City boasts Modernist gems, report says

Littleton Boulevard architectural treasures under threat from development

Posted 1/14/19

Driving east out of downtown Littleton, you might not realize you're entering an architectural time warp. Littleton's picture-perfect Mayberry Main Street may get all the attention, but the stretch …

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City boasts Modernist gems, report says

Littleton Boulevard architectural treasures under threat from development

Posted

Driving east out of downtown Littleton, you might not realize you're entering an architectural time warp.

Littleton's picture-perfect Mayberry Main Street may get all the attention, but the stretch of Littleton Boulevard from the train tracks to Broadway is replete with top-notch Modernist-era buildings, according to a new report.

“Many of these buildings are in beautiful condition and well-maintained by their owners,” said Michael Paglia, who along with fellow historical consultant Diane Wray Tomasso prepared “Commercial Modernism in the Greater West Littleton Boulevard Corridor,” an in-depth survey of buildings along the old main drag.

The survey, funded through a State Historical Fund grant, investigated 77 buildings built between 1950 and 1980 along a 1.35-mile stretch of Littleton Boulevard. Tomasso and Paglia presented their findings to city council at the Jan. 8 study session.

The corridor represents a remarkably intact collection of Modernist architecture, according to the report, and showcases the work of significant architects.

“Some of the biggest names in the state were doing little buildings here,” Paglia said.

Modernist architecture is typified by a rejection of the historical revival styles that long dominated American architecture, the report says, and instead embraces a pared-down style of simple, clean lines inspired by industrial design.

The report breaks down significant examples into subtypes. The Martin Miller Law Offices building at 1901 W. Littleton Blvd., for example, is a Brutalist structure, designed by Eugene Sternberg, who later designed Arapahoe Community College's main campus building.

The old Littleton Savings and Loan building at 1449 W. Littleton Blvd., with its unique sunscreen façade of interlocking rings, is an example of International style.

Across the street, Taco House typifies the Googie style, characterized by flamboyant accents like the building's jutting roof beams.

In contrast to downtown, Modernist buildings were designed with cars in mind, Paglia said.

“Parking lots in this period were seen as a plus,” Paglia said. “They didn't look ugly like they do to us. They looked like the future.”

The study is intended to provide a framework for preservation efforts in the corridor, Tomasso said.

“This can help facilitate owners who want to get federal and state tax credits for their buildings, or even grants from Colorado historic funds,” Tomasso said.

A 2014 report from Colorado Preservation Inc. called the corridor's Modernist buildings endangered, and Tomasso said recent years have proven that assessment true: several well-preserved Modernist structures have been demolished in recent years, including the Intermountain Rural Electric Association building that was torn down to make way for the Vita apartment complex.

The report is flush with suggestions to capitalize on the district. The city could extend the Main Street Historic District to include select buildings in the corridor, for example. Other outreach efforts could include tours of significant buildings or complementary car shows.

City officials called the report exciting.

“This is an eye-opener,” said Mayor Debbie Brinkman. “You drive around and you think these buildings are cool, but now they're even cooler.”

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