Spending time walking Denver’s neighborhoods means that Beth Glandon learns something new about the city every time she goes out. And as director of Discover Denver, a volunteer program that surveys historic areas, she gets to do that often, studying homes and buildings throughout the city, searching for hidden gems of architecture and learning the history behind the brick and mortar.
Whatever neighborhood she is working in at the time, Glandon said, becomes her favorite spot in the city.
“It sounds kind of funny, but you fall in love with each neighborhood because you truly are looking at every building, you’re talking with the neighbors, you kind of become immersed in what’s happening there,” she said.
For the past four years, Historic Denver, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Denver’s historic architecture, has been working on a partnership with the city to survey a handful of neighborhoods at a time for landmark buildings. About 70 volunteers help with the nonprofit’s Discover Denver program, which reviews buildings for interesting historic or architectural features.
Historic Denver has already completed surveys in several Denver neighborhoods, including City Park West. The group began surveying Capitol Hill and Cheesman Park last October. How long it takes to finish a survey depends on the number of volunteers and the size of the neighborhood. The group spent a year surveying Virginia Village because of the area’s size.
Discover Denver is not surveying areas that are already designated as historic districts. In addition to photographs, volunteers take notes on prominent architectural features or changes that have been made on the building, such as additions.
In the city of Denver, Council Districts 9 and 10 have the highest concentration of protected properties, said Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver. Council District 9 includes City Park and City Park West as well as areas of north Denver and downtown. District 10 covers Capitol Hill, Uptown, Cherry Creek, Civic Center as well as Cheesman Park and Congress Park.
Part of the reason for the large number of historic areas relates to the growth of the city in its early days.
“Capitol Hill was not the first residential neighborhood, but it was an early residential neighborhood,” Levinsky said. “It was the first really grand neighborhood.”
People wanted to build their own grand mansion homes around the chosen location for the Capitol building, which was completed in 1894, Levinsky said. Later, multi-family residences such as apartment buildings began to take over the landscape in the Capitol Hill area.
Denver has more than 7,000 properties that are protected by landmark status, which means any changes or construction to the building requiring a permit from the city will need approval from the city’s Landmark Preservation office. The office has design guidelines it looks at to approve changes.
A majority of the protected properties fall into historic districts. The districts cover a group of properties instead of an individual one. The sizes of Denver’s historic districts vary from a few houses to entire blocks or neighborhoods.
About 330 individual properties are protected, Levinsky said.The remaining protected buildings fall under the 53 historic districts in the city.
Historic districts range in size. Humboldt Island, which Levinsky said was the first residential historic district, consists of two blocks of houses near Cheesman Park. The Wyman Historic District, one of the largest in Denver, stretches from next to Cheesman Park at East 11th Avenue over to East 17th Avenue in Uptown.
“The idea behind a district is just that you are trying to not only to protect the individual building, but also the context and the relationship among the buildings,” Levinsky said. “That relationship and setting has significance of its own right.”
Rooted in Capitol Hill
Historic Denver itself is rooted in Capitol Hill. In 1970, developers in Denver were eyeing Molly Brown’s former mansion at 1340 Pennsylvania St. Bulldozers were not imminent, Levinsky said, but neighbors began to be concerned the historic mansion would be lost to development.
“They got together and came up with a plan to purchase the house so it could become a museum,” Levinsky said.
That concern led to the founding of Historic Denver, a nonprofit that works closely with the city to help identify buildings with potential for landmark preservation. Buildings that have been given landmark designation cannot be demolished or changed without city approval.
The organization operates the Molly Brown House Museum to this day.
Historic Denver is now located in the former Emerson School at 1420 N. Ogden St. The building is also a historic landmark.
Historic Denver will host a Discovery Day there on Aug. 25 for neighbors looking to share or learn more about the history of the city. These type of community events, Glandon said, have helped the organization to learn more about the history of several buildings in the city.
“We choose buildings because they’re interesting architecturally or we may get a tip from the neighbor that says 'There’s a cool thing about this building,’" she said. “You can’t stand in front of a building and know what its history is.”
While surveying the neighborhoods, volunteers found City Park West had less variance in types of architecture. Capitol Hill, on the other hand, has a mixture of mid-century apartment buildings and grand mansions.
“One of the things that is really cool and unique about Cap Hill is the mix of architecture,” Glandon said. “You’ve got different layers of history within the neighborhood.”
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