Choosing an Architectural Style – the Importance of History

The architects in the office often joke about how our clients spend YEARS planning and dreaming about their homebuilding projects, so by the time KGA is involved we are already significantly behind.  I realize how true this statement is as I begin the ‘real work’ towards designing a new home for S. Steele because I have been dreaming of it for years.

Having lived in Colorado since 1977, I have seen a tremendous amount of change.  Cherry Creek Mall did not exist, we shopped at Neusteters and B. Kelly’s; Wash Park was ‘sketchy’, Elitches was located in the Highlands neighborhood and we watched our sporting events at Mile High Stadium and McNichols Arena.  Over the years we have gone through booms and busts; what used to be a cow town is now a nationally recognized cultural epicenter. There was a migration out of Central Denver to master planned communities like Highlands Ranch and Stonegate, and then a migration back as traffic increased and attractions such as the DCPA, MCA, Clyfford Still, Coors Field, Pepsi Center, and Cherry Creek Mall have been developed and upgraded.  With this the quaint Central Denver neighborhoods have evolved, East Wash Park has been almost completely overhauled, you would be hard pressed to find a fixer upper in Hilltop, and Cherry Creek North is almost exclusively for the wealthy.

1920s Tudor
By the late 1920s, Tudors had become very popular in Denver. Photo by: Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski

As I drive the streets in these areas I have always been deeply affected by the changes; I applaud those projects that are in keeping with the architectural history of the neighborhood and sigh in desperation as Georgians, Tudors, Cottages and Denver Squares are torn down to make way for large brown stucco boxes.

Denver Square
Denver Square style house from the early 1900s. Photo by: Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski

Nowhere is this more evident than Cory/Merrill where spec scraping driven by the desire for profit has been an epidemic.  I’ve always found this interesting because its neighboring ‘hoods’ Observatory Park and Bonnie Brae have remained relatively unscathed by this phenomenon.

I say all of this because when I first started dreaming about S. Steele years ago, one of the first things I did was Google: “what style of architecture was built when the Cory/Merrill neighborhood was developed”.  I assumed with something that specific I would have a hard time finding the information I was looking for but alas I came across a website that I LOVE! At Denver Urbanism’s Homes by Decade Project you can see by decade which neighborhoods in Denver were developed and what architectural styles were characteristic.  What I learned was that Cory/Merril was developed in the late 1940s by Les Tremblay, a developer who purchased plots around the school for returning World War II veterans.  In order to make them affordable he built small single story (average 623 sq. ft.) square boxes referred to as Les Tremblay houses. Being situated on decent sized lots made them ripe for ‘scraping’ as upper middle class families migrated to the neighborhood for the schools and found that their houses were too small and too old.  They also lack the architectural charm you see in the surrounding neighborhoods.

S. Steele is a perfect example of a Les Tremblay House
S. Steele is a perfect example of a Les Tremblay House, originally designed for returning World War II veterans in the late 1940s.
S. Steele Neighbor
S. Steele Neighbor (an example of what NOT to do)

All that said, because of the proximity of S. Steele to a variety of charming architectural styles I still feel the right thing to do is stick with the style of architecture that was prevalent in the 1940s/1950s while complementing the houses directly to the North and South.  One of which has been redeveloped (not well, I might add) and the other is the original.

Here are the styles I am considering, which is your favorite and why?

Minimal Traditional

Minimal Traditional Home
1940s Minimal Traditional home in North Park Hill. Photo by: Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski

Ranch

Ranch home
1950s Cory-Merrill Ranch style home. Photo by: Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski

Colonial Revival

Colonial Revival
1930s Colonial Revival home in Hale. Photo by: Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski

International

International style home in Belcaro
International Style Home from the 1930s in Belcaro. Photo by Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski

Cape Cod

Cape Cod style home in Belcaro
1950s Cape Cod style home in Belcaro. Photo by Denver Urbanism/Mark Zakrzewski