A building that stands out in the city landscape

Denver City Council to decide if Denver 7 building will receive landmark status

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Brutalist architecture, though popular in the 1960s and 1970s, isn’t necessarily everybody’s favorite style of architecture today.

But there is one Brutalist building in particular in the Speer neighborhood that a few Denver residents feel is worth saving.

Denver City Council, however, disagreed. Members voted unanimously on May 10 not to designate the KLZ Communications Center — more commonly known as the Denver 7 building — at 123 Speer Blvd. with landmark status.

The Brutalist style of architecture is not well represented in the city’s portfolio of landmarks, said Michael Henry, chair of the Historic Preservation committee for the Neighbors for Greater Capitol Hill, which is a registered neighborhood organization.

“The Denver 7 building is an outstanding example of Brutalism,” Henry said. He, along with Brad Cameron and David Wise, “felt it was worth the effort to try to save it rather than see it demolished.”

The Denver 7 building was constructed in 1969, and its prime location at the cross-streets of Speer and Lincoln makes it quite visible — its five-story tower on the west side of the property being the most iconic portion of the structure. The color, which comes from Colorado-sourced red sandstone, is also worth noting, Henry said, adding that most Brutalist buildings are grey-ish in color because of the use of concrete materials.

“It stands out in our city landscape,” Cameron said. “Thousands of people pass by it daily. Its demolition would leave a gapping hole in Denver’s landscape.”

The property is owned by Scripps Media, the parent company of KMGH Denver 7. The company would like to sell the building and relocate its operations to a different centrally-located and more modern building, which had not been determined as of the beginning of April. However, the property has a potential buyer — a “highly respected developer of mixed-use projects in urban neighborhoods through the United States,” states a letter from Dean Littleton, vice president and general manager of Denver 7, to the city’s landmark preservation commission.

Littleton’s letter also states that the news operation has outgrown its current building, and additionally, the news station’s staff faces the challenge of operating in an antiquated building that was “purpose-built to serve the needs of a 1970s television studio, before the advent of the technology, connectedness and collaboration that define the industry today.”

Cameron, Henry and Wise filed for the landmark designation in response to a public notice of a Certificate of Demolition Eligibility application for the property, which was filed in late November and submitted to Denver’s Community Planning & Development on Dec. 4. The city’s landmark staff, however, found that the Denver 7 building may have potential for a landmark designation and posted the public notice of the Certificate of Demolition Eligibility application.

Information on the city’s website states that “if a Certificate of Demolition Eligibility is issued, a property owner or owner’s agent may proceed with a demolition application without further Landmark Preservation review for a period of five years.”

Landmark status would protect the exterior of the building, and would make demolition a more difficult task.

Scripps Media argues that if the Denver 7 building receives historic designation, it would present a challenge to sell the property by placing “significant restrictions and procedural requirements on our — or any future owner’s — ability to make needed modifications to the structure to accommodate our business or that of another user.”

Cameron, Henry and Wise argue that because the property itself takes up an entire city block, there could possibly be some sort of adaptive reuse project on the property. Because of application requirements, the three had to include the entire building in the landmark application, but what Cameron refers to as the “north box” of the building — which is adjacent to Lincoln and Seventh Avenue — could be sacrificed if the tower can be saved, he said. The landmark application does not include the parking lot along Sherman Street.

On April 6, Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission voted 6-to-1 to forward the decision on the landmark application to city council. The commission’s Brad Gassman voted no. He pointed out that he did not believe the property met all of the criteria required for landmark designation — one being that the property does not have “a direct association with a significant historic event or with the historical development of the city, state, or nation.”

Gassman tended to agree with a statement in a rebuttal prepared by Heritage Consulting Group, which was hired by Denver 7 to assess the property’s eligibility for designation under the applicable criteria:

“As a radio and television news studio and broadcasting station, the journalists at Denver 7 have reported on numerous historic events. These events, however, were only documented by the station. The station and its journalists themselves are not the history, but only bring those stories to the community. It is a key ethos of journalism that the reporter and the news outlet are not the news. They are only a conduit for the news to the community. Denver 7 has adhered to this ethos throughout its history, and the location and the Denver 7 Building itself are not associated with any significant historic event.”

Cameron, Henry and Wise disagree, however, stating in their application that “the KLZ Communications Center is significant for its direct and substantial association with the historical development of the television communications industry in Denver. For over 50 years, the iconic building has been the center of operations for one of Denver’s oldest television stations … and the property at 123 E. Speer Boulevard has been the station’s home since it first went on the air in 1953. The impressive and memorable building embodies the history of KLZ Channel 7 and serves as a physical representation of the local television industry’s explosive growth during the 1960s into the preeminent source of news and entertainment for Denver-area residents.”

“Back in the 1960s,” Cameron added in an interview, “the television station wanted a monumental building to mark the significance of the station. They were making a statement.”

The landmarking issue went to Denver’s to Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure (LUTI), which is a committee made up of city councilmembers, on April 20 and passed it along to the entire city council body.

"I want to disclose I am a fan of Brutalist architecture," said Denver City Councilmember Chris Hinds. Hinds represents District 10, which is the area that the Denver 7 building is located. "That said, our landmark process isn't about what's pretty or not. It's about what embodies the characteristics of an architectural style or type."

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