The small limestone building that once housed the Robert W. Speer Memorial Hospital for Children is the gem of the Denver Health hospital complex. Built out of Indiana limestone in 1939, the hospital was named after former Denver mayor Robert Speer. (Sound familiar? Speer Boulevard, the tree-lined parkway along the Cherry Creek, was also named after Mayor Speer.)
Speer was the mayor of Denver between 1904 and 1912, and again from 1916-1918. Apparently he was a bit of a shady politician, but he was also a great enthusiast of the City Beautiful movement. City Beautiful was an urban planning and design movement that promoted the construction of monumental architecture – often in the Beaux-Arts style – and parks to improve the quality of life of urban citizens. It was greatly influenced by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the Garden City movement in England. While mayor of Denver, Speer planned the demolition of buildings to the west of the capitol to create the Civic Center not far from the future site of the Robert W. Speer Memorial Hospital. (An interesting aside, Speer died while in office in 1918, a victim of the Spanish flu. He was the first mayor of Denver to die while in office.)
This corner stone indicates that the building was originally a children’s hospital, and it’s construction was paid for by Vaso L. Chucovich. Who was he? A wealthy real-estate investor who owned several saloons and gambling halls. (He also owned several buildings that were demolished for the creation of the Civic Center.) Chucovich and Speer were good friends, and upon Chucovich’s death in 1933 he donated $100,000 to erect the Speer Memorial Hospital.
The Speer Memorial Hospital was a modest little modernist structure built of Indiana limestone, but it also had a wonderful frieze above the entrance. Although most details of the frieze are lost to weathering, it appears to have been a fresco depicting families and children.
A wonderful historic photograph of the hospital building can be found on the Denver Public Library’s website. Few changes have been made to the Speer Memorial Hospital building over the past 75 years, though the ground-floor infill is not original to the building. It is currently owned by Denver Health and does not appear to be open to the public.