Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Hearing set for Tuesday on landmark status for Boettcher Center

The Boettcher Center

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

A group of preservationists in Denver says the Boettcher Center on the DU campus is an important historic structure that merits protection as a landmark.

But the University says careful analysis shows that the east wing has deteriorated and needs to be demolished. It opposes the landmark designation and has asked the city to certify Boettcher as “non-historic” so the demolition can proceed. Renovations to the auditorium and west wing are already under way.

“The mechanical system is failing and the building’s facade is falling apart. Pieces have fallen off,” says Neil Krauss, assistant vice chancellor of business and financial affairs.

On June 1, the disagreement will be aired at a public hearing before the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission.

If the commission advances the request to designate Boettcher a landmark structure and if the Denver City Council concurs, a broad net of process would descend over what DU could do with the building, principally to its exterior. The University would no longer be the sole authority.

If the designation fails, DU would be free to pursue demolition of the deteriorating east wing and replace it with green space. Interior renovations include dividing Boettcher Auditorium into three classrooms; refitting the building with fire-suppressing sprinklers and an improved alarm; installing a new HVAC system; making the building comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for access and restrooms; and relocating several labs.

The proposal to give landmark status to Boettcher, which is at 2050 E. Iliff Ave., is known as a “hostile designation” because the owner opposes the request.

To have a property designated as a landmark in Denver, an applicant need not own the property, but must show that the 30-year or older structure meets criteria in two of three categories: history, architecture and geography.

In the case of Boettcher, the nine applicants are arguing history and architecture. They maintain that the complex has historic significance because it embodies the role DU played in space and computer research following World War II; it shows that DU helped Colorado become a research leader; and it reflects the expansion of DU’s curriculum in science and technology.

As to architecture, the group claims the complex is an example of “Formalist” architecture, noting among other things its “symmetrical massing of the front elevations and a strong vertical orientation expressed through vertical columns, window orientation and flat roof.”

The applicants cite the national and international reputation of the structure’s designers, Perkins and Will of Chicago and Fuller, Fuller and Fuller of Denver. And they cite the building’s “level of attention to detail and craftsmanship,” particularly its precast panels and “exposed aggregate of quartz and crystal.”

“At the time of its construction, the center was considered to be one of the most modern facilities for scientific pursuits in the West,” the application states.

But Krauss believes the University can refute the applicants’ claims that Boettcher is of architectural and historical importance and intends to so do before the preservation commission.

“Two years after it was built, the complex’s function was changed by Perkins and Will itself,” Krauss says. “They recognized that what they had built was not working.”

As it turned out, says University Architect Mark Rodgers in a written response to the preservation commission, the precast system that is Boettcher’s “most endearing and notable aspect” was a “flawed system.” Precast was not fully understood in the early 1960s when the Boettcher complex was designed, he says, and over the years it has been failing “to the point of becoming a hazard.”

Rodgers says the continued deterioration, the need for enhancements to basic building systems, and the University’s changing “core academic needs” led a DU Board of Trustees sub-committee to conclude that the west wing and auditorium “justify further investment” but the east wing does not.

Rodgers notes that academic programs have driven the architecture of the University’s buildings since before Colorado was a state and that the evolution of these programs over time “will necessarily mean that some buildings will be changed or demolished.”

DU cannot become an “architectural theme park” simply to preserve “every example of an architectural style deemed of some value,” he writes. “The University leadership must be trusted to make well-founded decisions concerning the building, preserving, renovation of, additions to, and the demolition of its facilities that are balanced against the core educational mission of the institution.”

Whereas, Rodgers says, some buildings will be “repurposed multiple times,” the criteria for undertaking that expense must be weighed against how the building can handle new uses, University programs, fiscal resources, institutional history and how the building “contributes to a vibrant student life.”

The hearing is set for 1 p.m. in Room 2.H.14 of the Wellington Webb Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *