Denver, CO

Concrete Denver7 building may be designated a historical landmark

David Heitz

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(Photo/City of Denver)

To some it’s an ugly display of concrete with few windows and little aesthetic quality. To others it’s a flashpoint where news and history came together, housed in a building with architectural standards that shouldn’t be dismissed.

The Denver City Council briefly discussed Monday whether the Denver7 building should be declared an historic landmark. It likely will take up the matter for final consideration next week at its May 10 meeting.

Their review has pitted Denver7 KMGH-TV brass against neighboring property owners who believe the building at 123 Speer Boulevard should be saved.

In a letter to the council, Vice President and General Manager of Denver7, Dean Littleton, says the building does not hold historical value. The station’s history, Littleton says, is in its news archives --- not a physical building.

Bradley Cameron, David Lynn Wise and Michael Henry applied for the historic designation. They want to see the tower repurposed.

Council member Chris Hinds said Monday he has been given legal advice not to engage the building’s stakeholders until right before a decision is made. He said he has spoken to the news media about Denver7 but had not tried to broker a compromise. He said he hopes people on all sides of the issue will be able to come up with an amicable solution.

Council member Kevin Flynn said he hopes Denver7 managers will be able to speak at next week’s meeting about their future. Denver7 wants to relocate to a new building. Flynn wants to know whether designating the building a historic landmark could have a detrimental impact on newsgathering operations.

‘New brutalism’ architecture distinguishes building

The Denver7 building was erected in 1969. “The Denver7 building was purpose built to serve the needs of a 1970s television studio, before the advent of technology, connectedness and collaboration that define the industry today,” Littleton wrote.

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In its early years, KMGH-TV was known as KLZ.(Photo/Getty images)

“The buildings that house television have changed. Instead of operating in towers with small floorplates and isolated departments, most modern television stations operate one- or two-story buildings that foster teamwork and allow complex, multifaceted operations to function seamlessly.”

City staff recommended designating the building an historic landmark. “The building embodies the history of (KMGH) and serves as a physical representation of (the) television industry’s explosive growth during the 1960s, and its continued dominance in the following decades, as the preeminent source of news and entertainment for Denver-area residents,” according to a staff report.

The city claims the building is representative of a strong personality in Denver news, Hugh B. Terry. He ran the station from its inception in 1953 until 1974. This partly qualifies the building for historic designation, according to staff.

City staff also believes the building’s architecture is worthy of preservation. “The KLZ Communication Center at 123 Speer Blvd. embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, as a distinct example of the Brutalist style,” according to a staff report. “Coming into usage in the1950s, the terms “brutalist” or “new brutalism” were used to describe a style that celebrated raw materials, eschewed decoration, and presented an honest architectural expression by exposing a building’s structural and mechanical components to view.

“The style reached its peak of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s and was most frequently used for large civic or institutional purposes often by governmental entities, colleges or universities, or larger corporations.”

Is Denver7 building plain ugly?

The style may have “eschewed decoration,” but many say the building is just downright ugly.

City staff argues that the building “represents an established and familiar feature” to the neighborhood, which also can be criteria for a landmark designation. “Located at the confluence of Speer Boulevard, Lincoln Street and Seventh Avenue, with visibility from Broadway and Sixth Avenue, the distinctive octagonal building is sited on a prominent corner of Denver. The architect’s intentional consideration of site coupled with the building’s arresting design, created an iconic building that has been a well-known and prominent feature along the historic Speer Boulevard for over fifty years.”

Denver7 has a buyer for the building, a residential developer who intends to demolish it. If Denver7 were to keep the property, they would demolish the building, too, Littleton wrote, noting it is extremely expensive to maintain.

“Denver7 has an immediate need for updated, larger studios and offices, and the delay associated with any designation would be highly detrimental,” Littleton wrote.

The Denver7 building costs more to maintain than any other studio in the Scripps enterprise, Littleton wrote. A report by Heritage Consulting Group said the building, “lacks sufficient historical or architectural merit to warrant designation,” according to Littleton.

“It is not a good example of Brutalist architecture, despite containing some elements of the style.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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