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As the building boom continues to change skylines and main streets across Colorado, it can be easy to forget that our state’s architectural roots run deeper than the flashy skyscrapers and boxy condo buildings of recent years For a refresher, we asked a panel of design experts to help us compile a list of notable architects who shaped the Centennial State’s unique design personality.
Meet the Panel:
William Lang (1846–1897)
Legacy: He designed many of Denver’s most elaborate single-family residences, including the Molly Brown House, now a museum but originally the home of legendary Colorado socialite and philanthropist Margaret Brown, aka the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Life: The Ohio native moved to Denver in 1885, and though he was not formally trained (he taught himself using architectural pattern books, which were popular at the time), Lang quickly became the architect most sought after by Denver’s wealthy elite. Because of his frequent use of turrets and exuberant, ornate detailing, a Lang-designed home was an indication of status, says Annie Levinsky of History Colorado. He designed approximately 250 homes and churches (several are now on the National Register of Historic Places) in Denver before the Panic of 1893, when silver prices crashed and many of Denver’s wealthy instantly lost their fortunes—drying up Lang’s business for good. He died penniless in Chicago four years later, but the stamp he left on Denver remains.
Signature Moves: “[Lang] is known for his fairytale-inspired homes,” says Poppie Gullett of History Colorado. “If it looks like something you’d see in the pages of a European storybook, it’s probably a Lang house.” His designs are ornate, with lots of turrets and rusticated stone; according to Levinsky, he borrowed heavily from the Richardsonian Romanesque and Queen Anne styles of architecture.
Buildings of Note: Molly Brown House, Castle Marne, Bailey House, St. Mark’s Parish Church
Jacques Benedict (1879–1948)
Legacy: This architect helped bring the elaborate, monument-style, Beaux-Arts aesthetic to the Mile High City. “Jacques Benedict’s reputation lives large in Denver,” Patrick Eidman of History Colorado says of works that include some of the city’s more notable and ornate landmarks.
Life: Born in Chicago, Jules Jacques Benois Benedict was likely first inspired by the Beaux-Arts-style buildings he saw at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. So, after studying structural engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he went to Paris to study architecture at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts. He first practiced in New York (where he worked on the New York Public Library) before relocating to Denver to help design a proposed summer residence for the U.S. presidents. That project fell through, but Benedict quickly gained a reputation in Denver for elegance and flamboyance, and he was hired by some of the city’s most prominent families (Phipps, Coors, Evans, Bonfils) to design their grand residences. Mayor Robert Speer also tapped Benedict to design public spaces for his “City Beautiful” movement.
Signature Moves: Benedict’s buildings are known for their beautiful detailing and ornamentation, Eidman says of designs that draw from a variety of historical European influences. He’s also known for his signature “Colorado Alpine” style (see the Chief Hosa Lodge), which could be described as an elaborate mountain cabin aesthetic.
Buildings of Note: Richard C. Campbell House (now the Denver Botanic Gardens admin building), Washington Park Boating Pavilion, Sports Castle, Bonfils-Stanton Belmar Mansion (demolished), Littleton Town Hall Arts Center
Burnham Hoyt (1887–1960)
Legacy: In the timeline of Denver architecture, Hoyt was the bridge between earlier, traditional architectural styles (like Queen Anne and Beaux-Arts) and Modernism, says Levinsky. His most famous commission—the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre—solidified his place in Colorado’s architectural canon.
Life: A Denver native, Hoyt grew up in the Highland neighborhood and attended today’s Denver North High School. After completing an architecture apprenticeship in Denver, he studied and worked in architecture in New York City, then served two years in the Army during World War I, during which he designed camouflage for weapons. He eventually returned to Denver to start a firm with his older brother, Merrill—M.H. and B. Hoyt, Architects—and the brothers designed several elaborate public buildings, including Lake Middle School (English Gothic), Denver Public Library Park Hill Branch (Spanish Baroque Revival), and the Denver Press Club (Tudor Revival), plus many elegant residences for wealthy clients. He went back to New York for a John D. Rockefeller commission and to teach at New York University’s School of Architecture. But when his brother died, he returned to Denver to take over the firm. In his later years, his commissions leaned toward the Art Deco and International styles (an example is the Maer/Sullivan House in the Country Club Historic Neighborhood), earning him a “preeminent position in the first generation of Colorado modernists,” according to History Colorado.
Signature Moves: Hoyt structures typically have “clean lines and expansive windows,” Levinsky says. His later designs incorporated the International style, but his work “doesn’t fit neatly in a box,” she adds.
Buildings of Note: Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver Public Library Park Hill Branch, Denver Central Library (old section), Maer/Sullivan House, Lake Middle School
Victor Hornbein (1913–1995)
Legacy: A Denver native, Hornbein is one of the city’s earliest modernists and is credited with bringing Usonian-style (simple, stylish, small residential) architecture to the city. But he is probably best known for codesigning the bubble-like Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens. “His genius is masterfully displayed at the conservatory; this structure was designed and built in 1964, and is one of the most avant-garde buildings in Denver—still to this day,” says Chris Davis of Boss Architecture. “Every time I see it, I am fascinated by this graceful feat of engineering.”
Life: While still a student at Denver’s East High School, Victor Hornbein became interested in architecture and held internships under prominent local architects including Montana Fallis, whom he helped to design the Mayan Theater. But it was when Hornbein got a book about Frank Lloyd Wright that his interest in modern architecture really blossomed. “He broke from the ornate architecture of the time and turned to elegant simplicity,” Levinsky says. After earning an architecture degree in Denver, he took a job with the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, cataloging historic buildings in New Mexico. After a subsequent stint designing modern furniture in Los Angeles with Paul Frankl, Hornbein received a post with the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. He returned to Denver in 1945, opened a firm, and began designing modernist homes for clients in the Montclair and Hilltop neighborhoods. In the 1950s, he took jobs designing public buildings with a modernist take, including the still-standing (and still-lovely) Denver Public Library Ross-Broadway branch. And in the 1960s, he designed the Denver Botanic Gardens’ conservatory with his then business partner, Ed White. Hornbein lived in Denver with his wife until his death in 1995.
Signature Moves: A Victor Hornbein building is best known for its modernism, says Levinsky: Look for “clean lines and elegant simplicity.”
Buildings of Note: Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Public Library’s Ross-Broadway Branch, Cory Elementary, Kent Denver School, Zera Abraham Synagogue
Eugene Sternberg (1915–2005)
Legacy: Sternberg was a modernist and contemporary post-war architect who created beautiful structures with livability and affordability in mind. His niche was public buildings, and he designed many hospitals, public schools, nursing homes, and places of worship around the Rocky Mountain West. He is probably best known in Denver as the lead architect of the famed mid-century subdivision Arapahoe Acres. (He quit that job in protest because he thought the developer was charging too much for the homes—around $13,000 each.)
Life: Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Sternberg was studying architecture in England when World War II broke out (many of his relatives died in the Holocaust). While at Cambridge, he worked designing replacements for bombed-out housing. After the war, a job at Cornell University brought Sternberg and his wife to America, and a professorship at the short-lived University of Denver School of Architecture brought the architect to Denver. In his successful private practice, Sternberg cultivated an “ethos of social and environmental justice,” Eidman says.
Signature Moves: “Sternberg was a modernist—with a period of time when his practice focused on Brutalism,” says Davis, a Sternberg devotee. “If nothing else, his buildings were artful and sculptural. In a profession not lacking in egos and chatter, the understated nature of his collective practice is refreshing.” Eidman agrees: “His is a very clean and strong mid-century aesthetic, peeling back to what is necessary for living—nothing extravagant.”
Buildings of Note: Arapahoe Acres, Denver General Hospital, National Jewish Hospital (redbrick tower), Arapahoe Community College, Micah Temple (demolished), Littleton Law Center
Eleanor “Ellie” Brickham (1923–2008)
Legacy: Ellie Brickham was the first female architect in Aspen. “She was a trusted colleague during the Aspen Modern period, influencing the built environment and elevating the design conversation,” says Sarah Broughton, principal at Rowland & Broughton in Aspen and Denver. In a word, Broughton says, she was a “trailblazer.”
Life: The Denver native moved to Aspen in 1951 after studying at the University of Colorado School of Architecture; she was drawn to the mountain town by its burgeoning architecture scene and ski culture. Brickham worked for the firm of architect Fritz Benedict, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and pioneer of modern architecture in Aspen. Through the firm, she collaborated on designs with Herbert Bayer—an Austrian-born Bauhaus student and teacher who worked to design and market Aspen as a center of culture—including many buildings for the Aspen Institute. She later started a private practice. In total, she designed more than 60 residences and structures in the Aspen/Snowmass area.
Signature Moves: “Her aesthetic was edited and proportioned,” Broughton says of Brickham’s work, which was heavily influenced by Modernism and the Bauhaus style. “She was site-specific, using materials that give the architecture a lightness.” She was also an early adopter of eco-conscious design, utilizing windows for passive-solar heating, Gullett says.
Buildings of Note: Patricia Moore Building, 602 E. Hyman, Strandberg Residence (demolished), Olympic skier Stein Eriksen’s house (also called Ridge House)
Charles Haertling (1928–1984)
Legacy: The late-modernist Boulder architect was the ultimate boundary-pusher, Levinsky says. He used inspiration from nature (mushrooms, aspen leaves, yucca pods, the human eye) to create otherworldly structures and homes that received mixed reviews upon their construction from the 1950s to the 1970s. Now, his designs enjoy rock-star status. His St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church (whose undulating rooftop was inspired by Easter lilies) is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and his barnacle-inspired Brenton House in Boulder played a cameo role in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper.
Life: After receiving an architecture degree from Washington University, Haertling, a Missouri native, relocated with his wife to Boulder to teach at the architecture school at the University of Colorado. He apprenticed under local modernist architects Jim Hunter and Tician Papachristou before opening his own firm in 1957, where he took commissions from adventurous homeowners who didn’t mind “eschewing 90-degree angles,” Gullett says. Haertling’s Menkick House, which is built into a rock wall in Boulder, appears to take cues from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater residence, but Haertling’s style was in a category of its own. Before his untimely death at age 55, he sat on the Boulder City Council, where he was integral to the formation of the Pearl Street Mall and Boulder’s famed greenbelt.
Signature Moves: No two Haertling houses look alike, but the architect’s signature is blending Modernism with organic shapes and utilizing each site’s natural setting, Levinsky says.
Buildings of Note: St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, Brenton House, Menkick House, Boulder Eye Clinic, Razee House
John Henderson (1928–2018)
Legacy: Henderson lived in Denver until his death in 2018, and his clean-lined, modernist home at 2600 Milwaukee Street in Skyland is now a Denver landmark. Of note: In the 1960s, when Henderson designed and built his home, Skyland was predominantly an African American neighborhood because of racial discrimination practices in real estate known as red-lining. According to History Colorado, 26th Avenue was the “line of de-facto segregation” in East Denver at the time.
Life: The Kansas State University–trained architect was a city planner in Ohio before coming to Denver in 1959, when he became the first registered Black architect in the state. He took jobs with prominent firms including James Sudler Associates (where he worked on the Usonian Byron G. Rogers Federal Building) and Hornbein & White (known for the Denver Botanic Gardens’ conservatory). In the 1960s, Henderson took a role at the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, for which he designed projects across the country. He retired in 1981, but continued to take on residential commissions, including the Cherry Hills home of civil rights icon Carlotta Walls LaNier, one of the Little Rock Nine.
Signature Moves: Henderson was a devotee of Modernism—in particular, the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Levinsky says—and his structures featured plate glass, minimal framework, and exposed building elements.
Buildings of Note: Henderson House, Carlotta Walls LaNier House, Byron G. Rogers Federal Building