This week at the Masonry of Denver we are looking at civic architecture, so naturally I wanted to investigate Civic Center Park. The park is framed by the Greek Theater and Colonnade of Civic Benefactors to the south side, and the Voorhies Memorial to the north. The two structures are so consistent in design and materials that I always thought of them as a single structure. It turns out they are two separate structures designed by different architecture firms and constructed at different times. Yet both structures were part of the larger, City Beautiful plan for Denver’s Civic Center backed by former Mayor Robert W. Speer’s in the early twentieth century.
The Greek Theater and Colonnade of Civic Benefactors, shown above, is located on the south end of Civic Center Park. It was designed by architects Willis A. Marean and Albert J. Norton and was constructed in 1919. Both Marean (pdf) and Norton (pdf) trained in the architecture office of Frank E. Edbrooke, the prolific Denver architect. While working for Edbrooke, Marean was involved with the design of Denver landmarks such as the Brown Palace Hotel and the Masonic Temple on 16th Street. In 1895, Marean and Norton started their own architecture firm and began designing houses. They went on to design several celebrated buildings, including the Cheesman-Evans-Boettcher Mansion (now the Governor’s Mansion) and the Cheesman Park Pavilion.
According to the National Register nomination for the Civic Center Historic District (pdf), the Greek Theater was designed as an open-air theater that could seat 1200 people. The seating area is framed on the north by fluted sandstone light poles and two small bronze lion statues sitting atop sandstone bases, which you can see in the photo below.
The central theater stage is flanked by curved colonnades, both of which have murals painted by Allan True, the celebrated Denver artist. True’s murals can be found in many important buildings in Denver, including the Colorado State Capitol building and the Brown Palace Hotel. The murals at the Greek Theater depict ‘The Trapper’, below, and ‘the Prospector’. A plaque below ‘the Trapper’ indicates that both murals were restored in 1976.
Two walls extend from the east and west sides of the theater, and include pedimented fountains and the names of civic benefactors in bronze letters attached to the sandstone walls.
The beautiful stone used to erect the Greek Theater and Colonnade of Civic Benefactors is Turkey Creek sandstone, which was quarried in Stone City near Fort Carson in Pueblo County, Colorado. This gorgeous cream-colored stone is fine grained but has a light pink hue with purple veining, which you can see below.
Across Civic Center Park is the John H.P. Voorhies Memorial, constructed in 1921, also using Turkey Creek sandstone. The memorial was erected in honor of a wealthy mining and real-estate investor, who was also prominent in Denver society in the early twentieth century.
It was designed by William E. Fisher and Arthur A. Fisher in deference to the Greek Theater and Colonnade of Civic Benefactors across the park, which had been erected two years earlier. Like the theater structure, the memorial has a central arch flanked by curved colonnades and murals by Allan True. However, if you look closely, the memorial has a greater amount of architectural ornament compared to the theater structure. There is also a shallow oval fountain just to the south of the Voorhies memorial, which contains bronze seal statues designed by artist Robert Garrison.
The plaza around the pool is surrounded by a low sandstone balustrade and tall fluted sandstone light poles. The balustrade was also made of Turkey Creek sandstone, but during a restoration in the 1980s several balusters were replaced with Indiana limestone. Although the balusters match in size and shape, the limestone is much lighter than the original sandstone. You can see the light gray limestone balusters in the foreground of this photo, with the darker, purplish sandstone balusters beyond.
In 2012, the National Park Service recognized the importance of the Civic Center to American history by naming it a National Historic Landmark. National Historic Landmark status is the highest level of historic designation bestowed upon a building, structure or landscape. There are only about 2500 National Historic Landmarks across the country ranging from the White House to the Hoover Dam, with only twenty-four National Historic Landmarks in Colorado. The Civic Center the only National Historic Landmark in Denver.