Franklin Studebaker and Automobile Row

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.

1929 Franklin Ad-011920 Studebaker Ad-07Most 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.

Textured Concrete at the Clyfford Still Museum

Although there are numerous historic masonry buildings in Denver, the city also has a good amount of unique, contemporary masonry structures.  One such building is the Clyfford Still Museum with its textured concrete façades.  The Still Museum was designed by Allied Works Architecture and built between 2009 and 2011.  One of the many cultural sites in the Golden Triangle Museum District, the Still Museum houses the collection of artist Clyfford Still.


The contemporary design of the Still Museum is elegant and stately, but I am most fascinated by the textured concrete of the exterior façades.  According to several news reports about the opening of the museum, the textured-concrete skin was designed by architect Brad Cloepfil with numerous installation mockups by contractor Saunders Construction, Inc. and a custom concrete formulation developed by the Martin Marietta Corp.


The north, west and south façades are clad with this textured concrete, which was cast in place using wooden formwork.  In the photo below, you can see the wood grain of the formwork on the soffit of the overhang, which imparts a nice organic texture.  The formwork at the soffit was also installed at a diagonal to offset the vertical stripes of the façades.


To create the vertical texture on the façades, the contractor constructed wood formwork fins.  According to the Architectural Record: “The contractor created the fins by beveling the sides of some of the formwork boards to leave gaps; when the boards were pulled off, parts of the fins’ outside edges broke off to produce a jagged surface. The fins’ irregularity is an essential part of their character.”  You can see the irregular corduroy pattern of the textured concrete in the photo below.  It almost looks like a cascade of water running down the side of the building.


As to the composition of the concrete, a case-study [PDF] from the Sika Corporation indicates that the concrete was custom blended from sources in Wyoming and Texas mixed with coarse and fine aggregate.  There is a prevalence of pink aggregate in the Denver area due to our proximity to the pink and gray granite of the Rocky Mountains, but the design team wanted the concrete skin to be a more neutral yellowish gray color.  Therefore, they selected aggregate that contained no pink granite.

The concrete was poured over the course of several months in varying temperatures and humidity levels, so the contractor had to pay close attention to the consistency of the concrete, its color (which can change as more or less water is added to the mix), and how fast the concrete set up.  As a result, several admixtures were included in the concrete mix to account for temperature, humidity, and varying set times of the concrete. [Update: I was asked about admixtures. Admixtures are chemicals or additives mixed into concrete that are used to improve the concrete’s strength or hardness, the speed at which it hardens, or the temperature at which it hardens, amongst other things.]

Although I have not yet been inside the Still Museum, I hear that that the architects made extensive use of textured concrete throughout the building.  The Still Museum website has some excellent photographs of the interior galleries and ceilings, which look amazing.