The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is on the Doors Open Denver Tour 2019. (Provided by Doors Open Denver)
Doors Open Denver has a lot going for 2019: 50+ separate buildings and locations that people can immerse themselves in at any time; 59 special tours led by experts; and five new artist-designed cultural activities to keep things interesting.
This is just the ticket for an annual event sponsored by the architectural community that shows the Denverites the best of their ability inside the buildings they pass by. If there’s an interesting skyscraper or church you’ve always wanted to see, or a fire station, office, school, or historic hospital, it might be on the Doors Open Denver list.
When you go
Doors Open Denver events will be held at 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 spaces and cultural activities are free; The tours require a paid registration. Register early. Info: denverarchitecture.org. Much of the information about the buildings and locations in this story was provided by the Denver Architectural Foundation.
There are some new things to know this year, including new or rarely opened locations like the massive Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Capitol Hill. This time the geographic focus of the event on the La Alma-Lincoln Park neighborhood is remarkable.
The West Denver neighborhood is flat and humble compared to a place like downtown with its glassy towers, but it has its fair share of gems. These include the Ross Broadway Branch Library, the headquarters of Semple Brown Design and the Alliance Francaise de Denver cultural center.
They’re not the kind of flashy, public structures that a city shows off tourists, but their inclusion affects something that may be more important to architecture than just being a pretty face: they remind us of how buildings bring people together, how they can help us learn and improve our working day and how they serve as space makers by protecting communities as they grow, mature and develop their story.
Doors Open Denver, slated for September 21-22, is divided into three categories: the open locations that people can immerse themselves in for free during the two days; the insider tours for which a fee-based registration is required; and the commissioned art and cultural actors who use the talent of local creatives.
Here are a few tips that will get you noticed in the pack. (For tour times and starting locations, see the Denver Architectural Foundation website.)
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (open place)
Everyone knows this towering 1912 church, designed by the architect Leon Coquard, for its prominent space on Colfax Avenue, next to the State Capitol. Even so, many people were not inside to see the 68-foot-high arched vaulted ceilings or the spiral staircases or the huge open spaces that comprise the whopping 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 side)
The 1958 Ketchum Building at 730 Kalamath Street is a rare property in Denver, a unique example of a thin-shell concrete structure using cast concrete reinforced by its dome-shaped roof as the main component. Denver engineer Milo Ketchum has specialized in this technology and designed his building as a model for customers. It’s full of blooming and sprawling mid-century rooms. Now it’s fittingly home to one of the city’s most creative developers.
Bethesda TB Sanatorium, now the Denver Academy (Insider tour)
Developed on 22 acres of land in the early 20th century, Bethesda Sanatorium transports visitors 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 is sustainable, with its distinctive gate and tower and a Harry Potter style library. There is also a mini-museum with artifacts from the early 1900s.
Allianz Francaise de Denver (open side)
The Alliance Francaise de Denver is one of the city’s oldest non-profit organizations and has been promoting French culture since 1897. The building it is in today is just as old. The structure at 571 Galapago Street is actually the conglomerate of three different residential buildings that were constructed over three decades. The Alliance Francaise de Denver efficiently brought them together in 2003 and created a complex that is far more interesting than the brick exterior suggests.
Eugene Groves Holland House (Insider tour)
Here’s your chance to get inside this treasure, designed in 1932 by Groves, a pioneer in the use of precast concrete. It used to be a sturdiness model, but it’s not a bunker. Rather, it is an ornate landmark that defines the character of the University Hills neighborhood. 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 must-see attraction of the weekend, a personal tour of Denver architect Gass’ favorite downtown buildings. Gass is a legend in the design community who created many interesting websites himself decades ago and worked with IM Pei when the international icon came to Denver to create wonders for businessman Willam Zeckendorf. Gass knows more about 20th century urban development in Denver than anyone and has many stories to tell.
La Plazita (Art and cultural activity)
Doors Open Denver is creating a pop-up space on 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, as well as a Latino market protected by a temporary pavilion, reminiscent of the performance-friendly structures that are in the squares throughout Latin America can be found.
Adobe Village Construction with Carlos Fresquez (Art and cultural activity)
Another attraction at the Center for Visual Arts, this interactive Adobe build, is a reminder that all of this great architecture we enjoy today has its roots in other places, including traditional Adobe structures that go back thousands of years. 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 adobe.
Chicano wall 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 clear and show 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)
Of course, you can always go to the lobby of this hotel. But most of the locals don’t and this is a missed opportunity. The hotel has recently been meticulously restored and features a sprawling atrium adorned 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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