Doors Open Denver to Showcase City Beautiful

This year's theme for Doors Open Denver celebrates the historic City Beautiful movement at a time when Civic Center -- the crown jewel of the vision to improve quality of life in the city -- was recently designated a National Historic Landmark.
Doors Open Denver, to be held April 13 and 14,  will feature more than 60 expert-guided tours, the Denver Box City for Kids, the Focus on Architecture Photography competition and rides on the Platte Valley Trolley. New this year are guided bike tours and tours of Denver Parks and Parkways.
"A big part of City Beautiful was that you orient around the parkways," says Annie Levinsky, Co-Chair of the event and Executive Director of Historic Denver Inc., a nonprofit urban historic preservation organization.
To that end, many of the buildings featured this year are oriented around Denver's parks and parkways, with Civic Center Park and the newly restored McNichols Civic Center Building serving as the focal point for the event.

Civic Center RebornThe newly restored McNichols Civic Center Building.
The cornerstone of the McNichols building was laid in 1909, setting the foundation for the then Carnegie Library that would become a center of learning in Civic Center Park. After being shuttered for decades, the building was re-opened last year as a contemporary hub for arts and culture. The Greek Revival building with Corinthian columns and iconic colonnade offers new experiences in a classic space.
Influenced by European Beaux Arts architecture and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the City Beautiful movement is characterized by parks, fountains, public statuary, grand boulevards, handsome civic centers, prominent civic buildings and comprehensive planning.
"The vision was you use grand civic architecture to uplift the human spirit," Levinsky says. "If you were investing in architecture, you were investing in your community and making people happier."
City Beautiful started over 100 years ago, when Mayor Robert Speer and Denver's civic leaders took steps to distinguish the city from other dusty frontier towns. While most prevalent between 1900 and 1941, the legacy of City Beautiful is alive today in the city's planning philosophy and new design.
Perhaps the best example of The City Beautiful movement is Civic Center, which last fall was designated designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Civic Center is the first such designee in Denver and one of three sites in Colorado to join the list last year.
"It's a big honor for Civic Center to be listed," Levinsky says. "It took us seven years to get through the process. In honor of that, we decided the theme should be City Beautiful."

Showcasing the Best Buildings
This year's Doors Open Denver features the best of old and new architecture throughout the city. 
"There are a number of new buildings that embody the City Beautiful spirit," Levinsky says. "The Ralph Carr justice center is a great example of a modern City Beautiful building."
The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center.The $258 million Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center will fulfill Denver's civic center master plan. The 695,767-square-foot  judicial center, which houses the state courts complex, features a column facade and glass-domed atrium that complement nearby executive and legislative buildings such as the Colorado State Capitol, the City and County Building, Denver Public Library and the Denver Art Museum.
Other more modern buildings on the list include the 36,000-square-foot Denver Animal Shelter, designed by architecture firm Animal Arts, which has achieved LEED Platinum certification, and the SugarCube apartment building, built in 2008 as the modern counterpart to the historic Sugar Building on the 16th Street Mall.
Older buildings on the list include the 13-story First National Bank Building, 17th Street's first high rise, and the Zen Center of Denver, which originally was built as a church for Christian Science. Constructed in the Classic Revival style and completed in 1920, the three-story building is made with terra cotta tile and decorative eaves. The building is characterized by large stone pediments that support columns topped with Corinthian capitals. The Zen Center purchased the building in 1998 and turned into a public venue to learn about Zen Buddhism and for public meditation.

A Different Take
As Doors Open Denver celebrates City Beautiful, local historian Tom Noel is countering with a "city ugly" tour that includes the old red light district on Market Street, best known as the flesh market, and Hop Alley between Market and Blake streets.
"Hookers needed a lot of laundry done and they needed opium," says Noel, who with the late preservationist Barbara Norgren wrote the book Denver: The City Beautiful. "The Chinese needed protection and help, which they got from the market."
Drawn to Colorado by the completion of the transcontinental railroad and demand for cheap labor, the Chinese first settled in Colorado in the 1860s, working mostly in laundries, as house servants and in the mines. Hostilities between the Chinese and other immigrants competing for jobs and negative publicity about the 17 known opium dens culminated in a Denver's first race riot on Halloween 1880 in which one Chinese man was lynched.
"And people wonder why we don't have a Chinatown," Noel says.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Margaret Jackson.

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