Who doesn’t love a good story of ambition, adventure, love, and ultimately destruction? Welcome to the Crest House atop Mt. Evans, what was once the highest building in the United States.
This incredible organic, yet futuristic, building was erected between 1939 and 1941 and was the dream of German immigrant Gus Roehling. Roehling cooked up the idea to build the Crest House for his girlfriend, later wife, after a visit to the top of Mt. Evans. It took him a decade to secure private funding and permission from the Forest Service to develop a tourist center at the top of the mountain, but construction eventually began in the summer of 1939. The building was designed by architect Edwin Francis, and upon completion in 1941 it housed a restaurant, a gift shop, restrooms and an observation deck overlooking the Front Range. The restaurant was originally located in a semi-circular bay of faceted windows facing north, as seen in this excellent collection of historic photographs from the Denver Post. The observation deck was atop the structure.
At 14,120 feet above sea level, the building site was one of the most rugged in the country. Although it was accessible by the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway, completed in 1927, Roehling and his builders camped at the top of Mt. Evans during the summer construction seasons. They did not have to look far for building materials, though; they took advantage of the natural light-gray and pink granite littering the summit of Mt. Evans for the building’s primary west façade with its four arches. Both the exterior (first photo) and the interior (seen above) were built with local granite. Here is a detail of some of the gray and pink granite found near the Crest House.
The rest of the structure was erected using poured-in-place concrete. The concrete is gray with a subtle pinkish hue, which was probably pigmented with crushed pink granite found near the building site.
In 1979, a gas leak and explosion caused the building to burn. If you look closely, you can still see bits of charred wood embedded in the concrete in the photo above. In the early 1990s, the Crest House was stabilized but the roof and windows were never rebuilt. Today, visitors can walk through the ruin to admire the architecture, as well as the views from the former restaurant.