Have you ever noticed that the old buildings on Broadway just south of the Capitol have large windows or garage doors at the ground floor? And that some of them sport the names of now-defunct automobile companies? Welcome to Denver’s historic Automobile Row!
In the early twentieth century, Broadway between 14th Avenue and Speer Boulevard was the place to shop for cars, to get your auto repaired, or to buy parts. The area flourished from the mid-1910s until the Depression, with its heyday from about 1915 to 1925. Many buildings have been demolished over the years, but several wonderful former auto dealerships remain on the east and west sides of Broadway, most notably the Franklin Studebaker Building.
This three-story terra-cotta building was once a majestic showroom for Studebakers and Franklin motor cars, and is now part of the Howard Lorton Galleries. The Golden Triangle Association’s blog has a thorough history of the building; here are some highlights:
- The building was erected in the early 1920s based on a design by architect J.M. Hyder. The ground floor housed the showroom, while repair shops were on the second and third floors. The upper floors were accessed by a concrete viaduct off the back of the building that remained on the building until after World War II.
- The dealership eventually became Marcus Motors, who sold Studebakers and Mercedes cars amongst other makes.
- It was later a Chevrolet dealership, a ski shop, and a photography studio with space rented by a community college.
Most people associate the name Studebaker with automobiles, but what about Franklin? The Franklin Automobile Company was based in Syracuse, New York and introduced the Franklin motor car in 1902. They produced high-quality, luxury vehicles and were victims of the Great Depression, folding in 1933. Studebaker also started manufacturing automobiles in 1902 and were much more successful than Franklin. But financial troubles in the 1950s resulted in a merger with Packard; the Studebaker-Packard Corporation went out of business in 1966.
The façade of the Franklin Studebaker Building is clad with white terra cotta with cream trim and orange and dark green ornament. The ornament is subtle, and include the Franklin and Studebaker names above the two original entrances.
The spandrels at each floor have lovely white and dark green swags that point to a central orange cartouche.
Medallions line the terra-cotta piers at the third floor, while the parapet piers are accented with similar white and dark-green swags. It appears that the current owners built up and leveled the back side of the parapet, probably to reinforce the masonry wall.
This is a remarkable survivor of an important era in the development of Denver and the transformation of the country as a whole. Cities all over the country had Automobile Rows, but few are as intact as Denver’s.