Baker landmark silos see last days on Santa Fe

The Rio Grande Co. silos were built in the 1920s and stored coal to heat homes


It’s difficult to miss the large Rio Grande Co. silos that tower over Santa Fe Drive at 201 Santa Fe Drive. The green structure on top of the six towers has been a staple of the Baker neighborhood skyline for decades.

But soon, the silos will be no more. In April, Rio Grande Co. began applying for demolitions permits through the city.

Dave Wenman, president at Rio Grande, said the silos are made of metal, wood, concrete and rebar, and were built nearly 100 years ago. Over time, those materials have begun to deteriorate.

When the silos were built in the mid-1920s they were used to store coal. John Olson, deputy director of Historic Denver, a nonprofit that helps to identify and preserve historic buildings in the city, said the silos were the most efficient way of storing coal at the time. Each time shovels were used to load coal, it degraded the quality, he said. With the silos, trucks could be loaded without shovels and then transported to homes in Denver where coal was used for heating.

“It shows that there was some innovation going on,” Olson said. “This was a way that as few hands needed to touch it as possible.”

In the 1950s when coal was no longer used to heat as many homes, Rio Grande began using the lower levels of the silos for storage.

The silos have not been used much by the company in recent years, Wenman said. That, coupled with the structure’s proximity to a light-rail line, drove the company to have the silos evaluated. Wenman said an engineering firm recommended demolition to prevent any unexpected events.

“We have been a part of the Baker neighborhood for over 125 years, we take our responsibility to keep our neighbors, employees, customers and community safe very seriously,” Wenman said in an email. “So we are acting on the engineering firm’s recommendation to remove the silos before something unexpected happens.”

In April 2018, the company applied to the city to have the structure be given nonhistoric status. The application helps jumpstart the demolition process. Through city policy, buildings that have applied for this status are listed on Denver’s website, informing residents and neighbors of potential demolitions. People can then decide to apply for historic designation through the city and prevent a demolition.

Abbey Christman, a senior city planner with Denver’s Landmark Preservation office said buildings must fit into at least two of three criteria to be given historic designation under city code: architectural, historical or geographical. Christman said the silos could have fit under all three categories. Since the Rio Grande Co. was founded in Denver in 1893, the business has been significant to the history of Denver and the industrial movement. Silos are architecturally significant because of their use of rebars at the time, Christman said. Geographically, the structures are a landmark to help people identify where they are in the city.

After Rio Grande applied for nonhistoric status last year, Historic Denver began working with the company to see if there was a way to save the structure. Rio Grande agreed to withdraw the application in favor of working with Historic Denver and the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association to see if there was a way to save the silos.

Olson said the nonprofit was grateful Rio Grande was willing to sit and have a conversation on the silos. Once an application has been filed, residents have two to three weeks to put together an application for historic designation. There is also a $875 fee for nonproperty owners. The short timeline is often a struggle for residents, Olson said.

“By withdrawing, it gave everybody the time to have a conversation,” Olson said.

Those conversations mainly revolved around finding a new use for the silos. Advertising was one idea that was tossed around, Olson said. But the size and shape of the silos made it difficult to find a use that fit for Rio Grande, and “use is paramount,” Olson said.

Wenman said the company also looked into restoring the silos, but the engineering firm the company worked with said it would be impractical. He expects the demolition will happen this summer.

Although Olson said he was disappointed they couldn’t find a use for the silos, he’s still hopeful the structures may survive.

“It’s not gone,” he said, “until it’s gone.”


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