The brown, blocky building at 123 Speer Blvd. has been on the busy corner of town since 1969. This is where Channel 7, Denver’s ABC subsidiary, is located. The chunky tower reminds drivers on Speer Boulevard that they are reaching Lincoln Street, a major downtown artery.
The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Planning Department, has rated the building worth preserving as it is an example of brutalist architecture, a style that stems from post-war England. The owner, Scripps Media, does not think it is worth maintaining and plans to sell the building.
His fate is ultimately in the hands of the Denver City Council.
Next week, lawmakers may decide, against the owner’s will, whether to decree the structure as a landmark or vote against the Landmark Preservation Commission. The council has only approved a landmark if an owner has rejected the designation before.
To understand how we got to this point, let us walk you through the process of demolishing a building in Denver.
Demolishing a building is a lengthy process that takes months as it requires approval from various city departments and the state. Urban planner Kara Hahn, who works for the Landmark Preservation Commission, said the majority of the roughly 600 demolition permit applications the city receives each year will be approved.
Only a fraction of the structures scheduled for demolition are recommended for the preservation of landmarks, which means that the brakes are applied when the demolition occurs.
How does the process begin?
It starts when an owner submits either a demolition permit or a certificate of authorization to demolish. The former is a direct request to put something down. The latter is basically a precursor to a demolition permit, which signals that an owner may want to demolish a building in the future. If approved, the licensing permit provides a five-year window during which no further investigation is conducted by the city’s Landmark Preservation staff to determine if a structure has a milestone value (more on that in a moment).
Smith’s Chapel became a landmark in December, the first according to new criteria.
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
Demolition permits make it easier for an owner to plan the future of a building – a plan that could include selling a building to a new owner who may want to demolish it. Hahn said this is an owner doing its due diligence. You may not want to sell anything that has severe limitations.
Once Landmark approves certification for demolition, the owner does not need to return to Landmark employees for review for at least three years.
Why is the Landmark Office getting involved?
Landmark Preservation staff get involved every time the city receives an application for a demolition permit or an application for a demolition permit, but only for primary structures (i.e. no garages, for example). Most of the buildings, houses, office buildings, etc. are logged off by the employees. Your goal is to find out if a building has the potential to be a landmark in the city. Most of them don’t.
For a building to be considered a landmark, it must be more than 30 years old or extremely important and structurally intact. After that, it must meet at least three criteria, which are set out in the landmark laws of the city. There are 10 criteria ranging from a structure that is directly related to a significant historical event, embodies a particular architectural style, is a well-known feature in a neighborhood, or is associated with a social movement that is related to the culture of a neighborhood contributes.
Most structures do not meet these criteria. For example, last year the city received 597 demolition permits and permission to demolish. Only 3.5 percent (or 21 buildings) were considered landmarks, but the owners weren’t interested in preserving them.
About it: someone has to apply to get a building. Only one of these 21 structures was applied for for landmark status and that designation ultimately failed. It was against the owner too. Sometimes owners file a conservation application for their property. This is a much smoother process as it is supported by the owner.
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
The Bitman Hower House in Park Hill is the last property to become a landmark in the city in January.
Fun Fact: The permit to demolish it used to be called “Certificate of Non-Historic Status,” but Hahn said the city changed that in 2019 because it was a term no one generally understood.
What if a building has a milestone value?
Employees post a report online explaining why they have a milestone value and a sign outside the structure saying they have that potential. This informs the public of what is important as a minimum of three city residents must apply for a landmark.
Let’s go back to our brutalistic beauty. After the owners had applied for a demolition permit for 123 Speer last year, the planning staff got to work. Hahn said they had 10 days to review these applications.
Even someone with a rudimentary understanding of architecture might recognize the building on Speer Boulevard as brutalist, a style that focuses on bold and muscular but unpretentious design that is often associated with bourgeois buildings. The design aesthetic is quite controversial even in the architectural world.
The city’s planning department sees the building as a potentially significant example of the brutalist style. That’s one thing that speaks in favor of landmark status. The staff found three more things that would qualify it and gave it enough to potentially be a milestone.
An application to preserve the building was filed earlier this year. The application for preservation was heard on April 20 by a city council committee which approved it. That sent it to the entire city council, hence the vote next week.
Can a building with a landmark name still be changed or even demolished?
Yes, but Hahn said that the demolition of a landmark is extremely rare. She couldn’t find any landmarks that had been torn down in recent years.
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite
Residents tried unsuccessfully to make the Carmen Court condominium a landmark last year.
Hahn said that was because the name of the landmark limited the possibilities outside of a building. Technically, partial demolition could be approved if it meets the restrictions on a property (so even historic buildings can do a bit of renovation). If a landmark was recently approved, Hahn said the Landmark Preservation Commission would most likely turn down a demolition request.
“The purpose is to preserve the character of the building, not to keep it in amber and to stop any change,” said Hahn. “So you can make changes to the building. It just has to be compatible with the historical character of the building. “
What does not require a demolition permit?
Anything less than 200 square feet around and under 8 feet tall does not require city approval or inspection. The only case you’d need a permit is, yes, you guessed it, if the structure is a landmark or is in a historic neighborhood.
So go ahead and knock down the shed in your yard (maybe wear safety glasses).
What are some examples of pioneering structures?
There are 352 landmark structures in Denver.
These include well-known locations like East High School, the Bluebird Theater, and Union Station.
There are places you may not have heard or seen, including Cableland, the former home of Bill Daniels, the late cable TV magnate and philanthropist. The postmodern mansion became a local landmark in 2019.