Loretto Heights – What’s Next?
In the fall of 2016, Colorado Heights University announced that it would be closing its doors. Located on the historic Loretto Heights campus, CHU had occupied the site since 1989. On November 1, 2017 the current owner of the campus, the Teikyo Group, announced that the campus is under contract to master developer Catellus. As part of the sale contract Catellus is required to preserve the main, and iconic Administration Building and its adjacent chapel. Historic Denver has already met once with Catellus and will continue to work with them to identify viable uses for these buildings, as well as explore options for several other historically and architecturally significant structures on the campus in southwest Denver.
Historic Denver believes that the historic Loretto Heights campus presents a unique opportunity to build on a legacy stretching back over 120 years. The history of Loretto Heights is one that is intertwined with its surrounding community. We look forward to working with the new owner and the campus neighbors and hope to see campus buildings adaptively reused and ultimately designated. The quality of design and material of any new development on the campus will be paramount to a creating a successful project. Above all, honoring the history, architectural quality and view sheds of the campus is necessary to create an authentic, vibrant new life for this historic campus.
The founding of Loretto Heights began in 1864 when Father J.P. Machebeuf was sent as a missionary to Colorado. He was accompanied by three Sisters of Loretto from the Kentucky Motherhouse. Upon their arrival to Colorado, they lived in a two story framed house on what is now 15th and California Street. This building would become St. Mary’s Academy of the Loretto Order, a boarding school for young girls in the Denver area, teaching them foreign language and refined skills. While enduring the hardships of the developing West, the Sisters of Loretto gained high esteem and attracted many daughters of Colorado pioneers to their academy. As number of pupils increased, the Sisters expanded, continuing their mission of education and tradition.
On March 19, 1888, Mother Pancratia Bonfils (a cousin to the prominent Bonfils family), Superior of the Academy and alumna of St. Mary’s Academy, sought to start a new Academy, far distant from the expanding “downtown” Denver area. Mother Pancratia and the other Sisters chose a hilltop site approximately 7 miles southwest of Denver with a stunning panoramic view, which they called “Loretto Heights.” From this view, the Sisters could see the Platte River in the east where miners had left their mark, and to the southwest they could see Fort Logan, beyond that it is recalled that “the view was uninterrupted by any habitation of man.”
Soon after, architects Frank Edbrooke was contracted to design the main academic building and construction began in 1890. By November 2, 1891 the Sisters and pupils were moving into the new building. Despite minor difficulties (lack of water and electricity, as they were so far from downtown), by 1892 all was under control and the Sisters settled in.
The growth of Loretto Heights continued, with the Sisters developing a rich curriculum, until they were threatened with foreclosure in 1894 after the Panic of 1893. Thankfully, Mother Superior Praxades Carty was able to save the Academy from foreclosure and the Academy continued on. Through the many struggles the Academy faced they were able to overcome and adapt to the constantly changing times. When World War I erupted, the Sisters turned Loretto Heights Academy into a military training ground and held a National Service School. By 1926, Loretto Heights had gained its college accreditation and Mother Superior Eustachia Elder was organizing the separation of the college and high school.
The Great Depression and World War II could not shake the deeply-rooted Loretto Heights College. Loretto Heights College contributed to the war effort and in 1945 created its joint collegiate nursing programs to meet the growing desire amongst women for economic independence in the post-war era. In the face of the social changes and events happening around them (from new technology, to the women’s movement for equality, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War) tradition and morals at Loretto Heights remained consistent, while they simultaneously worked to cope and adapt to societal changes. Loretto Heights College was the first school in the area to establish a Women Studies Research Center. In 1971, when they pioneered the University Without Walls program with 12 other colleges across the nation – a program designed to help adult learners earn bachelor degrees, with flexible schedules, skills learned through life experience counting as credit hours towards a degree, and more practical based courses.
Although the Sisters lived a relatively austere life on the Plains, they sought out some of Denver’s best architects to design the buildings on the campus. The original 1890 Administration building and the attached 1911 Chapel were designed by Frank Edbrooke. In 1928, the Sisters commissioned Harry Edbrooke to design the first free standing dormitory, naming it Pancratia Hall after the founding mother.
As the campus grew, new dorms were added, and in 1960 Denver architect John K Monroe designed the Machenbeuf Building, which was used as the Student Union and Cafeteria. Monroe was also responsible for designing the Lowenstein Theater on Colfax (now home to the Tattered Cover). In 1963, the campus added a dedicated library and theater, designed by G Meredith Musick. Musick was a well-known local architect who designed the First Baptist Church at 14th and Grant, the Bryant-Webster Elementary School, Fitzsimmons Army Hospital and Lowry Air Force Base. These buildings all remain today, along with other vestiges of academy life, including a swimming pool and caretaker’s house.
In 1988, Loretto Heights shut its doors, but three of its degree programs live on at Regis University. In its place, a new institution, Teikyo Loretto Heights University emerged, which catered to international students looking to complete a degree program or learn English in an immersive environment. To date, the university has served students from over 55 countries.
In 2012 Denver Public Schools began leasing 6 acres of the historic campus to house the Denver School of Science and Technology: College View campus on the southern end of the campus. In the spring of 2017, DPS bought this land outright, and has plans to construct a cafeteria and additional parking lot on the site.
1888 – The Sisters of Loretto decide to open a liberal arts boarding school for young girls.
Chose this site because it was “uninterrupted by any habitation of man.”
1890 – Commissioned Frank Edbrooke to design main tower, situated on the highest point of over 40 acres owned by the Sisters.
1912 – cemetery consecrated on site, which is now the resting place for 62 Sisters
1917 – during WWI, Loretto Heights becomes a military training ground for over 200 women
1926 – Loretto Heights gains accredited for their college, with the high school still in operation
1941 – High School Closes
1948 – Nursing Program begins
1959 -1973 – College begins offering Adult Education Classes, ESL Classes, in addition to traditional bachelor degrees
1967 – Nuns give up habits
1970 – College becomes co-ed
1888- College/campus purchased by Regis University
1989 – College is purchased and rebranded as Teikyo Loretto Heights University, with a focus on international students
2009 – again rebranded as Colorado Heights University by the Teikyo foundation
2016 – President announces the closure of Colorado Heights at the end of the Fall 2017 semester
Notable Architects involved with The Loretto Heights Campus
Frank Edbrooke (1840-1921)
Frank was born in Lake County, Il and along with his brothers, learned architecture from his father, Robert J. Edbrooke. Frank came to Denver in 1879 to supervise construction on the city’s first iconic building, the Tabor Block and Opera House, designed by his brother, Willoughby. He stayed in Denver and became the town’s most notable and successful architect. He designed the Navarre (1880), Oxford Hotel (1890), Brown Palace Hotel (1892), Denver Dry (1894) and the old Colorado State Museum (1915). He often used native red sandstone, brick, and terra cotta to create massive, but graceful structures.
Harry Edbrooke (1873-1946)
Harry Edbrooke was the nephew and apprentice of Frank Edbrooke, son of Willoughby Edbrooke. He too was born in Chicago, moving to Denver in 1908. he practiced with his uncle until Frank retired in 1915, at which time he opened his own practice. In Denver he designed the First National Bank (1910), the Gas & Electric Building (1910), the Kistler Building (1916), the Ogden Theater, the A.T. Lewis Dry Good Store (1917), the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist, and Valverde School (1923).
John K. Monroe, 1893-1974
Born in Denver, Monroe worked as a senior assistant to noted Denver architect J.J. Benedict before opening his own practice in 1932. Like Benedict, Monroe often worked with the Catholic Archdiocese and became its chief architect at mid-century, designing dozens of Denver churches including Holy Ghost and Good Shepard. He developed a close relationship with Helen Bonfils, so in addition to churches and ecclesiastical buildings he also designed the Bonfils Memorial Theater, later the Lowenstein complex. He relationship with the Bonfils, and also the Archdiocese, likely brought him to Loretto Heights. The Machebeuf Building is an unusual Monroe design because it varies from the signature blond brick with cream terra cotta detail found in many of his other designs. It was designed in the year following the creation of a partnership between Monroe and two former assistants, Robert Dunham and Robert Irwin, as Monroe was nearing retirement.
Musick & Musick, 1892-1977
George Musick designed a wide variety of commercial and institutional buildings during his 55 years as a Denver architect. He is best known for his Colonial Revival style First Baptist Church (1938), Bryant Webster Elementary School (1930) and what is now the Champa Commons at 1245 Champa. He designed the now demolished Republic Building and Shirley-Savoy Hotel Annex. He worked for a time for Frank Edbrooke, and later Jacques Benedict and Harry Manning. George (called Mark) partnered with his brother, James Roger Musick, on many projects. His sons also joined his firm in his later years.
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