Did you know?
Our online gift shop offers over 20 of Historic Denver, Inc.'s award-winning historic neighborhood guide books! Click here to browse & shop for our guidebooks.
RALPH D. PETERSON
Russell Elementary School, Arvada
Harvest House Manor, Boulder
The Harvest House Manor in Boulder, CO was once part of the most aesthetically important groups of modern buildings constructed during the 1950s. The apartment building, originally used as a hotel, was designed by architect Ralph D. Peterson in 1958. The two-story building was designed in the international style, still retaining much of its original integrity and condition to this day. The building is horizontally oriented featuring many modern details including ribbon windows, large areas of glazing, the use of concrete, cubist volumes, and a flat roof. The horizontally-linked balconies feature a repeated square and rectangle pattern of metal panels. The two main volumes of the building are emphasized by red sandstone clad walls. The main entrance is marked by a one-story projecting glass and steel curtain wall.
Calvary Temple, Denver
A most outstanding precedent of modern architecture can be found at the intersection of University Boulevard and Alameda Avenue in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood. The Calvary Temple, built in 1957, was considered the “Cathedral of Tomorrow” and was the largest church of its kind in the Rocky Mountain Empire. It was built to accommodate 2,189 people as its membership had dramatically increased from a decade prior. Despite it being primarily a response to a need for more space, the building stands today as one of the most striking examples of Usonian Architecture in the state.
Denver Architect, Ralph D. Peterson employed many unique architectural and structural elements in his design of the building. Several materials, including elongated Norman brick, Colorado stone, concrete, wood, and glass are eloquently combined throughout the building. The structure’s entrance is supported by four concrete columns with glass panels in between. Each panel, set throughout the structural elements is tinted a shade of purple creating a magnificent effect on both the exterior and interior of the building. Not only does the tinted glass prevent sun glare, but it also provides a soft glow on the interior. Another Usonian feature is the large, peaked, overhang roof, which provides further definition the buildings unique geometry. Originally, the interior of the building had red theatre type seats complimented by thick turquoise carpet. A modern oak pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship was designed and built by a church member.
The structural feats in this project are also noteworthy as they too serve the design and style of the building. According to Peterson, its structural system consisting of 11-inch thick concrete floors, filled with 8-inch wide, hollow cardboard tubes, was an architectural first. In some places the flooring spans 40 feet without support. The ceiling of the auditorium employs a steel beam spanning 91 feet across the center. The four support columns at the buildings entry were pre-cast on site- a first for Peterson’s firm. Each column averages 49 feet in length and weighs 12 tons each. They were poured horizontally and later moved into place by one of the largest cranes in the West.
Another significant structural detail was constructed a few years later with the addition of the Calvary Temple’s Fellowship Hall. The roof of the companion building is a hyperbolic paraboloid, a highly unique form at the time. Peterson first used this roof design in his 1956 project, the Rock n’ Pines Lodge near Estes Park Colorado. It was the first roof of its kind in Colorado, and only the second in the whole nation. The Fellowship Hall roof was poured atop a plywood form supported by temporary scaffolding. Twelve strands of high-tension steel cables buried underground, but capable of being tightened, combat the inherent stress of the structure. Despite weighing 38 tons, the roof rests on its two down dipping corner supports, gaining its rigidity from the double curvature. The roof is 80 feet on a side and tops a room with a seating capacity of 400 people. The concrete is very lightweight and only 3 inches thick, one-third lighter than ordinary concrete at the time.