D&F TOWER AND SKYLINE PARK

Medallion Name – D&F TOWER AND SKYLINE PARK

1101 16th St., Denver, Colorado 80202

Daniels & Fisher Tower added to the National Register of Historic Places: 12/3/1969, 69000040

State Register:  5DV.118

Significance – Denver’s past and future are dramatically reflected in the landmark D&F Tower and the urban repositioning honored by Skyline Park.

Inscription

The D&F Tower at the corner of 16th and Arapahoe Streets is all that remains of the Daniels & Fisher department store that stood on this block.

After its construction in 1911, the D&F Tower was for many years the tallest building in Denver. Modeled after the Campanile in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, it continues to stand as a Denver landmark.

Skyline Park is a tree-block long urban space built as the centerpiece of the Skyline Urban Renewal Project.

Location – 39°44’55.9″N 104°59’41.0″W

Details – Old and new honor Denver’s urban landscape. The D&F Tower at the corner of 16th and Arapahoe Streets is a landmark clock tower that tips its Denver’s past, while Skyline Park heralds the City’s future. Its history reflects the development of the neighborhood, city, and state.

Arizona and New Mexico were still territories when William B. Daniels and William Fisher opened a five-story department store in downtown Denver in 1889. The Denver Dry Goods Building at the corner of 16th and California streets became the largest department store west of Chicago. To celebrate, Daniels took a holiday to Italy, and was overwhelmed by the magnificence of Venetian architecture. To have a reminder of spectacular Venice in Denver, architect Frederick J. Sterner designed the Daniels and Fisher Tower to pay homage to Il Campanile (St. Mark’s Bell Tower) which greets visitors to Venice’s historic Piazza San Marco.

When the skyscraper was constructed adjacent the Daniels and Fisher store, the 1911 bell tower prided itself in being the highest structure west of the Mississippi River and third tallest building in the United States. Reaching an imposing height of 325 feet, the 20-floor clock tower, with gold-leafed dome and 2½ ton bell, was constructed with clock faces on all four sides. Each of the D&F Tower’s state-of-the-art electric clock faces could be seen blocks away.

The clocktower allowed the business to become one of Denver’s most prestigious department stores…until the 1950s. You see, as Denver grew, two downtowns developed. The area above Champa Street was thriving with major department stores, restaurants and hotels, while the area below Champa Street was known as Denver’s “Skid Row.” The D&F Co. was on the wrong side of the town. It merged with May Co. and the building was vacated in 1958. The Denver Dry Goods Building sat vacant as shopping malls sprouted up along the plains. Denver was like many of America’s downtowns – in need of revitalization.

Around Denver, the use of renewal grants was the subject of debate, even though the area below Champa Street had become a fiscal drain on the city. Nature intervened. The 1965 “flood of the century” coalesced public support around urban renewal.

“The 1965 flood that devastated Denver remains the most costly natural disaster in terms of property loss in state history. It also prompted the building of Chatfield Reservoir and Dam and changed the face of the city,” wrote the Denver Post.

The disaster prompted the birth of the Skyline Project by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA). The massive 27-block, 113-acre downtown revitalization project which reinvented Denver’s Skid Row,  took nearly 20 years. DURA acquired derelict properties, relocated existing residents and businesses and remediated contaminated areas before selling the cleared sites to private developers in an attempt to revitalize downtown Denver. Ultimately, the Skyline Project facilitated the development of more than 15 office towers, with more than 1,700 residential units, 6.3 million square feet of new or rehabilitated office space, 840,000 square feet of retail or commercial space and 800 new hotel rooms.

The Skyline Project became a blessing for the D&F Tower. During the 1981 restoration process of the landmark skyscraper, workers discovered a safe on the tower’s fourth floor containing an urn holding the cremated remains of William C. Daniels.  Upon further investigation, Daniels’ will was discovered along with instructions to heirs to leave a portion of his remains in the tower. Now on display in the lobby’s historical exhibit, it memorializes one man’s commitment to his business, his building, and his city.

The Dry Good Building was redeveloped through numerous grants and agencies. Finished in 1993, it now offers affordable and market rate housing, office space, and retail shops – which brought national retailers back to downtown. The icing on the cake was when the building won a National Trust for Historic Preservation Award. The redevelopment of the Denver Dry was a pioneering project that helped catalyze the preservation and revitalization of upper downtown. Since its completion, more than 20 historic buildings have been renovated using the Denver Dry’s mixed-use, mixed income model.

The 16th Street Mall and Skyline Park adjacent to D&F Tower honor the success of this project.

The State Historical Fund, established by Coloradans to foster the preservation of that landscape, granted the D&F Preservation Foundation $100,000 in 1995 to restore the landmark’s steel superstructure and pyramidal spire.  Since then, the Fund has allocated another $405,000 to restore all of the Tower’s publicly accessible and visible spaces, from the foundation to the flagpole. The grant allowed preservationists, accompanied by craftspeople, historians, tenants, and architecture aficionados to clean and repair exterior brickwork, metalwork, and terra cotta tiles; finish lobby restoration; and install a display interpreting the history of the building and its preservation.

The Daniels and Fisher Tower Preservation Foundation continues to care for the portions of the building that benefit the public; the lobby, cupola, two-and-a-half-ton bell, dome, flagpole, and the façade – which conserved thanks to a preservation easement held by the Colorado Historical Foundation. Thanks to this concerted effort, today, the D&F Tower is an integral part of Denver’s public landscape.

Quiz Questions

  1. The D+F Tower is modeled after a famous Renaissance tower from which city?
  2. How did Denver’s “two downtowns” differ?
  3. Why is the Denver Dry Goods building a good example of adaptive reuse?
  4. In a nutshell, what was the goal of the Skyline Project?
  5. How did Denver bring about urban renewal?

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