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Civic Center is the most intact City Beautiful design in the nation and Mayor Speer's vision was for the area to serve as the heart of Denver's extensive park system.

Photo credits: Havey Productions, Historic Denver & Denver Public Library (historic).

Breaking News: Civic Center Officially Designated a National Historic Landmark!

October 12, 2012- Historic Denver, Inc. is proud to announce the official designation of Civic Center as the city's first National Historic Landmark.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the designation at 11:00 am mountain time.


Press Packet:
Secretary Salazar's October 12, 2012 Announcement
Historic Denver's Press Release, October 12, 2012
Executive Summary of Civic Center Nomination
 
The National Park Service, which administers the NHL program, defines National Historic Landmarks as “nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” Presently, NHLs comprise less than 3 percent of all properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. San Francisco’s Civic Center is the only other location of this type currently recognized as an NHL.
                                                                                                                                              Photo Credit: Havey Productions
For a list of the 26 NHLs designated by Salazar on October 12, 2012 click here.

The Civic Center NHL designation extends from the State Capitol on the east side of Broadway to the Denver City and County Building on the west side of Bannock. State properties included within the boundary are: the State Capitol and its grounds; the State Office Building (northeast corner of Colfax and Sherman); the ”Colorado State Museum” building (southeast corner of E. 14th and Sherman, which is now used as an office and meeting annex for the capitol); Lincoln Park and Veterans Park. City properties included are: Civic Center Park, the McNichols Building (Carnegie Library), the Greek Amphitheater, Voorhies Memorial, the Pioneer Monument, and the City and County Building (14th and Bannock).

In the early 20th century, the national “City Beautiful” movement, inspired by Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, aimed to elevate the human spirit by making communities aesthetically attractive by building parks, planting greenery, adding sidewalks and paving streets. Denver Mayor Robert Speer, elected in 1904, was an enthusiastic supporter of the City Beautiful movement, and he became the driving force behind the creation of Civic Center and other areas identified for Denver’s City Beautiful master plan. The design was shaped by a succession of nationally renowned designers, including Charles Mulford Robinson, Frederick MacMonnies, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and finally Edward H. Bennett.

The Civic Center’s national significance includes its role as:

  • A western example of a fully-realized City Beautiful era civic center.
  • An exceptional late American Beaux-Arts design representing the work of several nationally and regionally prominent planners, architects, artists and landscape architects.
  • A holistic ensemble of built and landscape elements, significant in the areas of architecture, planning, art and landscape design.

Civic Center joins a list of some of the most iconic, treasured and historically significant spaces in the United States. NHL designation places Civic Center alongside such sites as the Empire State Building, the Alamo and the Library of Congress.

“Colorado is blessed with rich history, heritage, natural wonders and architecture including Civic Center,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “We are honored that Civic Center received this national recognition. If the visionaries who imagined how great the West would become could know that a century later their efforts have been realized with this distinction, we believe they would be very proud.”

“This is an incredibly important recognition for Civic Center and one that places the heart of our civic, business and cultural community up there with the most significant landmarks in our nation’s history,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “Not only is this a great honor for Civic Center and our efforts to restore and memorialize the ‘city beautiful’ vision, it shines a light on Denver and its growing importance in the eyes of the entire country.”

The nomination of Denver's Civic Center for consideration as a National Historic Landmark was funded in part through a grant from the State Historical Fund, a program of History Colorado, prepared by Front Range Research Associates, managed by Historic Denver, and reviewed by History Colorado's Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office). The effort was endorsed by the City and County of Denver, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Civic Center Conservancy, officials with the State of Colorado and Sen. Michael Bennet.

“Civic Center Park is one of Denver’s most loved parks. Receiving this honor ensures the legacy of our forefathers will live on for all generations to enjoy and cherish such a special place in Denver,” said Denver Parks and Recreation Manager Lauri Dannemiller.
“Civic Center’s National Historic Landmark designation honors Mayor Robert Speer’s early-1900s vision that humanity could be uplifted through beautiful urban spaces; it honors the succession of architects, designers and artists whose individual contributions to Civic Center created a unified whole greater than the sum of its parts; and it honors the past, present and future public and private investments in maintaining, activating and elevating our community’s cherished historic infrastructure,” said Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, executive director of the nonprofit Civic Center Conservancy.

“Denver’s Civic Center—one of Colorado’s great historic preservation success stories—is now officially one of our nation’s great stories,” said Ed Nichols, History Colorado president and CEO and State Historic Preservation Officer. Since 1991, the State Historical Fund has helped to contribute to its care through more than six historic preservation grants totaling more than $751,000 for restorations. “As an important public gathering space—whether we go to the Civic Center to relax, be entertained or do business—all who call Colorado home have a stake in its preservation and success.”

“This week’s designation of Civic Center as our city’s first NHL marks the end of a seven-- year process and we are grateful for the support of all the partners,” said Historic Denver Executive Director Annie Levinsky. “It is fitting that Civic Center is the city’s first site honored at this level, as Denver is a city of parks and Civic Center its crown jewel. We look forward to another century of active use and preservation at the heart of our City.”

The final Civic Center Nomination can be found at the National Park Service website.


Background:

Historic Denver began working with partners to nominate Civic Center in 2006 as the Master Plan for the park was underway.  Historic Denver, with History Colorado's encouragement, pursued this effort in order to recognize the exceptional quality, design integrity and historical significance of Civic Center, which sits at the heart of the city and is the center of our historic parks and parkway system.  All the structures in the Civic Center district reflect the values of the City Beautiful movement, which is the most influential design philosophy apparent in the Queen City of the Plains.  The designation makes Civic Center one of fewer than 3,000 National Historic Landmarks in the country.  The designation is honorary in nature but may qualify Civic Center for future funding opportunities.

The nomination of an NHL requires extensive historical and architectural research, which was compiled by Front Range Research Associates.  The nomination was reviewed by the National Parks Service and approved by the Landmarks Committee of the Advisory Board of the National Park System on May 15, 2012, however the designation was not complete until approved and signed by Secretary of the Interior Salazar.

On Monday, April 30 the Denver City Council read Proclamation CP12-0340 in support of the Nomination of Civic Center as a National Historic Landmark.  View the Proclamation at HERE.

Historic Denver wants to thank the partners on this project, including the Denver Department of Parks & Recreation, the Civic Center Conservancy, and Bridget Fisher and the National Park Service for their cash donations for the project, as well as the State Historical Fund for grants funds to support the preparation of the nomination. Tom and Laurie Simmons of Front Range Research Associates are the authors of the nomination.


The following has been excerpted from the nomination:
“Located immediately south of Denver’s Central Business District, the (proposed) thirty-three-acre Denver Civic Center National Historic Landmark (NHL) is a nationally significant late City Beautiful era civic center created during 1904-35. The elevated position of the 1908 Colorado State Capitol (1908) dominates the center on the east, and from its west façade provides an open vista toward the 1932 Denver City and County Building and the magnificent vista of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Between the two seats of government are three blocks of parklands landscaped with sloping and sunken terraces, patterned walkways and plazas, elaborative balustrades, tree groves, expanses of lawn, and formal flowerbeds. Statuary, murals, commemorative objects, fountains and pools, an open-air theater, an arched gateway, colonnades, monumental pylons, and other features contribute to the setting. Dignified stone buildings of Beaux-Arts classical design along the outer edges of the site harmonize with the sites other architectural elements, including the 1910 Denver Public Library, 1915 Colorado State Museum, and 1920 Colorado State Office Building.
Some of the nation’s most distinguished early twentieth century planners, architects, artists, and landscape architects contributed ideas incorporated into the ultimate design of Civic Center, including Charles Mulford Robinson, Frederick MacMonnies, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Edward H. Bennett. Individual buildings and structures within the district reflect the inspiration of respected Denver architects, including Frank E. Edbrooke, Fisher and Fisher, Marean and Norton, William N. Bowman, and Allied Architects Association. Nationally-recognized artists of the period produced works incorporating regional themes, including sculptors Frederick MacMonnies, Alexander Phimister Proctor, Preston Powers, and Robert Garrison, and muralist Allen Tupper True. The district is significant in the areas of city planning, architecture, arts, and landscape architecture.”