At 11:12 PM on May 16, 2016 Denver City Council unanimously approved the landmark designation of the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Historic Denver and Denver Public Schools filed for historic designation for the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, with a concept that involves both preservation and redevelopment opportunities and honors the important history of this site as DPS prepares for its sale.
Thank you to DPS, the City Planning Office, and the hundreds of community members who have helped achieve this thoughtful outcome.
On March 16 Historic Denver and the Downtown Denver Partnership, in collaboration with Denver Public Schools, hosted an informational meeting to present a rehabilitation and preservation concept for the former Emily Griffith Opportunity School site in Downtown Denver. Historic Denver is grateful for the many community members who have emphasized the importance of this historic place to our community, and for the opportunity to work with DPS as a partner to find a solution that includes preservation.
View the information presented March 16:
Slides with Explanatory Notes
The designation application for the site will be available to the public once it is submitted to the City. We will post a link to it when it becomes available, anticipated to be in the last week of March.
If you have questions please contact Historic Denver at 303-534-5288 ext. 1.
Since December 2012 Historic Denver has been advocating for the preservation of the historic buildings on the former Emily Griffith Opportunity School site, bounded by 12th, 13th, Welton and Glenarm. The issue first arose when DPS announced its plans to move the school and sell the site, and applied for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status. However, DPS quickly realized that the conversation warranted further analysis and for the past two years Historic Denver participated in a thoughtful and deliberate effort, led by DPS, to understand which buildings have the most historic value, how new development can also occur on the site, and how the old and new can work together to create a dynamic place that honors an important Colorado story while embracing changes in downtown.
The first step in these conversations included consultation with Historic Denver, History Colorado and the Denver Landmark Commission to review the site's significance and condition, which were well documented in a Historic Structures Assessment published in September of 2013. DPS paid for the study, which will be highly valuable to future owners.
DPS Historic Properties Report
DPS Historic Schools Policy
History of Emily Griffith Opportunity School
Late on Friday afternoon December 14th, 2012 Historic Denver learned that DPS had applied for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status for the Emily Griffith Opportunity School. A Certificate of Non-Historic Status, if granted, means that property can be demolished anytime within a five year period without further historic review.
Historic Denver was concerned because the Emily Griffith Opportunity School is a unique and influential institution in Denver, and the structures on the site, bounded by 12th, 13th, Welton and Glenarm, represent the tremendous effort of a determined individual, Emily Griffith, to provide education and opportunity for all. While the property has evolved over time much of the site was designed and built during Emily Griffith’s lifetime, and some during her tenure at the school from its founding in 1916 to 1934. The Classical Revival and Modern, International Style structures represent the building quality of DPS schools in the early 20th century. Prominent architects, including W. Gordon Jamieson, were involved in its design. Furthermore, more than 1.6 million students have passed through its halls, many first-generation Americans or new immigrants who went on to fruitful careers in a variety of trades including aviation, mechanics and even hat-making! Read more history below.
Since our founding in 1970 Historic Denver has been an advocate for many exciting reuse projects, from the transformation of the Tivoli Brewery into first a mall and then a student center, to the transition of the Lowenstein Theater into a book store and now, the evolution of Union Station into a hotel. We know adaptive reuse is possible and we know it’s a positive and compelling revitalization strategy. Additionally, federal and state tax credits are designed to make such projects feasible.
However, if non-historic status had been granted it would have signaled to developers that the site is only good for a scrape-and-build project, erasing the tangible legacy of Emily Griffith, and the opportunity to keep the physical legacy alive in a creative way. Furthermore, we know that the demolition of the site will lead to a large amount of environmental waste, from the loss of embodied energy to the train-loads of debris in a landfill. In fact we know that the loss of a structure of this size is roughly equivalent to 25 box cars of waste and negates the benefit of recycling tens of millions of aluminum cans.
Historic Denver asked for a transparent and thoughtful process regarding the future of the Emily Griffith site, and DPS obliged and dedicated significant resources to engaging experts and stakeholders in the process. The process honored DPS' historic schools policy and the important history of the site. While we always like to see historic buildings used for their original purpose we also know that the structure can have a new life with a different purpose. The site is now poised to embrace a new future, but a future that includes its past.
Emily Griffith moved to Colorado in 1894 and worked as a substitute teacher in Denver Public Schools until she secured support from DPS to start a less traditional school, one that offered evening classes, citizenship courses and technical training in a variety of trades. The school opened its doors in 1916 in an unused school structure at 12th & Welton. In the 1920s the original school building on the site was demolished to make way for a new building, the one that now fronts 12th and Welton. Several years later an addition, designed by Gordon Jamieson, expanded the site up Welton Street and in the 1950s a set of one-story shops were built along Glenarm.
Giffith’s motto was “Public Opportunity- For All Who Wish to Learn” and the words Opportunity and Achievement are emblazoned above the doors on Welton Street. Early courses focused on English, bricklaying, carpentry and millinery. During World War II the school’s services expanded to include trades useful in wartime, including aviation and mechanics. Many of these courses still exist and have provided training to thousands of Denver residents.
Griffith’s innovative efforts have made a lasting impact on the city, and she is honored for her contributions with a stained glass window in the State Capitol.
For a fascinating story about Emily Griffith's life and mysterious death read the recent 5280 article Fallen Angel by clicking here.
The following stories appeared in Vol. 64, No. 30 of the Denver Business Journal, December 14-20, 2012
"Shocks and Bonds: Behind the DPS debt deal, downtown move"
"Emily Griffith's fate: Preserve it, or raze/redevelop?"