If pressed to name an historic district in Downtown Denver, I’d estimate that 98% of Denverites would cite Lower Downtown. In the 22 years since it was designated as an official Denver Historic District, LoDo has transcended from a seedy skid row of boarded-up buildings into one of the largest preserved Victorian-era commercial districts and coolest mixed-use neighborhoods in the country. Its fame is well-deserved. But less well known yet just as important is Downtown’s other historic district, the Downtown Denver Historic District, #7 in our countdown of Denver’s Top 10 Urbanism Achievements of the Aughts.
Unlike the Lower Downtown Historic District, which has relatively simple and straightforward boundaries, the Downtown Denver Historic District doesn’t really have any boundaries at all. The DDHD, designated by the city in 2000, consists of 43 buildings located on 18 different blocks throughout the Central Business District. About half of the DDHD’s buildings are also designated Denver Historic Landmark Structures, but the creation of the DDHD provides additional protection and control to ensure that these buildings will be around for a long, long time.
It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the buildings in the DDHD to the integrity of Downtown Denver and to the soul of our city. Eleven of the buildings front the 16th Street Mall, and eleven more front 17th Street. These buildings are the core of Downtown. Their distinguished architecture, their impressive yet approachable scale, the craftsmanship and pride that went into them, gave credibility to a fledgling city back then, and give us today an understanding of our heritage as a city. Can you imagine Denver without the D&F Tower, the Brown Palace Hotel, or the Equitable Building? The fact that these buildings are scattered across a relative large area, from Tremont to Lawrence and 14th to 18th, means that you’re never more than a block or two from a building that serves as an historic anchor amid a sea of modernism and surface parking lots.
We lost a lot of great buildings during the second half of the 20th century, but the formation of the Downtown Denver Historic District in 2000 was a partial redemption and an important achievement in Denver’s evolving urbanism.