I fell in love with the Granite Building over the summer, but just now got around to looking into its history. I’m so glad I did! According to the Denver Landmarks designation for the Larimer Square Historic District [pdf], Denver began on the site of the Granite Building. No, the Granite Building isn’t the first building built in Denver, but it sits on the land on which William H. Larimer, Jr. built his log cabin in 1858. The site at the northeast corner of 15th and Larimer Street soon became the center of Denver City, and was therefore a lucrative development site. By 1882, the site’s owners George W. and Willam N. Clayton, erected the four-story granite building that stands on the site now.
The Granite Building was originally constructed to house the M.J. McNamara Dry Goods Company, and was nicknamed the Granite Building fairly soon after it was erected. It later housed a furniture business, architecture offices and building suppliers, and was supposedly the original office of the Denver Post. By the 1910s, the Granite Building had become a boarding house and then a flophouse. In 1965 it was purchased as part of Larimer Square and was fully restored by 1970. It currently houses offices, restaurants on the ground floor, and a comedy club in the basement. A great historic photo of the building can be found in the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library.
The Granite Building was built using all local masonry materials, as well as cast-iron columns on the interior made by the Colorado Iron Works. Although there is no record of who supplied the granite, it is probably Pikes Peak Granite quarried in the South Platte Canyon near Buffalo Creek. It has a pinkish gray color and was installed in rusticated blocks, with smooth-cut blocks at window spandrels. However, the Granite Building isn’t entirely made of granite. Two different colors of sandstone – red and beige – provide horizontal and vertical ornament on the building. Both sandstones may have been quarried from the hogbacks along the Front Range, the location of many sandstone quarries between Manintou Springs and Fort Collins. Below is a detail of the granite and sandstone used at the top of the building, plus the painted sheet-metal cornice.
We are lucky that development pressures in the first half of the twentieth century were low enough that the Granite Building was not demolished for a more modern structure. And thanks to Dana Crawford and her associates, the building and its neighbors were brought back to life in the 1960s. The Granite Building is part of a Denver landmark district and is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and should be around for generations to come.