Although this blog is about masonry, today we are going to briefly explore the history of electric power in Denver thanks to this wonderful complex of buildings, the LaCombe Power Plant.


Situated on the east bank of the South Platte River, the LaCombe Power Plant is visible from the South Platte Trail. (It is currently known as the Zuni Generating Station and is owned by Xcel Energy.) The plant is cluster of utilitarian structures, but I noticed right away that some of the buildings are quite old.  It turns out that one in particular is very old.

In 1900, the City of Denver granted Charles F. LaCombe and his LaCombe Electric Company the right to build an electric power plant on the east bank of the South Platte River just south of 14th Avenue.(1)  Until this date, the Denver Consolidated Gas and Electric Company had a monopoly on electric production and distribution in the city.  Not only did the City of Denver break the electric monopoly, but they also gave LaCombe funds to assist with construction of the new plant.  The plant would include a municipal arc light plant and a commercial incandescent and power plant, both of which were to be sold to the City within five to twenty years.

LaCombe wasn’t a newcomer to the electric business; he was president of the Mountain Electric Company, a local representative of the Western Electric Company of Chicago and the Westinghouse Company of New York.  He began work on the new plant within 30 days of the grant, and the facility started operations in April 1901.

According to a May 11, 1901 article in Western Electrician, the original LaCombe Power Plant had two adjacent buildings, as required: one for commercial power generation, the other for arc lighting.(2)  Both buildings were constructed of pressed brick and were built along the river to take advantage of the water for steam generation.  The 1901 photo, below, was taken from across the Platte River looking east.  The arc light building is to the right, and the commercial plant is to the left.


A view of the interior of the arc light plant, looking west.


Here is a view of the plant today, also looking east across the South Platte River.  All that remains of the original LaCombe Power Plant is the small brick structure at the center of the photograph – the original arc lighting plant.


The photo below more clearly shows the remaining portion of the original arc light plant.  Although all of the windows have been removed, the three small arched window openings remain at the second level, as do the large arched window openings at the ground floor.  The original curved and stepped parapet was replaced with a more simple stepped parapet constructed of a lighter brick, but this outlines the roof line of the original building.  The eastern portion of the original building was cut off by the utilitarian structure behind, which appears to date to the second quarter of the twentieth century.


Although portions of the original LaCombe Power Plant remain, the company did not last very long.  Several lawsuits were filed by the Denver Gas and Electric Company against the LaCombe Electric Company, but LaCombe persevered.  Denver Gas and Electric also started a rate war, dropping its rates so low that LaCombe was struggling to stay in business.  By late 1902, LaCombe Electric was sold to Denver Gas and Electric, and the power monopoly was renewed.  Over the next few decades, Denver Gas and Electric enlarged the original LaCombe Power Plant to meet increased demand as the population of Denver grew.  By the 1910s the two original buildings had been overshadowed by larger buildings and were not visible in a 1918 photograph of the plant in the Denver Public Library’s collections.  It is amazing that most of the original arc light plant has survived 114 years to remind us of the power struggles between electric companies in Colorado at the turn of the nineteenth century.


  1. J.W. Dickerson, “Denver’s $750,000 Central Station”, Modern Machinery, May 1900, Vol. 7-8, p. 176-177.
  2. Western Electrician, May 11, 1901, Vol. 28, No. 19, p. 313-315.
  3. J. Warner Mills, “The Economic Struggle in Colorado, II. Dominant Trusts and Corporations,” The Arena, October 1905, Vol. 34, No. 191, p. 488-489.