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Historic Architecture in Downtown Denver

Jan 27th, 2021

Denver is filled with rich histories of culture, society, architecture and innovation. The streets and buildings tell stories of how this small frontier town slowly became the bustling metropolis it is today, and where better to see that historical architecture than in Downtown Denver?

If you live in our luxury Denver apartments, then here’s a little history behind some of the historic architecture you’ve seen in Downtown Denver.

Historic architecture in Downtown Denver

Colorado State Capitol 

If you look on the 13th step of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, you’ll find an inscription saying “one mile above sea level” carved on the marble. Denver is, of course, the Mile-High City, and the grand capitol is the perfect piece of architecture to bear the famous nickname.

In addition to bearing the mile-high inscription, the Colorado State Capitol is an impressive display of Colorado’s impressive wealth and resources. The golden-looking dome of the capitol is, in fact, gold, as it was plated with real gold leaf in 1908 after the Colorado Gold Rush. 

The rose marble used to construct much of the interior is made out of Colorado Rose Onyx, a type of marble only found near Beulah, and the amount used for the capitol is the only known supply of that marble in the world! The Yule Marble used in the exterior of the building is the very same used in the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

Brown Palace Hotel

The second fireproof building to ever be constructed in the United States is the Brown Palace Hotel in Downtown Denver. The reddish-brown terra-cotta walls underneath the red Colorado granite keep the building fireproof, and the interior features magnificent atriums and gorgeous finishes. 

The hotel, which finished construction in 1892, was the premier hotel in Denver at the time of the gold and silver rushes in Colorado. Owner Henry Brown owned a great deal of land in the Capitol Hill area, and when he sold the land he poured plenty of money into the lavish Brown Palace Hotel. 

Holy Ghost Church

Although the massive skyscraper behind it is not part of the church, the Holy Ghost Church is exquisitely framed by the dazzling blue glass around it.

This church is a unique combination of both Italian and Spanish Renaissance style, with detailed stained glass, extravagant interior design and over 300 tons of Colorado-mined marble lining the pillars and walls.

The elegant tower rising 110 feet from the ground may not dwarf the skyscraper behind it, but the six-foot-tall bronze cross, vaulted windows, intricate carvings and bronze miniatures speak of great design and delicacy that outshines the modernity around it.

Daniels and Fisher Tower

This 1911 tower was once the tallest building between the Mississippi and California! This 325-foot-tall tower was built to resemble the Piazza San Marco tower in Venice, Italy, although that model predates this one by a thousand years or so. 

Denver’s Daniels and Fisher Tower was built as an addition to the Daniels and Fisher Department Store on the corner of Arapahoe Street and 16th Street Mall. The 2 1/2-ton bell hanging above the observation deck is surrounded on the outside by four elaborate clock faces, and a grand observation deck offers unparalleled views of the city. Although it’s no longer a part of a store, the tower still serves as an elegant piece of architecture that’s open for both tours and elaborate events.

Union Station

Union Station is one of Downtown Denver’s most recognizable pieces of architecture. Justifiably so, as it was one of the first buildings new visitors to the city would see when they arrived!

The station was built in 1881 but burned to the ground soon after in 1894. When the building was reconstructed in 1914, the new station was built to be larger and more elegant. Because the station served as the unofficial front door to the city of Denver, a massive arch was constructed over the entrance to the station in 1906, bearing the words “Welcome” on one side and “Mizpah” on the other, the latter signifying a strong bond between people separated by distance in the Hebrew language. 

Although the iconic arch no longer welcomes visitors to the city, Union Station is still well cared for and treated as an important part of Denver’s history. The station underwent a huge renovation in 2011, which introduced new restaurants, retail stores and a 112-room hotel to the old building. 

Larimer Square

Established in 1965 after a long history of construction and commercialism, this vibrant square was the first historic district in the city and is one of the most recognizable features in Downtown Denver. 

Larimer Square, first named Larimer Street, is named after General Larimer, the founder of Denver who built the first home in the city. When Denver City, as it was called, officially became a chartered city, Larimer Street was the main street and the place to be for every socialite and gold digger in the area. 

Those arriving in Denver for the gold and silver rushes in the late 19th century frequented Larimer Street, and when the industry began to slowly fall away, the street became home to speakeasies and “soft drink parlors” during Colorado’s prohibition.

Even as the city of Denver grew and upgraded rapidly around it, Larimer Street continued to host bars, pawn shops, second-hand stores and cheap hotels for decades. Until, that is, Denver socialite Dana Crawford started a campaign to refurbish and renovate Larimer Street and bring it into the 1960s. 

Crawford, who also fought to save Union Station from demolition, established the Larimer Associates and was instrumental in the creation of the courtyards and storefronts that make Larimer Square the place it is today. The square was named as Denver’s first historic district in 1971, and it’s been the hotspot of downtown ever since!

Next time you take a stroll through Larimer Square, grab a bite to eat at Union Station or gaze up at the dome of the Colorado State Capitol, think about how much these buildings represent the history and land that makes Denver what it is today.


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Abhardphoto

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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