Googie Diner to be Saved, Now Listed on National Register
The Googie‐style building at Colfax & Pearl, known to many as Tom’s Diner, will be saved from demolition and reinvented through a partnership between GBX Group and the longtime owner. The diner first garnered public attention in May 2019 when the City of Denver posted it as a potentially historic structure due to a request for a certificate of non-historic status, which is often a precursor to demolition.
In December 2019, following a sometimes-intense, months-long debate about the fate of the building, GBX Group and the longtime owner had the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This status makes the building eligible for state and federal tax credits, preservation grants, low-cost construction loans and protection through preservation easements.
Why It Matters
In 2008 and 2009, preservation professionals surveyed East Colfax to identify sites of significance. The diner was among the most intact buildings in the corridor, and was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly the White Spot restaurant, built in 1967, it is an excellent example of the Googie style.
“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.” – From the Historic Denver Guidebook on East Colfax Avenue
Historic Denver’s Role
Historic Denver worked to find a creative solution that would satisfy the community’s interest in saving a piece of Denver and Colfax history as well as the economic interests of property owner. Historic Denver brought ideas, contacts and resources to the table, which lead directly to a positive outcome.
“There had to be a solution that benefited everyone. That’s when we reached out to GBX Group, which specializes in preserving and operating historic real estate in cities,” Executive Director Annie Levinsky said. “They were instrumental in protecting the nearby historic George Schleier Mansion, and we knew they could help.”
The City and County of Denver’s demolition review process provided critical notice and time to bring a 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 2019, 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 said, “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.”
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 City Council, property owners, or community members are forced into a binary choice between demolition or landmark designation..