Sunday, May 1, 2011

Architectural Spring Flowers: Observatory Park

Spring brings forth flowers, dandelions, and home tours. The season has started in Denver and neighborhood architectural tours are available for the picking almost every weekend. The  University Park neighborhood (or, as some call it, Observatory Park) had its tour on May Day.
Holland House by Eugene Groves.
This is one of my favorite neighborhoods because it is about as eclectic as they come. How many neighborhoods boast a Russian Orthodox church, complete with onion dome, only a few bocks from an Anglican Catholic church as well as the usual complement of protestant and Roman Catholic places of worship? Architectural styles range from Victorian to Denver Square to bungalow to ranchette to English cottage to neo-Mediterranean to mid-century modern.  On top of all that, there is a charming old park with big trees and a 19th century observatory. This neighborhood has it all.
Close-up of Holland House with ovoid dome.
Under the dome.
This year's tour offered nothing in innovative, cutting-edge architecture. However, there were a few architectural oddities that made the afternoon worthwhile. One was an all-concrete, art deco home designed by architect Eugene Groves in 1932. More odd than beautiful (as these photos attest) it has the grey, lumpy quality characteristic of much art deco architecture.  The living room ceiling is an ovoid dome -- also of concrete -- with ziggurat pendentives. Acoustically, it performed like a whispering gallery and there was some vague claim to spiritual qualities. This dome is also the most distinctive feature on the exterior as it pokes above a tall hedge on Josephine Street. The rear of the house has a concrete stairway that ascends to a roof deck. The whole thing reminded me of Rudolph Steiner's esoteric (almost creepy) architecture.
Dining room ceiling.
Holland house, stairs to roof.
The tour was also an opportunity to inspect the old Fitzroy mansion (1893 - now used by Accelerated Schools) and the neighborhood's centerpiece, the Chamberlin Observatory  (1890). The original grandeur of the mansion can still be discerned under the disarray of its current function but it would take millions to fully restore its beauty. The Richardsonian Romanesque edifice was design by architects Fuller and Wheeler of New York.
Fitzroy mansion.

Chamberlain Observatory.
The observatory, on the other hand, is a fully functional time machine that takes you back to Denver's early boom/bust excitement. In addition to this spring tour, the observatory hosts frequent open house dates. During an open house you can climb a ladder under the dome and peer through the 20 inch, 100-year-old Clark refractor as well as a wide variety of amateur telescopes. The next one is May 14th; admission $1.  The observatory was designed by Denver architect Robert Roeschlaub. He based his design on the Carleton College Observatory in Northfield, Minnesota.

All photos: MJK

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