; it just seems to find us, and we embrace it the best we can and [try to be] humbled by it as much as we can."
 
"I love that [the building] started off as such a holy place," adds Myles.
 
Somehow raising money in the nick of time, being accepted by the neighborhood (Five Points Pizza only delivers within zip code 80215), being able to help others less fortunate: For all that, Myles gives thanks.
 
Myles says, "I constantly felt blessed through this whole project -- and still do."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Gregory Daurer.

Gregory Daurer is a Denver-based freelance writer and singer-songwriter, whose credits include 5280, WestwordSalon, Draft and High Times. He's also authored the novel A Western Capitol Hill.
Signup for Email Alerts
Signup for Email Alerts