UCD’s Intro to Preservation Students Tackle Four Current Preservation Issues

For their final projects in the University of Colorado-Denver’s Introduction to Historic Preservation Class, Jim Lindberg, Field Director of the National Trust and Professor, had his students focus on four current preservation issues across the state. Overall, they came up with some pretty interesting ideas.

Elkhorn Lodge

First, let’s look at the Elkhorn Lodge. Located directly west of downtown Estes Park, this site consists of 65 acres and 35 buildings, and has a unique but challenging opportunity for tourism and growth. Historically, the Elkhorn offered a “Rocky Mountain” experience for tourists, and as Estes Park developed, visitors were still within walking distance of the Town’s activities. Dating back to 1874, the Elkhorn is considered to be the oldest, continuously operated hotel/lodge in Colorado. In addition, the Elkhorn Lodge provides an excellent example of a late 19th century hunting lodge.

In the early years, guests often utilized tents for their accommodations. But as time passed, cabins were built, expanding continually throughout the years to boast more structures, and more activities. Unfortunately, the costs of maintenance and monthly bills are staggering, causing a lack of funds to properly maintain the property.

The students produced a preservation and redevelopment plan, which focused on Agritourism through a “farm-to-table” restaurant model that could utilize both the structures on site, and the open space. Another idea highlighted in their Redevelopment Plan was to host seasonal activities, and house a micro-brewery in the present coach house.  The students Phased their plan out to include:  Phase I:  Rehabilitation, Restoration & Preservation; Phase II: Farm-to-Table Restaurant; Phase III: Integration of Seasonal Activities; Phase IV:  Elkhorn Microbrewery.

Overall, some good and interesting ideas came out of the exercise. By creating a viable preservation and redevelopment plan tourism could be reactivated and the Elkhorn Lodge could thrive once again.

Louisville Grain Elevator

The next group took a look at the Louisville Grain Elevator and prepared a preservation planning guide for the resource. The Grain Elevator was constructed circa 1905, and was commissioned to be built by John K. Mullen, who was an Irish Immigrant who rose to become a powerful mill operator and owner in Colorado’s early twentieth century. The Grain Elevator was constructed just north of the Acme mine in order to utilize the railroad spur which served the mine. Located on the east side of the railroad spur; grain was brought to the elevator by local farmers and then loaded on the train for transportation. Also, because of the elevator’s close proximity to the town, grain was also sold to local residents.

The Grain Elevator is now owned by the City, and despite some great ideas for adaptive re-use, they have been taking their time in order to make the adaptive re-use a success. The student’s preservation plan outlines funding opportunities, sustainability, location and context, zoning and development analysis, development trends, and transportation.

The students discussed the opportunities available to the Grain Elevator due to its close proximity to downtown Louisville, the large Louisville Community Park, and the Coal Creek Trail, and they’re right! They discuss linking the “South Gateway,” where the Grain Elevator is located, to the Historic Downtown, specifically through an extension of the Coal Creek Trail, where people would be drawn through Louisville’s south gateway and past the grain elevator.  The students identified a need for signage and interpretation and opportunities presented through a proposed Light Rail Station in close proximity to the Grain Elevator.

Overall, the students had some interesting ideas, in particular from a planning stand point. By linking the Grain Elevator to Louisville’s downtown, and beyond through an extension of the Coal Creek Trail, it increases the viability of Louisville’s ideas for adaptive re-use, no matter what they choose.

Sullivan Gateway

The third group took a look at the Sullivan Gateway, located in Denver, on the north side of Colfax Avenue, marking the grand entry of the City Park Esplanade and East High School. The Gateway was built in 1917, as a part of the City Beautiful Movement with funds donated from John Clarke Mitchell to honor Dennis Sullivan. The architect was Edward Bennett, who notably worked with Daniel Burnham in Chicago.  The Gateway was one of the signature components of the parkway and boulevard system designed by George Kessler in his 1906 plan for Denver Parks.

Sullivan Gateway consists of a masonry core, covered with terra cotta tiles. Despite a restoration project that was undertaken in 1998, the Gateway is still struggling with a lack of maintenance, deterioration, and vandalism. Approximately 1/3 of the terra cotta tiles covering the Gateway are broken in some manner, and damaged cap tiles are allowing water to seep into the interior masonry core wall causing severe deterioration.

Currently, Colfax Avenue is undergoing a massive redevelopment effort, which could pair nicely with a timely restoration and rehabilitation of the Sullivan Gateway.  As a part of the student’s “Activation Plan,” they looked at four use strategies:  community uses prior to rehabilitation, community uses after rehabilitation, East High School uses prior to rehabilitation, and East High School uses after rehabilitation.

They have a good point. Often preservation/restoration/rehabilitation plans focus on the use after the plan has been implemented. It is nice to see some thought go into the use of a resource as it stands before any work is done. The students thoughts for uses prior to any work being done included:  an expansion of the current Farmer’s Market, food truck rallies, a family friendly option for Oktoberfest, beginning/end of semester and/or graduation functions for East High School, and student civics projects including getting involved in the cleaning up of the site.

Their ideas for how the site could be utilized after rehabilitation included:  implementing some interpretive signage,  holding a music and book fair, hosting a small outdoor film festival, using it as an entry for East High School football games, incorporating the Gateway into East High School homecoming and prom activities, and incorporating donation pavers to help spur money for maintenance.

Overall, the students had some great ideas for how to increase community interest and buy in for the Sullivan Gateway!

Big Top Auto Marts

The final group took a look at the Big Top Auto Marts, scattered about the Denver Metro area. If you’re unfamiliar with the buildings it’s worth a mini driving tour the next time you’re in the area. Here is a list of where the Big Top’s, that are still standing, are located:

Vacant:  previously Continental Cleaners-5801 Leetsdale Dr., Denver, CO 80224
Vacant:  previously a cell phone store-845 South Federal Blvd., Denver, CO 80219
Vacant:  currently owned by Snarf’s Sandwich Shop-5005 W. 38th Ave., Denver, CO 80212
Country Gas-3100 W. Jewell Ave., Denver, CO 80219
Gigantic Cleaners-3405 E. 1st Ave., Denver, CO 80206
Lek’s Asian Market-112 Del Mar Circle, Aurora, CO 80011
Carniceria-5185 W. 1st Ave., Denver, CO 80219

The Big Top Auto Mart stores are significant as some of the few remaining examples of roadside architecture in Colorado. The original use of the buildings, as small grocery stores, is also significant for its relationship to the growing transportation trends in the 1950s and 1960s. Located on the major thoroughfares of Denver show how the housing trends in Denver were moving towards the suburbs like Wheat Ridge, Aurora, and Littleton.

These stores served as a place for those working in Downtown Denver to pick up items like bread and milk on their way home, rather than planning a full shopping trip at one of the larger grocery stores. The Big Tops have been used for many different businesses over the years, including:  cell phone stores, cleaners, hair salons, ski shops, and as gas stations/convenience stores. Several of the buildings are currently vacant. Due to their unique shape, not many business owners are willing to make the existing space work. In addition, the roof shape has lead to several maintenance issues.

These two issues are exactly what the Big Top group tackled.  The group created a blog (address coming soon!) that details the history of the site, shows an architectural drawing of the generic floor plan, and images of the Big Tops that are still standing. The group focused on ideas for space programming, and how business could better utilize the circular floor plan. Their suggestions included having a round checkout counter, placed in the middle of the space, with the merchandise radiating out from the center.

The group also looked to modern green technology for solving the maintenance issues experienced from the concave concrete roof. Their suggestion was to incorporate a green roof, utilizing gravel and sod to theoretically help absorb moisture and deflect it. It is unknown if the concrete roof could support the added weight, but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.


Overall, all four groups did a fantastic job critically thinking about these four current preservation issues. Special thanks to Jim Lindberg, and his Introduction to Historic Preservation students:  Erica Alfaro, Mohammed Bay, Purna Dangol, Cincere Eades, Tarek El Gammal, Beth Glandon, Patricia Kasch, Geoffry Lee, Jeffrey Lipinski, Patti Lundt, Wesley Ochs, Sarah Rosenberg, Claire Rothstein, Margaret Tillman, Sarah, Vaillancourt, Xijia Wang, Nicholas Wharten, and Heidi Willuhn for all of their work and creativity!

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