Preservation & Today’s Denver

CURRENT ISSUES

Places anchor people. They feed our hunger for connection and continuity. In a fast-changing Denver, you might be surprised to learn that preservation can, and does, go hand-in-hand with inclusivity, growth, affordability and sustainability. 

 

Everyone should see themselves in the story of their city through its places.

In the 1970s Historic Denver was ahead of its time in advocating for the preservation of 9th Street at Auraria — part of a working-class, Mexican American/Chicano/Latino neighborhood facing demolition. That effort was unique for its time, as preservation practice in Denver and around the country, as the field of preservation has too often perpetuated an affluent, white, male narrative, to the exclusion of other voices.

Since the 1970s, while also advocating for the grand buildings and beautiful architecture usually associated with history’s most prominent and mainstream figures, Historic Denver has increasingly worked to preserve and amplify a more inclusive history. The result is the preservation of irreplaceable cultural touchstones including the La Alma / Lincoln Park Cultural Historic District; the home of Dr. Justina Ford; the Five Points Historic Cultural District; the home of John Henderson; and the First Unitarian Church building — all places that anchor Denver to itself.

In 2021, Historic Denver redoubled its commitment to serving and reflecting our whole communities, and to advancing the stories of all Denverites through preservation, education and advocacy.

Historic buildings are one part of the solution to our housing crisis.

Preservation of historic buildings isn’t standing in the way of affordable housing. The truth is, more Denver homes have been demolished in the last 10 years than have been protected through preservation over the last 50 years.

Historic buildings are flexible and adaptable, and have proven over generations that they can be modified to serve a community’s needs, offering density without demolition. Older houses can be modified to accommodate more living units than they do today. Accessory dwelling units — which were common in some historic neighborhoods — can add gentle density.

Buildings that were not originally homes — like churches, fire stations and hotels — have been adaptively reused for housing with great success. In fact, most of downtown Denver’s affordable and income-restricted housing is found in historic buildings.

Preservation can go hand-in-hand with growth and development.

We believe in a vibrant mix of old and new. New and historic buildings together create a dynamic and livable city. We want to preserve places that are anchors in our community, and see them adaptively reused to meet its needs.

The people of Denver largely believe historic assets are a key ingredient of any complete neighborhood, just like parks, streets and schools. That belief was codified in 2019 in Denver’s plan for land use, which calls for complete neighborhoods that continually evolve while retaining the authentic places that make them special.

Historic preservation is inherently sustainable.

The greenest building is the one that’s already built. Using historic buildings keeps materials out of landfills and consumes less energy than demolishing buildings and constructing new ones.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration acknowledges that buildings are the largest consumers of energy in the nation, and provides guidance and technical information about how historic properties can incorporate sustainable practices to reduce energy consumption, while maintaining those characteristics that make them significant. Pancratia Hall — a former dorm at Loretto Heights built in the 1920s that is now affordable housing — is a great local example of an energy-efficient historic building. It uses all-electric power for lighting, heating and cooling; the 78-unit complex is powered by 100% renewable energy.

Historic Denver’s office building, the Emerson School, relies on a geothermal heating and cooling system, which has slashed the 1885 building’s energy consumption to a very low level.

Plus, reusing existing buildings conserves their embodied energy, the energy used in their materials and original construction. This keeps valuable materials out of our landfills and reduces waste. A report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new energy efficient building to make up for the carbon impact of demolishing the original structure.