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.