There Is Still Hope for the Old White Spot Diner
Over the summer, community members – with Historic Denver’s help – have sought solutions to save the famed Googie-style diner, originally a White Spot, at 601 E. Colfax from demolition. The building is identified as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and in June more than 700 people signed on in support of finding a solution to save the structure.
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 ordinance – 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.
The consideration period for the Diner structure expires at the end of August, and the process has been successful as we’ve worked collaboratively to identify viable alternatives and shared a possible solution with the property owner and developer. Because of this, the applicants for local landmark status withdrew the designation application before the end of the consideration period in order to provide space for those solutions to be explored more fully. The designation did not move forward for City Council consideration.
However, this is not the end of the effort to seek a solution. In their withdrawal statement, 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.” (Read their full statement below.) Historic Denver is also very hopeful about the current options, and we are grateful to community members for standing up for this place, as well as to the property owner and developer for their engagement.
Historic Denver is participating in this process as a resource to bring ideas, contacts and creative options to the table. Neighborhood volunteers, local architects, developers, community members and others dedicated time and energy to explore a number of ideas, including studies about how to add density to the site without demolition, all with the aim of producing a win-win.
Historic Denver will continue to urge those making decisions for the Diner to recognize the importance of this building and this place to Denver, and to pursue creative opportunities that can bring the old and new together so that Colfax has a chance to thrive as a place with both a storied past and a bright future.
We will be sure to share updates with our supporters and those interested in the Diner structure in the coming weeks.
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.
In order to give the Diner the most robust consideration possible, community members, with assistance from Historic Denver, submitted a landmark designation application on June 14. On Tuesday, July 23rd the Denver Landmark Commission voted unanimously to forward the designation to City Council for consideration in August.
Over the coming weeks Historic Denver remains committed to seeking a win-win solution that satisfies all stakeholders, which has been accomplished in the past. For further updates, stay tuned to our Facebook page and website.
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 informal community space, and this is a great way to share your gratitude and support as we work to find a solution to save it.
On May 17, 2019 the City of Denver provided community notice of an application for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status for the Googie-style, classic diner today known as Tom’s Diner, located at 601 E. Colfax. A Certificate of Non-Historic Status is most often a precursor to demolition, and based on news reports a developer has the parcel under contract with a plan to scrape the mid-mod diner for new development. Because the 1967 building has architectural, historical and geographic significance the City Landmarks staff found it had the potential for landmark designation, and posted notice for a period of 21 days.
During this pause Historic Denver wants to seek solutions for saving this rare and iconic mid-century building, which is part of Denver’s story and contributes to the overall eclectic character of Colfax. There are many vibrant ways old and new can co-exist, and we believe that’s true for this property as well. We’ve reached out to both the property owner and the developer asking them to come to the table to seek solutions and get creative.
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.