Skip to main content

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:


Modern Choices

Popular posts from this blog

Home of ORU Architect on the Auction Block

Frank Wallace is best known as the man behind the futuristic look of the Oral Roberts University campus. On October 14, 2010 his unique home overlooking ORU will be sold in a public auction conducted by Mister Ed's Auctions. Jackie and I recently had a chance to visit with Mr. Wallace and learn more about the house, his career and his thoughts on architecture.

When we visited we expected to snap a few photos of an empty house and speak with a representative from the auction company. To our surprise the door opened, and we were greeted by Mr. Wallace himself! After assuring him we were not architects, he let us look around. Unfortunately we were not prepared to interview the man whose buildings incite such extremely diverse reactions- but that didn't stop me from asking him several questions anyway. 

The home, completed in 1980, was designed and built by Wallace who is now 87. The expansive home is so large that Wallace spends most of his time in a room that was his late w…

The World Museum

The widening of I-44 through Tulsa will soon claim another mid-century building (see Modern Homes Make Way for I-44).

This unusual landmark near Peoria, once known as the World Museum, is being emptied in preparation for demolition.

The concrete complex was built in 1963 by the Osborn Ministries as a museum and "Interstate Temple." Self-proclaimed minister, T. L. Osborn, and his wife, Daisy, traveled the world as Christian missionaries and collected art and artifacts on their journeys. The unusual La Concha-esque building housed their partial collection and distracted motorists touring along the new Skelly Bypass (aka I-44).

The exterior of the building is adorned with maps of the world's continents. In its heyday there was a good deal more- a giant outline of Jesus was on one wall. The inscription below it, "REX," provided one of my earliest Latin lessons when I asked Dad why that building had my name on it. There was also a large globe that once stood out front …

Renegades Showcases the OU School of Architecture

A new exhibit examines the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture and its unique approach to architectural studies in the years following World War Two. Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture features more than 150 drawings, artifacts and objects, including works by Bruce Goff, Herb Greene and many more.