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Colorado Modern

Key Savings & Loan
So you're probably wondering, "What the heck does Colorado have to do with Oklahoma Modern?"

Well, for one Colorado borders Oklahoma. Barely.

Also the renowned architect Charles Deaton, designer of the "sculpture house" that overlooks I-70 west of Denver and is best known from the movie Sleeper, was raised in Oklahoma.

But mainly because... um, we recently visited Colorado for a week. So there. Now sit back and enjoy:

Oklahoma Modern: the Colorado Edition

Taking a break at a tea room from Tajikistan.
We spent most of our time in the Boulder area and did a little sightseeing in Denver. Of course whenever we travel it's a great opportunity to discover wonderful, strange, eclectic and modern architecture. So here's a very random glimpse of our discoveries- in no particular order...

Boulder is an interesting town. Driving takes a little getting used to since bicycles and pedestrians outnumber cars in some areas. Once we were downtown we parked our hybrid and enjoyed a walk along the central business district.

The county courthouse was built in the Thirties after the previous building burned to the ground. Very nice Art Deco detailing in the classic fascisto style. We wondered if people hated this "new fangled" courthouse when it was built. I was happy to see the clock still works.

Interesting art store in a split level building with parking underneath. Unfortunately there wasn't really any good angle to take a picture of it. But their sign was pretty cool.

Another lovely Art Deco gem was the Boulder Theater. It's in wonderful condition and fully functional.

Our first Rocky Mountain encounter with modernism was a visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The Mesa Lab facility overlooks Boulder from Table Mesa and monitors all sorts of atmospheric stuff. This is a geek's delight- offering a guided tour, hands-on exhibits and a Cray Supercomputer (which most people would mistake for airport seating). 

But the building itself is a must-see attraction.

Designed by I. M. Pei in 1962 the design was intended to echo the surrounding red sandstone rocks. Pei took his inspiration from Anasazi cliff dwellings- and it shows.
Pei overlooks an architectural model in the NCAR lobby.
I've heard the building called Brutalist- but I would disagree. It's certainly a cubist take on the pueblo idea, but the blocky towers have a strangely organic feel.

Also the purposeful manipulation of the concrete seems to run counter to most examples of Brutalism. The building may appear to be nothing more than concrete, but Pei instructed that local sand be added to the mixture to match the color of the adjacent mountains. Plus a texture was applied so it isn't merely just "raw concrete."

But whatever you call it- it's cool. Fifty years on and it works, and appears to work well.

The tour is also a treat. Along with hands-on exhibits there are some interesting tidbits of space-age technology. As a repository for jillions of measurements from all over the globe the NCAR has been on the cutting edge of computer technology since it opened in 1963.

Cray 1:
Lounge furniture or supercomputer?
Visitors are welcome and guided tours are available three days a week at noon. We highly recommend it!

On to Denver
We spent most of one day visiting Denver. I wish we could have spent more time exploring the city. Arapahoe Acres was on the top of our list for sites to visit in Denver. But on the way a rotund blob near the highway caught my eye. Turned out it was a bank designed by Charles Deaton.
Jackie shown for scale.
Originally built as the Key Savings & Loan, this blobolicious bank is on Grand Boulevard in Englewood, Colorado (mere blocks from Arapahoe Acres). Check our Modern Map for specific location!

Deaton's "sculpture house" appeared in the 1973 Woody Allen movie, Sleeper. In fact Sleeper is a veritable romp through Colorado modernism, featuring the NCAR Mesa Laboratory along with many other Colorado moderns. There's a wonderful catalog of locations and structures used in the movie on a website called The Denver Eye.

After a quick tour of the bank (where indoor photography is frowned upon) we continued on to the Arapahoe Acres neighborhood.

As thunderstorm clouds gathered we toured this historic neighborhood, enjoying all the styles and details.

Homes here were built between 1949 and 1957. The styles also span quite a range- from low-slung classic Ranch to boxy Bauhaus.

The area is well kept and, for the most part, appreciated for the modernist aesthetic. This was the first postwar neighborhood to ever be designated as a National Register Historic District. But there are no covenants or protections in place.  

We only saw a couple of examples of inappropriate repairs and "remuddling." It appears that no matter where you travel you can find examples of historic neighborhoods attracting buyers, who then proceed to ravage the very elements that attracted them in the first place.

Finally, we ended our tour ogling some of Denver's downtown buildings. A walk through the library provided welcome relief from the heat- not to mention some wonderful artwork to look at. An exhibit about local murals was quite fascinating.
Plumb Crazy
 The Denver Art Museum's North Building was designed in 1971 by Gio Ponti. It's interesting but I can't help but think of Soviet-era tenements. 

Sculpture in the square between the Denver Public Library and Denver Art Museum's Hamilton Building by Daniel Libeskind.

Art abounds- like this giant chair adorning the library lawn.

But wait... there's more!

For more shots from our trip check out my Boulder Vacation set on Flickr. And as always we'll post more outtakes on our Facebook page:


The Recent Past

OKC's Unique First Christian Church

The Church of Tomorrow Oklahoma's state capitol dome was added some 88 years after the capitol was built, finally completed in 2002. But not far away is another dome that has been turning heads since 1956. It's the First Christian Church of Oklahoma City. Call it a wigwam, igloo, earthbound spaceship or dome- no matter how you describe the shape of the sanctuary, it's definitely eye-catching. The thin-shell concrete dome is massive, with seating for 1200. Connected to the dome is a four-story administrative building and a 185-seat theater. Dedicated as "The First Christian Church of Tomorrow," the architecture caught the attention of local newspapers, as well as Life magazine (Feb. 1957). Last summer I had a unique opportunity to explore these interesting buildings. The main complex was designed by R. Duane Conner in 1953. Conner was a member of the congregation and offered three different designs for the church. Credit is also attributed to his partner, Fr

The Bruce Goff House in Vinita

We were recently surprised to learn about a Goff-designed home just an hour away from Tulsa in Vinita, Oklahoma. Vinita is probably best known to OK Mod readers as the home of the Glass House on I-44, also known as (shudder) the World's Largest Largest McDonalds . Anywho, turned out the Goff house was on the market, and the owner was more than happy to let us have a look around. We took a short drive up the turnpike one Sunday afternoon to meet the realtor, snap some pictures, ask some questions and enjoy another one of Bruce Goff's unique creations. The home is known as the Adams House and was built in 1961. The 3,700 square foot home is arranged in a circular floor plan with a large sunken "conversation pit" at the center. Rising up from this pit is a large metal fireplace, its chimney surrounded by skylights, which dominates the entire house. Rooms surround the perimeter with folding accordion doors acting as walls. To maintain some semblance of privacy an inner

Oklahoma State Capitol Bank

On the Trail of Julius Shulman: Stop 2 "This is a bank," the sign outside the futuristic building read. According to legend a prankster added a strategic question mark and echoed the sentiment of many passers-by: "This is a bank?" That was back in 1964 when it opened. Today the Arvest on Lincoln Boulevard looks a bit less Jetsonian, mostly due to replacement of structural glass below the "saucers," but it's still an unusual bank. Designed by Robert Roloff of the architectural firm Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff, the State Capitol Bank caused quite a stir in Oklahoma City when it opened. Heck, it's still pretty shocking today! Originally the flying saucers appeared to hover above the building (as seen in this vintage postcard). All the glass that made that effect possible also made heating and cooling an expensive proposition. Security concerns also mandated replacement of those windows with solid materials and small square portholes