Preserving & Protecting a Legacy- the former Emily Griffith Opportunity School
For 100 years the buildings at 12th & Welton Street were home to the Emily Griffith Opportunity School- the influential and pioneering legacy of an educator determined to create opportunity for all Denverites. When the Emily Griffith programs, both secondary and the technical college, moved out of the buildings in 2014 a new chapter began—one that started with advocacy and continued with a transformative reuse.
Why It Matters
Emily Griffith is one of Denver’s most notable women – and her dedication to educational opportunity transformed public education, and led to opportunities for generations of Denverites who received vocational training, diplomas and certificates that led to prosperous careers and supported Denver’s growth and development.
The buildings she left behind represent not only her story, but the stories of generations of community members who passed through the halls. Now set for adaptive reuse as a hotel, preservation of this place signifies our city’s commitment to educational opportunity, offers an anchor in an evolving downtown, and demonstrates the transformative power of preservation.
Historic Denver’s Role
In 2012 Denver Public Schools filed for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status (now called a Certificate of Demolition Eligibility) as part of preparations to sell the site. Community response was intense, with significant interest in preservation. Additionally, a DPS Historic Schools Policy adopted in 2002, had identified the school as a high priority for landmark designation. Historic Denver expressed immediate concerns, and reached out to district officials and school board members, who agreed to withdraw their application and engage in dialogue as outlined in the historic schools policy.
This included consultation with Historic Denver and History Colorado, and a Historic Structure Assessment (HSA) completed by SlaterPaull Architects in 2013, and a Sales Advisory Committee, in which Historic Denver participated. Throughout Historic Denver to emphasized the importance of Griffith’s legacy, and of providing the community certainty regarding preservation expectations before the property moved into private hands for the first time in more than a century.
Ultimately, with technical support from the City of Denver, DPS agreed and together Historic Denver and DPS submitted a landmark designation application that now protects all the key buildings along Welton Street, while offering more flexibility for the buildings along Glenarm. Denver City Council approved the designation in 2016. Stonebridge, a hospitality company, purchased the entire block in 2017, and broke ground on the hotel reuse effort in 2019. The hotel, aptly named “The Slate” opened in May 2022. Historic Denver provided resource information on tax credits, and feedback on design concepts during the planning stages.
The Emily Griffith Opportunity School has had a long history at its site between 12th & 13th Streets and Welton and Glenarm in downtown Denver. Emily Griffith first opened her school “for all who wished to learn” in the old Longfellow School, built on the site in 1882. Later, new buildings were added, including the 1926 Main Education Building on the southern edge of the site. Eventually the Longfellow School was demolished to make way for more expansion, including the 1947 Building, and the 1956 addition to it, which run along Welton Street.
Emily Griffith had moved to Colorado in 1895 with her family after starting her teaching career in Nebraska. She began at Denver’s Central School in 1896. She became the Principal of the Twenty-Fourth Street School (later named Crofton Elementary) in 1915 and in order to meet the needs of her students and families, began offering vocational and night courses for non-traditional students.
Once Griffith saw the benefits of providing practical vocational training to entire families, she began to campaign for the creation of a school in which there would be no age requirements or financial obstacles. A 1915 Denver Post article quoted Ms. Griffith, stating, “I want the age limit for admission lifted and classes so organized that a boy or a girl working in a bakery, store, laundry or any kind of shop, who has an hour or two to spare, may come to my school and study what he or she wants to learn to make life more useful. The same rule goes for older folks too. I already have a name for the school. It is ‘Opportunity’.”
Over the course of the school’s run at 12 & Welton its estimated 1.6 million people received an education through the schools many programs. In addition to the landmark building, the school continues today as the Emily Griffith Technical College with multiple locations near downtown Denver.
In the News
Emily Griffith School Lives On, But its Former Home in Limbo, Westword, 2015
In Hotel Crazy Denver, Transformation of Emily Griffith Opportunity School Begins, Denver Post
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Updated May 2022