Larimer Square Faces Unexpected Threat
Larimer Square is legendary – it’s where Denver as we now know it began. It is also the inspiration for Denver’s preservation movement and became famous nationally as a preservation success story, showing how historic places can revitalize an urban center while telling a real story about this city we call home. Larimer Square is Denver’s oldest collection of buildings and it’s our city’s first protected historic district, designated in 1971 in the face of pervasive demolitions that were destroying much of what makes Denver Denver. All this makes it more than a block of old buildings, more even than a typical historic district.
You may have read recent media reports describing a proposed project for the block that would introduce significantly more intense development. The proposal includes a tower, as high as 400 feet, on the downtown side of the block and another large building, up to 110 feet, on the LoDo side of the block. In both cases these new structures would be built behind existing buildings and in the alleys, though their large size would envelope existing courtyards and would require partial demolition to several of the historic buildings. In order to achieve this outcome, the project developers intend to ask the Denver Landmark Commission and Denver City Council to amend the 1971 designating ordinance and remove the existing height limit, which currently exists at the level of the tallest building on the block- 64 feet.
The ordinance creating the Larimer Square Historic District is specific in its considerations of height and context for good reason. The ordinance was designed not only to protect individual buildings, but to protect a collection of buildings, a sense of scale, and a sense of place. Amending the ordinance in the manner proposed would not only place Larimer Square at risk but would set a dangerous precedent for all protected districts.
Historic Denver has serious concerns about this project and its impacts, and objects to hastily amending the ordinance in this manner. We have shared our concerns with the developer, with Mayor Michael Hancock and with Denver City Council members. We will keep you up to date as this issue evolves and if the process proceeds we will ask for your assistance.
Each generation makes a commitment to maintaining the historic buildings left in our care and ensuring their ongoing relevance. We recognize the challenges property stewards face, and believe that there are numerous opportunities to ensure that Larimer Square is not only cared for over time, but that it can also remain vibrant and sustainable. We are ready and willing to work with those involved to develop ideas, identify tools, and locate the resources necessary to improve the existing fabric in a way that simultaneously recognizes the important protections in place.
Notable History of Larimer Square
1858 – Denver City Town Company established. The first cabin constructed in Denver, housing General William Larimer, where the current day Granite Building is located
1861 – Colorado Territory was created
1900 – Businesses began leaving Larimer Street to relocate on 16th and 17th Streets
1930s – 50s – With business and people leaving Larimer Street and a declining economy, Larimer becomes skid row
1950s – 60s – Larimer Square is threatened by Denver Urban Renewal Authority
1963 – Dana Crawford gathered a group of investors, Larimer Associates, to begin buying one building at a time and restore for a new use
1971 – Larimer Square becomes Denver’s first Historic District
1990s – Restoration on a few of the Larimer Square buildings
1994 – National Register of Historic Places designation
National Register of Historic Places Nomination of Larimer Square, designated in 1994. Click HERE to read.
Local Historic District Ordinance (1971), Click “ORDINANCE Larimer Sq (1971)” to read.