Fire Station No. 1, which is the home of the Denver Firefighters Museum, was designed by architect Glen W. Huntington [pdf] and constructed in 1909. This handsome building on Tremont Place replaced the earlier Fire Station No. 1 located on 15th Street near Broadway, which was demolished to make way for the 1911 Pioneer Monument.
I was surprised to learn that although it was built in 1909, Fire Station No. 1 originally housed horses and horse-drawn fire wagons. (According to the National Register nomination for Fire Station No. 1 [pdf], it was not until 1924 that all fire houses run by the Denver Fire Department used modern, motorized firefighting equipment.) From 1909 until the mid-1920s, the first floor of Fire Station No. 1 contained horse stalls and fire wagons, while the second story held a large hay loft. In 1932, the station house was remodeled: the wood floor was replaced with concrete, plumbing and electric equipment were updated, and the hayloft was replaced by a kitchen and dining area for the firefighters. In addition, new garage doors were added at the ground floor to accommodate larger motorized firefighting equipment.
The building was an active fire house until 1974 when a new Fire Station No. 1 was erected on Colfax Avenue. Rather than demolish the building, several citizens and prominent fire firefighters were able to save it by creating the Denver Firefighters Museum. The museum, which opened in 1978, is a popular attraction for children and adults alike. The building is both a Denver city landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The masonry of Fire Station No. 1 is a buff, iron-spotted brick with Indiana limestone trim. Three courses of rowlock bricks – headers turned perpendicular to their normal orientation – frame a large arch at the second story, and a single course of rowlock bricks surrounds the round oculus windows flanking the arch in the photo below.
If you look closely at the brick in the photo below, the iron spots give it a nice texture while the light-colored mortar makes the masonry read as a unified whole. The entire building was restored in the 1970s and remains in excellent condition.
In honor of Labor Day, we are going to look at civic architecture this week. First up is the Denver Central Library in the heart of the Civic Center.
This Post Modern structure was designed by Michael Graves & Associates in collaboration with Denver-based Klipp Colussy Jenks DuBois Architects, the architect of record. It was erected between 1994 and 1995 and has been both praised and maligned by architecture critics. I think it is a visually interesting building, and its lively design could have been just another a massive, glass box. I especially appreciate the reference to Denver’s beloved Daniels & Fisher tower at the far left in the photograph above.
But let’s look at the history of the library. The first unique structure for the Denver Public Library was the McNichols Building – originally known as the Carnegie Library – across Bannock Street from the City and County Building. (Westword has a great historic slideshow of the building and its context within the Civic Center.) The McNichols Building was constructed between 1907 and 1910, but by the 1950s it was clear that the library’s collection outgrew the building.
Between 1955 and 1956, a new Central Library building was erected on the opposite side of Civic Center Park, at Broadway and 14th Avenue. This new building was designed by Denver architect Burnham Hoyt, a celebrated modernist who studied in New York City under George B. Post and Bertram Goodhue. According to History Colorado [pdf],
“Hoyt generated the designs for his buildings with reference both to the site and to the unique functional considerations of the building type. He often juxtaposed circular volumes to rectangular ones. Typically, these buildings have flat roofs. The regularity of the facades suggest a symmetrical treatment; yet, the facades are generally handled in an asymmetrical way. These buildings feature smooth and uniform walls. These walls are eaveless, though boxed-in eaves are sometimes used by Hoyt. His interest in light is demonstrated by his attention to fenestration. Large expanses of glass are typically seen. The windows and doors of Hoyt’s buildings are stressed with trim. In the interiors, this interest in light is further stressed by clever uses of a variety of direct and indirect lighting. All of these standard features of Hoyt’s best work in the International Style are fully illustrated in the Central Library, the finest expression of Hoyt’s mature design philosophy.”
The new library building was one of his last major commissions before he succumbed to Parkinson’s disease in 1960. Hoyt was assisted in the design and construction by Arthur and Alan Fisher Architects. Most of the original Hoyt library remains, and can be seen in the photograph below (with the Graves addition looming behind it).
The small limestone building that once housed the Robert W. Speer Memorial Hospital for Children is the gem of the Denver Health hospital complex. Built out of Indiana limestone in 1939, the hospital was named after former Denver mayor Robert Speer. (Sound familiar? Speer Boulevard, the tree-lined parkway along the Cherry Creek, was also named after Mayor Speer.)
Speer was the mayor of Denver between 1904 and 1912, and again from 1916-1918. Apparently he was a bit of a shady politician, but he was also a great enthusiast of the City Beautiful movement. City Beautiful was an urban planning and design movement that promoted the construction of monumental architecture – often in the Beaux-Arts style – and parks to improve the quality of life of urban citizens. It was greatly influenced by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the Garden City movement in England. While mayor of Denver, Speer planned the demolition of buildings to the west of the capitol to create the Civic Center not far from the future site of the Robert W. Speer Memorial Hospital. (An interesting aside, Speer died while in office in 1918, a victim of the Spanish flu. He was the first mayor of Denver to die while in office.)
This corner stone indicates that the building was originally a children’s hospital, and it’s construction was paid for by Vaso L. Chucovich. Who was he? A wealthy real-estate investor who owned several saloons and gambling halls. (He also owned several buildings that were demolished for the creation of the Civic Center.) Chucovich and Speer were good friends, and upon Chucovich’s death in 1933 he donated $100,000 to erect the Speer Memorial Hospital.
The Speer Memorial Hospital was a modest little modernist structure built of Indiana limestone, but it also had a wonderful frieze above the entrance. Although most details of the frieze are lost to weathering, it appears to have been a fresco depicting families and children.
A wonderful historic photograph of the hospital building can be found on the Denver Public Library’s website. Few changes have been made to the Speer Memorial Hospital building over the past 75 years, though the ground-floor infill is not original to the building. It is currently owned by Denver Health and does not appear to be open to the public.