Googie Diner to Be Saved, Now Listed on National Register
December 21, 2019- We are thrilled to share that GBX Group, which specializes in preserving and operating historic real estate in urban markets, announced the Googie‐style building at Colfax & Pearl (currently operating as Tom’s Diner) will be saved from demolition and reinvented through a partnership between GBX Group and the long-time owner.
GBX announced the news in a press release and together with the long-time owner has already had the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, for which it became officially eligible in 2007. This status makes the building eligible for state and federal tax credits, preservation grants, low-cost construction loans, and protection through preservation easements.
Throughout the sometimes intense summer debate about the fate of the building, Historic Denver worked to find a creative solution that would benefit everyone, because community interests in saving a piece of Denver and Colfax history and the economic interests of property owners are both important. Historic Denver participated to bring ideas, contacts and resources to the table, and Historic Denver’s Executive Director, Annie Levinsky noted, “there had to be a solution that benefited everyone and that’s when we reached out to GBX Group. They were instrumental in protecting the nearby historic George Schleier Mansion, and we knew they could help.”
The Diner situation first garnered public attention in May 2019 when the City of Denver Community Planning & Development Office posted it as a potentially historic structure due to a request for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status, which is most often a precursor to demolition. The City of Denver demolition review process provided critical notice and time to bring the building’s fate to the attention of the community. This is the purpose of the process– established in 2006– to ensure that irreplaceable buildings are not lost without due consideration, that the community and owner have the chance to weigh the loss of the building, and to seek alternatives.
In June and July more than 700 people signed a petition asking those involved to seek a preservation-minded solution, and a group of citizens advocated for its preservation through a local landmark application, which extended the consideration period. That application was later withdrawn, citing the hoped for alternative and collaborative approach. The co-applicants noted “It is our firm belief that the future of this building is in good hands, and [we] think that interested parties can come to a conclusion as soon as possible.” (Read their full August statement below).
In September 2019, Denver City Council approved changes to the demolition review process, which in the future will focus less on historic designation as the only path at the outset, and more on collaboration and win/win outcomes, including exploring preservation options and incentives before anyone, City Council, property owners, or community members are forced into a binary choice between demolition or landmark designation.
As an organization we are grateful that our community cares about its architectural and cultural heritage, and appreciate all those who worked hard to reach this win-win outcome, including the community members who stepped forward to seek a solution, the long-time property owner for his engagement, local architects and volunteers who helped explore options, and GBX. We look forward to seeing the new ownership team infuse new life into a valued piece of Colfax history. Through projects such as this, we believe the corridor has a chance to thrive as a place with both a storied past and a bright future.
August 15, 2019
As the co-applicants for the Landmark Designation of 601 E Colfax, AKA Tom’s Diner, our primary goal in this process has been to initiate a conversation that would inspire thoughtful and informed choices for the property before going forward with demolition. After our initial application was submitted, we presented creative solutions for Tom and Alberta to consider in their plans and we invited developers known for recognizing the value of historic preservation to the conversation. We believe that these conversations are leading to a favorable outcome for all parties and have decided to pull our application before the issue is forced onward to Denver City Council. It is our firm belief that the future of the building is in good hands and think that interested parties can come to a conclusion as soon as possible. We hope that new parties coming to the table can use creative strategies to include the preservation of the iconic Googie-style building in a development that enhances the Colfax corridor. This was no small effort. Thank you to everyone who has donated their time, effort, personal stories, architectural expertise and patience to this cause over the last few weeks. We also appreciate the Landmark Preservation Commission for their diligence in creating the time and space for these crucial conversations to take place. This outcome wouldn’t have been possible without the interest in honoring historic buildings, while striving to meet the needs of building owners and developers. We absolutely acknowledge the challenges this process has presented for Tom Messina and his family. Tom, thank you for sitting down with us and listening to our concerns. We hope our dedication to finding a solution that met your needs was evident throughout the process. We hope this outcome motivates other residents of Denver to work with the City, developers, and their fellow community members when historic structures are threatened in the future. Through collaboration and continued conversations with all interested parties, we can drive Denver’s rapidly-changing landscape in a way that honors our history, acknowledges the gravity of our present challenges and invests in the quality of our collective future.
The History of the Diner
In 2008/2009 preservation professionals surveyed East Colfax to identify sites of significance. Tom’s Diner was among the most intact buildings in the corridor, and was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Tom’s Diner is also featured in the Historic Denver Guidebook on East Colfax Avenue under “White Spot Restaurant,” published in 2007 (excerpt follows):
White Spot Restaurant
601 E. Colfax Avenue
Architectural Style: Googie
Architect: Armet and Davis
An excellent example of the Googie style was added to East Colfax Avenue in 1967 in the form of a White Spot Restaurant. The building’s unusual architecture is an expression of the style that originated with a California coffee shop of that name after World War II and became popular along highways and major thoroughfares throughout the country. The style was viewed as futuristic, displaying features such as cantilevered and tilting roofs, walls, and windows, as well as geometric shapes and acute angles. The style also used expanses of glass, metal, plastic panels, and stone veneers. The architects for this building, Armet and Davis of Los Angeles, are considered the preeminent designers in the Googie style.
The White Spot coffee shop chain started in Colorado in 1947. William F. Clements, who was born in Monte Vista, operated a bakery business that supplied restaurants in downtown Denver before opening his first White Spot in an existing storefront on Broadway. Clements created nine restaurants in the chain and hired Armet and Davis as the firm’s architects. The coffee shops were known for their casual atmosphere, convenient parking, attractive prices, fast and friendly service, comfortable seating, and menus with a wide selection of meals. The avenue’s White Spot operated until the mid-1980s, and the last representative of the chain closed in 2001. A series of restaurants followed in this building, but none achieved long-term success until Tom’s Diner, owned by Thomas S. Messina, began serving food in 1999.
Share your stories!
Do you remember when Tom’s Diner was a White Spot? Did you eat family meals there as a kid? Was it a favorite 2 a.m. gathering spot for you and your friends after a night on the town? Share your stories here! We know the Diner has long been an important piece of architecture and an informal community space, and this is a great way to share your gratitude and connection.