“History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” – David McCullough
Whoever said history is boring hasn’t read about some of Denver’s most iconic landmarks! Denver was founded in 1858 as a gold mining town. Today, Denver is rapidly growing and embracing the beauty and history of some of the state’s first businesses.
Next time you’re downtown, stop and take a look at the places listed below. Many establishments have tied their history into their theme.
Gaetano’s Italian Restaurant
3760 Tejon St, Denver, CO 80211
In many ways, Gaetano’s history sounds more like a plot to a movie than a true story. In the 1930s, Ralph and Mamie Smaldone opened their first cafe. To boost business, they bootlegged moonshine during prohibition while their three sons became notorious mobsters. One of the sons, Clyde, moved the family restaurant to its current location of 3760 Tejon Street and gained attention from the local press for several things: his debonair mobster reputation, his successful gambling ring in the space above the restaurant and the booming success of the cafe. Gaetano’s is still open to the public and the space pays homage to its exciting history. Read more of the history here, as this is really just a small taste.
Molly Brown House
1340 Pennsylvania St, Denver, CO 80203
One of the most popular historical buildings in Denver in the Molly Brown House which was once home to philanthropist, activist and socialite Margaret Brown, or as she is more famously known, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a passenger of the RMS Titanic. The home was built in the 1880s and was purchased by the Browns in 1894 for $30,000. Today, the house serves as a museum and is open for tours everyday but Monday. Much of the home holds true to the way Margaret had decorated it, although the majority has been renovated since Margaret’s passing in 1932.
N Washington St, Denver, CO 80205
Built in 1912, the Rossonian Hotel quickly became a landmark in Five Points due to its unique triangular shape. In the late 1920s, Five Points was a predominately African American neighborhood. The demand for a local jazz venue increased. The hotel became a hot spot and was visited by iconic musicians such as Duke Ellington (who once spent a whole summer there), Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. The venue boomed. African Americans and whites alike frequented the hotel to hear the music. The Rossonian Hotel is now on the National Register of Historic Places and the city of Denver has funded efforts to maintain the historic integrity of the building. Read more here.
110 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203
Declared a Denver historical landmark, The Mayan Theatre is one of the few remaining Art Deco Mayan Revival style theatres in the country. The building was erected in 1930 and was almost demolished in the 1980s, but was saved by a group referred to as, “Friends of the Mayan.” It has since been renovated and now features three theatres, a cafe and a seating area. Today, the Mayan is a popular place to catch indie flicks in a historical setting.
East High School
1600 City Park Esplanade, Denver, CO 80206
East High School was one of Denver’s first of four high schools, the other three being, (you guessed it), north, south and west. The school opened in 1875 and was known then (and still is today) as one of America’s top public high schools. The school is located south of City Park in Denver and can be seen from a mile away, thanks to its 162-foot clock tower inspired by Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. To read the full history, visit the school’s website here.
Brown Palace Hotel
321 17th St, Denver, CO 80202
In the late 1800s, many settlers were moving west in search of gold and silver. Some were just passing through, others were there to stay. Among the travelers was Henry Cordes Brown, a carpenter from Ohio. Brown had purchased many plots of land, including the triangular spot at Broadway, Tremont and 17th street, where the Brown Palace Hotel now stands. Brown had a vision of creating a grand palace hotel, he hired architect Frank E. Edbrooke to see his plan through. The Brown Palace Hotel opened on August 12, 1892. It cost $1.6 million to build and $400,000 to furnish. The building consisted of 400 guest rooms which went for $3-$5 a night. Read more about the Brown Palace Hotel here.
1310 Bannock St, Denver, CO 80204
Another iconic Denver home belonged to William Byers and was sold to William Gray Evans, his wife, their son and three daughters in 1889. The Evans family was famous in the community for their charitable acts. Members of the Evans family continued to live in the home until 1981 when they donated it to the Colorado Historical Society along with all of its contents, much of which were original pieces dating back to the early 1900s. Tours take place daily. More information here.
5201 Brighton Blvd, Denver, CO 80216
Riverside Cemetery is Denver’s oldest operating cemetery and is a resting place to over 67,000 people. Originally, the location of the cemetery along the South Platte River made it an appealing place for the wealthy to lay their loved ones to rest, but as the neighborhood became more “dodgy,” remains were pulled from the ground and moved to a more prestigious setting. Today, Friends of Historic Riverside Cemetery fight to protect the cemetery from those who have neglected it.
Historians was built in 1924. Before it was a bar, it was a large bookstore. If you look closely at the exterior of the building on either side of the sign in the white boxes, the bricks are laid out in a swastika design. These designs were installed before the symbols became associated Nazi Germany; they were an ancient Eastern religious icon that symbolized fortune and good luck.
Denver Union Station
Denver, CO 80202
As an older gentleman sitting in Denver Union Station once told me, “Union Station used to be the hub for people from all over the country. You’d sit here on these old benches and watch people come and go from all walks of life.” He was correct. In the early to mid 1900s, Union Station supported 60 to 80 trains a day and was a major form of transit for soldiers during World War II. The train system helped Denver grow in population, too, bringing in over 45,000 residents in just a couple of years. Today, Union Station embraces their classic, old school charm, allowing visitors to feel as though they’ve traveled back in time, by train. Read more here.
Colorado State Capitol
200 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80203
The Colorado State Capitol opened in 1894. Modeling the style of the United States Capitol, the Colorado State Capitol ties in unique-to-Colorado features such as gold leaf from a Colorado gold mine, white marble from Colorado quarries and what is believed to be the entire supply of Colorado Rose Onyx from Beulah, Colorado. Arguably the most interesting aspect of the building is the ever-changing mile marker on the front steps. Upon creation, “One Mile Above Sea Level” was engraved on the 15th step in front on the capitol. In 1969, Colorado University students resurveyed and declared the 18th step as the true mile-mark. In 2003, modern technology indicated that it is actually the 13th step that is a marker of 5,280 ft. Read more here.
2030 W 30th Ave, Denver, CO 80211
This hip restaurant was once a Denver mortuary and housed Buffalo Bill’s corpse for six months in 1917. The restaurant has carried on with the theme, changing their sign from “Olinger Mortuaries” to “Linger Eateries.” As you arrive, you will notice that the host stand is a former church pew and vintage funeral fans decorate the space. Thankfully, the restaurant decided against themed cocktail names and refrained from adding “buffalo” wings to the menu, according to this article on Eater.com.
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
1215 20th St, Denver, CO 80202
When you pay a visit to Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox in Denver, you are sure to hear a bit of their colorful past from your server, who will give you the, “quick and dirty” of what used to take place in the building. The building, erected in 1894, was first a brothel and later an adult bookstore. Ophelia’s has embraced the buildings’ past, maintaining a vintage theme and subtley sexy details throughout.
1000 Osage St, Denver, CO 80204
The Buckhorn Exchange restaurant is a wonderful throwback to the wild, wild west. Opened in 1893, Buckhorn Exchange was a pit-stop for many cattlemen, miners, railroad builders, silver barons, Indian chiefs, roustabouts, gamblers and businessmen. The original owner, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz, learned the ropes from Buffalo Bill himself, and was given his nickname by Indian leader, Chief Sitting Bull. Celebrities and politicians from across the nation have dined at Buckhorn Exchange to get a taste of authentic Colorado cuisine.
1801 Wynkoop St # 150, Denver, CO 80202
Built in 1903, Ice House was home to the Littleton Creamery and Beatrice Foods Cold Storage Warehouse. The building continued to be a cold storage warehouse for 80 years and was added to the National Historic Register in 1985. Today, the building is Ice House Lofts and is a highly desirable place to live, given the close proximity to LoDo and Denver’s Union Station. The building also includes Icehouse Tavern, the ideal place to pregame before an evening out on the town. Be sure to try their green chili tater tots!
Don’t you just love how Denver is harnessing all of this history, rather than tearing down buildings and starting from scratch?
What other historical Denver buildings should make this list? Comment below.
Thanks for reading,