Before and After: 10 Amazing Examples of Adaptive Reuse in Denver

From the REI Denver Flagship store in the Central Platte Valley to The Source in RiNo, here are the stories behind 10 of the top case studies of adaptive reuse in Denver.
Finding new uses for old buildings isn't really a novel idea. Just look around Denver and you'll see plenty of examples. 

What's interesting is learning about what they were before they became what they are today. A mortuary turned into restaurant space; an abandoned flour mill converted into luxury lofts; a grungy old motel transformed into sleek office and retail space. 

And adaptive reuse is ongoing: The latest project by Urban Ventures -- Steam on the Platte -- will revitalize a forgotten industrial corridor while honoring the area's history of steam plants and smokestacks. The site at 14th Avenue and Zuni Street includes the largest remaining undeveloped exposed brick-and-timber warehouse in the city.

These are just a few examples of the creativity developers and architects have employed to repurpose the old, often historic, buildings that make Denver cool.

This is by no means a complete list, but check out the stories behind some of the places you may frequent.

Flour Mill Lofts

When Dana Crawford wants to do something, she doesn't take no for an answer. People said she was crazy when she revealed her $4.5 million plan to convert tje old graffiti-covered Pride of the Rockies flour mill near 20th Street at Little Raven into 17 luxury lofts. 

The building, which practically sits on the train tracks, was built in 1906 by a cooperative of Longmont farmers, then purchased by the J.K. Mullen's Hungarian Flour company. The mill shut down in the late 1960s. Though it stood vacant for decades, its architectural and historic significance landed it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Crawford, also credited with saving Larimer Square from demolition 50 years ago, later built a similar 10-story building on the site, adding another 27 lofts.

Both the conversion and the new building proved to be successful. When the original 17 lofts went on the market, they sold quickly for an average of $150 a square foot in 1998, according to former Denver Post reporter Mike McPhee's new book, Dana Crawford:  50 Years Saving the Soul of a City. The 27 lofts in the new building averaged about $300 a square foot when they hit the market in 2001. By this year, they were selling for an average of $450 to $490 a square foot.

Olinger Mortuary complex

The first building built as a mortuary in the Rocky Mountain region is now one of Denver's most popular dining destinations. The Olinger Mortuary, founded in 1890 at 15th and Platte streets, built the new complex at 2600 16th St. in 1908. 

The 18,000-square-foot building overlooking downtown Denver remained a mortuary until it closed in 1999. Developers Paul Tamburello and Stephanie Garcia purchased the property and converted it to house Lola, Vita, Linger and several trendy retail shops with the Denver's BOSS architecture. The plaza in the center of the complex is a neighborhood gathering spot where people enjoy live music, movies and other activities. The plaza's focal point is Little Man Ice Cream, an ice cream store in a giant fabricated steel milk can honoring Tamburello's father, who was known as Little Man.

Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) Flagship Denver

Constructed in 1901, the REI building on the South Platte River once housed the boilers and engines used to generate electricity for the Denver Tramway Co., which had an exclusive city franchise to build electric streetcar lines in Denver. The Denver Tramway Powerhouse closed in 1950 and was used as a warehouse until the Forney Museum of Transportation bought it in 1969.

REI bought the building in 1998 for redevelopment into its flagship Denver store. Designed by Seattle-based Mithun, the $32 million project was considered a catalyst for development in the Central Platte Valley, so the Denver Urban Renewal Authority provided $6.3 million in tax-increment financing to the developer.

Tattered Cover Book Store

For 33 years, the space that is now the Tattered Cover at East Colfax Avenue and Elizabeth Street was Denver's premier theater. The 550-seat Bonfils Memorial Theatre was built in 1953  by former Denver Post publisher Helen Bonfils as a memorial to her parents.

It presented more than 400 productions by the time it closed as the Lowenstein Theater in 1986 -- it was renamed the Lowenstein Theater in 1985 after set designer and producer Henry Lowenstein. The Art Moderne building was vacant and became an eyesore over the next two decades.

Today, the 24,000-square-foot building is home to the Tattered Cover, which relocated here from 48,000-square-foot flagship store in Cherry Creek in 2006 after two decades.

The Source

Since it was built in the 1880s as part of the Colorado Ironworks development, the building now known as The Source in Denver's RiNo neighborhood has been used primarily for industrial and warehouse purposes. It first was listed as a blacksmith and boiler shop. Over the years it has been occupied by the Hugh M. Woods Mercantile Co., Nichols Wire Sheet and Hardware and Oliver Farm Equipment Sales Co. In the 1960s and 1970s, the George Epcar Co. used the complex as a government-surplus storage warehouse. 

Bud's Warehouse, a home improvement thrift store, occupied the building until about 2010, after which it remained vacant until Zeppelin Development took over the site and redeveloped it as The Source with Dynia Architects in 2013. Zeppelin and Dynia also behind nearby TAXI, the mixed-use repurposing of the old Yellow Cab HQ.

The Source is a 25,000-square-foot artisan market offering everything from freshly baked bread to craft cocktails. Its 15 tenants include Acorn, a wood-fired restaurant and cocktail bar; Comida, a modern Mexican taqueria; Western Daughters butcher shop; and Beet & Yarrow, a florist and produce store.

Galvanize, Golden Triangle

Built in 1929 as a corporate office and industrial printing facility, the Rocky Mountain Bank Note Co. building now is home to Galvanize, a community and creative hub for entrepreneurs. The building's original purpose was printing stock certificates. At one point, it housed a charter school. At another, it was a bar.

Today, the 30,000-square-foot Neo-Classical Revival-style building on the southeast corner of West 11th Avenue and Delaware Street in the Golden Triangle offers 245 desks and 248 alternative seats to its 300 members, which include 72 companies. It also has a cafe and event space. 

Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel

Dubbed "the most beautiful room in Denver" by the Post, the stunning lobby of the onetime Colorado National Bank Building -- which dates to 1915 and saw and expansion in the 1960s -- was preserved in all of its glory for the Renaissance hotel that opened in the building in 2014.

Designed by JG Johnson Architects (now Johnson Nathan Strohe), the space features a three-story atrium with soaring columns and 16 iconic murals by Allen Tupper True. Vaults became meeting space, offices became guestrooms and two new floors were designed so as not to overwhelm the original architecture.

Avanti F&B

Built in 1935, the Avanti Print and Graphics building at 3200 Pecos St. has had a complete makeover and now is Avanti Food and Beverage, a "collective eatery" that gives restaurateurs the opportunity to test new concepts before establishing brick-and-mortar locations.

Inspired by European markets, Avanti has seven culinary options housed in modified shipping containers, two large bars and expansive decks with views of the downtown skyline.

The Metlo

Developer Jon Cook left the vintage charm of Broadway Plaza Motel at 11th Avenue and Broadway intact when he converted the mid-century modern building into The Metlo, which has 27 office suites and four ground-floor retail spaces. 

Built in 1958 when motor hotels were popular, the Broadway Plaza had declined over the years to a building filled with dusty rooms, old furniture and bedbugs. Cook bought the building for back taxes six years ago. He leased the building back to the manager, who kept it open until the economy had recovered enough to support its redevelopment.

The Fillmore Auditorium

One of Denver's most beloved music venues -- The Fillmore Auditorium -- opened its doors in 1907 as the Mammoth Roller Skating Rink. It was a popular after-school hangout for nearby East High School.

Over the years, the building has been repurposed a number of times. After the roller rink closed in 1910, it was occupied by the Fritchie Automobile & Battery Co., which produced nearly 500 vehicles, the first of which was purchased by Titanic survivor Molly Brown. 

After closing in 1917, the building remained unoccupied for several years until Irving Jacob bought it and turned it into Denver's first recreational center -- Mammoth Garden Roller Club -- offering ice skating, hockey, basketball, ice polo, boxing and wrestling. 

In 1968, concert promoter Stuart Green bought the building and turned it into a music venue known as Mammoth Gardens. It hosted concerts by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, the Who, The Grateful Dead and Joe Cocker. The venue closed in 1970 after a patient escaped from a nearby hospital, entered the kitchen area and began stabbing himself in the chest.

Chuck Morris, then of Bill Graham Presents, bought the venue in 1999 and reopened it as The Fillmore Auditorium, with the Trey Anastasio Band performing the inaugural concert.
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Read more articles by Margaret Jackson.

Margaret is a veteran Denver real estate reporter and can be contacted here.
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