Housing Styles in Boomtown Denver
Last October, a month before it celebrated its 160th birthday, Denver was named the fifth fastest growing city in the country, and it is reportedly growing faster than Seattle or Dallas. While Denver is now characterized as a Millennial boomtown, its boomtown roots reach back even before the Colorado Territory days of the 1860s, back when Denver City was a substantially-sized camp organized around Confluence Park that served the mines of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.
Denver’s oldest house—a female-run frontier wayside station aptly named the Four Mile House—was built in 1859. Now a museum, it is a well-preserved log house that still retains its signature barrel-like design. Otherwise, Denver Urbanism site’s ambitious “Denver Homes by Decade Project” reports that there are no other 1850’s or 1860’s homes left standing. The 25 remaining homes built in the 1870s are fashioned after either Southern or Queen Anne styles or are basic and lack any ornamentation. Houses in the 1880s integrated Gothic Revival and Romanesque styles you can still see examples of in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Five Points and Highland.
Together, Denver’s 129,000 single-family homes form a diverse array of styles simultaneously indicative of Denver’s rich history and its eye towards the future.
(aka Denver Square)
The Panic of 1893 (which lasted until 1897) was a national economic depression that struck Denver hard because of the Silver Crash that resulted in the plummeting price of silver. For example, Denver Urbanism explains that while 2,338 Denver building permits were issued in 1890, that number dropped dramatically to 124 by 1894. As such, extravagant Victorian styles and Gilded Age designs declined, and instead, more economical styles like the Foursquare rose in popularity.
The Foursquare—referred to as the Denver Square locally—was a popular option from the mid-1890s through the 1930s. True to their name, Foursquares are boxy homes that average two stories. They are built to maximize a narrow lot size, as they usually contain four rooms on each floor. The Foursquare was a hot mail-order item: all pre-cut parts arrived in a boxcar with a book of directions straight from Sears, Roebuck and Company. Their plain nature is partially why they initially rose in popularity, but it is also why they are ideal for experimentation, which later styles showcase. Even by the early 1900s, as the economy recovered, Foursquares were added onto with Queen Anne style flourishes, enclosed second-story balconies, gabled rooves, arched windows and even side entrances. The pared-down version and the more experimental versions can be found all over Denver, but frequently in Cheeseman Park, Park Hill and West Highland.
In addition to the Foursquare, mail-order catalogs like that by Sears and the Aladdin Company also sold pre-fab kits for bungalows. Bungalows became an addition to Denver’s housing character in the 1900s, but they really took off from 1910-1930. The word bungalow originates from the Hindi word “bangala,” because it is a type of building originating in India’s Bengal region. Bungalows are found globally from Australia to the United Kingdom, and universally, they are low-rise structures that include verandas.
In the States, bungalows are characterized by the American Craftsman style, which derives from the Arts and Crafts movement in England that Denver Urbanism explains advocated a return to handcrafted arts. American Craftsman Bungalows were popularized in Pasadena, California by the Greene brothers, who designed what we since refer to as the California Bungalow. Like its Californian kin, Denver Bungalows are typified by their low-pitched gabled rooves that extend over their wide front porch verandas. They are modest, climate-adaptable and versatile. Bungalows populate neighborhoods that blossomed in the early 1900s like Berkeley, Congress Park and Washington Park.
Modern/Contemporary Row Homes
Row homes go back to 16th century Europe and earn their name because they are literally a row of identical or mirror-image homes. States-side, after Philadelphia kicked it all off in 1799 with their Carstairs Row, row homes became a fairly significant feature of most American cities. Row homes are typically two-story, owner-occupied housing units that share a wall with a neighboring unit. While row homes are nothing new to Denver—I live in a Capitol Hill row home built in 1941—the contemporary row home is increasing in popularity.
While “contemporary” is a general term for modern styles that have yet to be classified, think of features of the more modern homes in Virginia Village and Park Hill, like straight lines, large windows and flat rooves, and characteristics of some homes in Cherry Creek, such as mixed-material facades (e.g., stone, brick, wood), split levels, large overhangs and copious glass. Contemporary row homes integrate such design elements, embrace asymmetry and are often built with a focus on sustainability, in that they may be built with recycled materials and contain elements to optimize energy efficiency. You can find these contemporary row homes in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Highland and Stapleton.