I was walking down Broadway a few weeks ago and saw this lovely ‘Fleming Bros.’ building on the east side of Broadway between 1st Ave and Ellsworth Ave.
It’s a pretty red brick building with red sandstone trim. What struck me were those wonderful brick arches at the third floor. The bricks that make up the arches are either specially molded or more likely custom cut to form wedge shapes that get wider toward the outside of the arch. If you look closely at the photo below, you might also notice that the corners of the bricks that make up the intrados of the arch are slightly curved to give the arch a softer edge. The same thing was done to create the small arches over each transom window.
The words ‘Fleming Bros.’, carved into sandstone above the arches at the center of the building, got me curious. Who were these Fleming Bros. and why did they commission this beautiful building? It turns out the Fleming Bros. were one of the largest developers, contractors, and lumber suppliers in the area of town originally known as South Denver. They built this building in 1890 as their company’s administrative headquarters and as a showpiece for their construction business.
The Fleming brothers [pdf] were Jesse W., Calvin, D. Carson, and Patrick, who originally hailed from western Pennsylvania. Jesse moved to Denver in 1884 following the lead of his cousin, the successful businessman and real-estate developer James A. Fleming, who arrived in Denver in 1880. (More on James, later.) Calvin moved west in 1886, as did D. Carson, a carpenter, and Patrick, a bricklayer. In the mid-1880s, the four brothers formed the Fleming Bros. Lumber Company, which originally supplied lumber to contractors and builders. The brothers quickly got into the development and construction business themselves and built numerous houses in the Baker [pdf] and Wash Park West neighborhoods. From the late 1880s through the early 1890s, they built speculative houses using architectural pattern books for designs, and supplied their own lumber and masonry materials for the construction. They then sold these spec houses on installment plans, which allowed South Denver to develop into a middle-class community. They also became wealthy selling lumber to railroad companies during the railroad expansion of the 1880s and 1890s.
In the 1890s and 1900s, the Fleming Bros. Company started building commercial buildings on Broadway in addition to their residential construction projects. Commercial buildings constructed by the brothers include the First Avenue Hotel at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Broadway (designed by Charles Quayle), and the Stuart Hotel at the southeast corner of 1st and Broadway (designed by Willis Marean and Albert Norton).
In 1909, the Fleming Bros. formed the Fleming Bros. Bank, whose headquarters was at their First Avenue Hotel. (It was also their construction company’s headquarters.) They eventually changed the name of the bank to the Broadway National Bank and erected the building at 100 Broadway (now a Key Bank branch) in 1914 based on the design by architects William E. and Arthur A. Fisher (see photo on left).
As their companies became more established, the Fleming brothers grew more connected in Denver’s political and business circles. Jesse Fleming, who was the president of the Fleming Bros. Bank, was also the brother-in-law of Governor Elias Ammons and was Chairman of the Moffat Tunnel Commission. (In a bit of a scandal, he was arrested for supplying inferior furniture for the decoration of the State Capitol in 1914 [pdf / NY Times subscriber firewall].) Calvin ran the Broadway National Bank and served on the board of the Farmers Life Insurance Company.
Fortunately for us, many of the Fleming Bros. commercial and residential buildings remain. Several are Denver landmarks, while others included in historic districts listed on the National Register [pdf].
And now a quick aside on South Denver. In the early 1880s several prominent businessmen settled on the south side of Denver, which was largely rural farmland. They quickly petitioned the city of Denver to allow the creation of an independent city: South Denver. Incorporated in 1886, South Denver had strict prohibitions against liquor and alcohol-related businesses to counteract their northerly neighbor’s reputation of hedonism and debauchery. The first mayor of South Denver was James A. Fleming [pdf], cousin of Jesse, Calvin, D. Carson and Patrick. James made his fortune on the oil fields of western Pennsylvania, and later in mining in western Colorado. He purchased several acres of land in what is now Platt Park and built a grand mansion at Logan and Florida Street between 1882 and 1883. (The house, 1501 S. Logan, still stands and is a Denver city landmark.) He began constructing speculative houses in the late 1880s and early 1890s in areas known as Fleming’s Broadway Addition (bounded by Broadway to Grant St, Florida to Iowa Aves), and Fleming’s Subdivision (bounded by Logan to Clarkson Sts, Florida to Iowa Aves). James Fleming served as mayor of South Denver from 1886 until 1890. Following the silver crash in 1893 and the resulting financial hardship, South Denver was formally annexed by Denver and has remained part of Denver ever since.