By Stacey McDole
In 1999, the City of Denver created the Historic Preservation Plan and suggested a survey of historically—and architecturally—significant buildings throughout the city. Plans were laid, but proper technology and funding was lacking. In 2007, when the City and Historic Denver hosted the Preservation Summit, the plan gained momentum. After much-needed fundraising, in 2014 Discover Denver was launched.
Now, Discover Denver has an updated website allowing community participation in documenting Denver's history.
“A big goal of Discover Denver and this more modern survey process is to make the information more readily accessible,” said Annie Levinsky, Executive Director of Historic Denver. “So, an interactive website has been a project priority and funding to make it happen was secured last year from the Colorado State Historical Fund.”
The new Discover Denver site allows members of the community to share their photos, stories and experiences with buildings in Denver. The website will house information collected by volunteers and will be accessible to the community.
Volunteers are the driving force behind the neighborhood surveys. Through Historic Denver, they are trained to identify types of architecture and its timeframes. Volunteers also scour public records, employ resources from Denver Public Library, perform academic research and canvass neighborhoods to gather information.
Residents are encouraged to attend a Discovery Day, an event that will provide an opportunity to speak with the project team, ask questions and share information about important buildings in the area. Information regarding the next Discover Day will be canvassed throughout the neighborhood via flyers, social media and newsletters. Last October, roughly 20 people attended the Discover Day in Virginia Village.
“People brought in original house plans, 30 millimeter slides of the area, when it still had bridle paths, and photos from the 1950s,” Levinsky said.
Currently, volunteers are surveying the Virginia Village neighborhood, but will move into the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and City Park commercial district by Summer 2017.
The project will take 10 years to complete; 250,000 buildings will be documented. The goal is to get as many documented before any other buildings are demolished, because “buildings that are present today, may not be tomorrow and we want to get as much information about them before they are gone,” said Andrea Burns, Communications Director of the Community and Planning department.
The goal of the Discover Denver project is not to designate any historic landmarks or perform a “hostile” designation (one not initiated by the property owner), but to document the significant buildings and to empower people with knowledge. The survey is as innocuous to the neighborhoods as tax assessor surveys.
Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods (CHUN), has been working jointly with the Landmark Preservation Commission and Historic Denver for approximately five years on this project.
“At first, property owners were not very supportive of this initiative. They thought we were trying to historically designate their properties,” said Michael Henry, chair of CHUN’s Historic Preservation Committee. “We were proactively collecting information about the buildings to boost civic pride in our neighborhood.” In order to historically designate a building, an application must be submitted to the City and public awareness raised, then voted on by City Council.
Burns said what Landmark Preservation and Discover Denver do are different, but they can “live in harmony and have the same shared goals.”
“Every building has a story to tell,” said Rachel Prestidge with CRL Associates, the group representing the owners of the old Smiley’s Laundromat building on Colfax Avenue. Those owners seek to redevelop the property. “Any program to help those stories get told is a wonderful initiative and helps contribute to the fabric and culture of our city.”
Editor's note: this story was edited Feb. 8. The print version incorrectly reported that CRL Associates is "defending" the Smiley's building.