The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is on the 2019 Doors Open Denver tour. (Provided by Doors Open Denver)
Doors Open Denver has a lot to offer for 2019: More than 50 separate buildings and locations that can be visited at any time; 59 expert special tours; and five new artist-designed cultural activities to keep things interesting.
This is spot on for an annual event sponsored by the architectural community that does its best to show Denverites the inside of the buildings they pass by all the time. If there’s an interesting skyscraper or church you’ve always wanted to see, or a fire station, office, school, or historic hospital, it could be on Doors Open Denver’s list.
When you go
Doors Open Denver events will be held in various locations across the city from September 21-22. The 2019 headquarters are at Union Station (with a satellite location on Saturday at the Byers Branch Library in La Alma-Lincoln Park). Almost everything happens during the day, but check the website for certain times. The open sites and cultural activities are free; the tours require a fee-based registration. Register early. Info: denverarchitecture.org. Much of the information about the buildings and sites in this story was provided by the Denver Architectural Foundation.
There are some new things to know this year, including new or rarely opened sites like the massive Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Capitol Hill. What is remarkable this time is the geographic focus of the event on the La Alma-Lincoln Park district.
The West Denver area is flat and humble compared to a place like downtown with its glass towers, but it has its share of gems. These include the Ross Broadway Branch Library, the headquarters of Semple Brown Design and the Alliance Francaise de Denver cultural center.
It’s not flashy, public structures that a city likes to flaunt tourists, but their inclusion leads to something that may be more important to architecture than just a pretty face: they remind us of how buildings bring people together, like them can help us learn and improve our working day, and how they serve as space makers, protecting communities as they grow, mature, and develop their history.
Doors Open Denver, which plays September 21-22, comes in three categories: the open spaces that people can enter for free during the two days; the insider tours, for which a fee-based registration is required; and the commissioned arts and cultural activists who harness the talent of local creatives.
Here are a few picks that stand out in the pack. (For tour times and locations, see the Denver Architectural Foundation website.)
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (open side)
Everyone knows this towering 1912 church, designed by architect Leon Coquard, for its prominent location on Colfax Avenue, just up the street from the State Capitol. Even so, many people were not inside to see the 68 foot vaulted ceilings or the spiral staircases or the huge open spaces that span their sizeable 43,560 square feet. The cathedral is one of the few exaggerated French Gothic style houses of worship in the city.
An interior view of the mid-century Ketchum Building, now Sprocket Design + Planning, on Kalamath Street. (Provided by Doors Open Denver)
Ketchum Building, now sprocket design + planning (Open page)
The Ketchum Building at 730 Kalamath St., built in 1958, is a rare property in Denver, a unique example of a thin-shell concrete structure that uses cast concrete reinforced by its dome-shaped roof as a structural component. Denver engineer Milo Ketchum specialized in technology and designed his building as a model for customers. It is full of sprawling mid-century blooming spaces. Now it is fittingly the home of one of the most creative developers in town.
Bethesda TB Sanatorium, now the Denver Academy (Insider Tour)
Bethesda Sanatorium, built on 22 acres of land in the early 20th century, takes visitors back to a time when Denver’s climate and altitude made it a destination for tuberculosis sufferers from across the county. The legacy of the former Dutch Lutheran Church may be a downer, but the design, with its distinctive gate and tower and Harry Potter-style library, will last. There is also a mini-museum with artifacts from the early 20th century.
Alliance Francaise de Denver (Open page)
Alliance Francaise de Denver is one of the city’s oldest nonprofit organizations and has been committed to honoring and promoting French culture since 1897. The building it is in today is just as old. The building at 571 Galapago St. is really the collection of three different residential buildings that were built over three decades. The Alliance Francaise de Denver brought them together efficiently in 2003 and created a complex that is much more interesting than its brick facade suggests.
Eugene Groves Holland House (Insider Tour)
Here is your chance to immerse yourself in this treasure, designed in 1932 by Groves, a pioneer in the use of precast concrete. Back then it was a model of robustness, but it is not a bunker. Rather, it is an ornate landmark that defines the character of the University Hills district. It also deserves its designation as a historic landmark.
The 19th century Fitzroy Place / Iliff Mansion in Observatory Park will be open for Doors Open Denver. (Provided by Doors Open Denver)
Alan Gass’ idiosyncratic tour (Insider Tour)
This could be the weekend attraction not to be missed, a personal tour of Denver architect Gass’s favorite downtown buildings. Gass is a legend in the design community here, the creator of many interesting websites himself and partnered with IM Pei decades ago when the international icon came to Denver to create built wonders for businessman Willam Zeckendorf. Gass knows more about 20th century Denver urban development than anyone, and he has many stories to tell.
La Plaza (Arts and culture activities)
Doors Open Denver is creating a pop-up space at 965 Santa Fe Drive on the terrace of the Center for Visual Arts, one of the best contemporary art galleries in town (perhaps the best). This is a great place to put your Doors Open experience in the spotlight as there is food and drink and a Latino Heritage Market, all of which are protected by a temporary pavilion reminiscent of the performance-friendly structures that can be found in plazas in all of Latin America are in abundance.
Construction of Adobe Village with Carlos Fresquez (Arts and culture activities)
Another attraction at the Center for Visual Arts, this interactive clay building, is a reminder that all of the great architecture we enjoy today has its roots in other locations, including traditional clay buildings that are thousands of years old. Carlos Fresquez, one of the city’s most popular painters, will team up with artist Tsehai Johnson to lead hands-on workshops while visitors come together to create the mud brick.
Chicano walking tour (Insider Tour)
There is so much public art in Denver these days that it is hard to know what is authentic and what pretender work is. This tour is designed to get you in a nutshell and show you some of the best examples inspired by the Chicano movement in La Alma-Lincoln Park. Lucia Martinez, who carries on a legacy of family history in the neighborhood, leads the tour and shares the interesting stories behind the creations.
Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel (Insider Tour)
Sure, you can enter the lobby of this hotel at any time. But most of the locals don’t and this is a lost opportunity. The hotel has recently been meticulously restored and has an expansive atrium decorated with one of Denver’s most underrated works of art: a series of murals of Allen Tupper True’s favorite son. This tour contains some great stories about how this overlooked masterpiece was created.
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