Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Commission recommends city designate Boettcher Center a historic landmark

The Boettcher Center

Part of DU's Boettcher Center was the subject of a Landmark Preservation Commission hearing on June 1.

A bid to block the University of Denver from demolishing the crumbling east building in the Boettcher Center complex cleared an early hurdle June 1. 

The Denver Landmark Preservation Commission passed the matter to the Denver City Council with a recommendation to designate the building a historic landmark.

DU officials say the building — opened in 1962 — is outdated and riddled with structural and mechanical deficiencies. The precast concrete system used to build the exterior was flawed from the start, and over time water has seeped into the material and cracked it.

But preservationists, including leaders of Historic Denver, the regional office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Historic Denver Preservation, say the building is an example of what’s called “formalist architecture,” a sort of time capsule of Cold War construction.

At the June 1 commission meeting, Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, said the move to label the building a historic landmark, even over DU’s objections, is part of a national push to save buildings of that era before they are gone. Petitioners also say the building has a historical significance for the scientific research that was conducted inside.

If the city designates the Boettcher Center a landmark, DU would no longer be the sole authority in deciding what could be done to the building, especially the exterior. The process by which others can seek historic designation for a property, despite owner objections, is known as a “hostile designation.”

Among those asking the commission to move the designation forward was DU alum Mike Hughes, who lived in Johnson-McFarlane Hall, which is located across the street from the three Boettcher Center buildings back in 1977.

“It’s an extraordinarily beautiful building,” he told the commission. “There are too few examples of that type of architecture on the campus.”

DU Architect Mark Rodgers and Director of Facilities Management Jeff Bemelen argued the building no longer serves an efficient purpose and needs too much work to merit saving it.

Commission Vice-Chair Carla McConnell said the commission can only consider the historic elements in the petitioners’ proposal, not economic factors or the best use of the property.

After about 45 minutes of comments from both sides, the commission voted without objection to forward the petition to the council. 

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