Monday, October 09, 2006

Historian Tom Noel's comments on the new plan for Civic Center appeared in the September 9th, edition of the Rocky Mountain News.
Noel: Avoid Civic Center gimmickry

Tom Noel
bio
Remember the first time you saw Civic Center? While most cities have a discordant jumble of buildings, billboards and parking lots at their heart, Denver had a serene, green, dreamy neoclassical park. Its dignity, tranquility, symmetry and low-rise scale put the whole city into pleasing perspective.

Now, Denver seems intent to squander millions burying Civic Center with every gimmick and architectural cliché Daniel Libeskind can pull out of his bag of tricks. Rocky Mountain News architecture critic Mary Voelz Chandler recently cautioned local boosters about the plethora of ideas offered.

Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, one leading commentator has noted, has reason to look tortured. But that doesn't seem appropriate for Civic Center. It should be respected, not smothered under spiraling aerial walkways, look-at-me 72-foot-high towers and other architectural acrobatics. If you like Libeskind's dizziness, consider Elitch Gardens. It is on the market and already compatible with his Civic Center roller-coaster ride.

Before trashing Denver's City Beautiful tradition, the powers-that-be should take a closer, calmer look at what this city will be losing. One tool for doing this is a new book by Fran Pierson, Getting to Know Denver. This well-illustrated paperback scrutinizes downtown structures.

Pierson, a Denver native, has been mapping, photographing and studying the cityscape for decades. He founded the Pierson Map Company in 1979. It produced the most comprehensive maps of Colorado. Pierson sold out in 1994 to what is now Mapsco at 800 Lincoln St., still Denver's best map store.

He teaches and performs music and is coordinator of classical and Latin services at Holy Ghost Catholic Church, which gets a high ranking in his book.

Pierson's guide rates downtown Denver's top 100 buildings on a scale of 1 to 10, making his book a terrific way to start spirited discussion. Pierson sees merit in modernism. He gives Jan and Frederick Mayer's 1998 postmodern residence-museum on Wazee Street his second-highest rating - after the U.S. Post office at 1823 Stout St. (now the Byron White Federal Courthouse).

"Civic Center Park," Pierson writes, "is probably the crowning achievement of Denver's far-sighted and effective mayor Robert W. Speer."

"Does Denver really want to ape Las Vegas by carnivalizing Civic Center?" Pierson asked recently.

The city's current Civic Center consolidates the best in plans provided by America's foremost landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr.; Edward H. Bennett, of Chicago's World's Fair fame; leading local architects William A. and Arthur A. Fisher, Burnham Hoyt, Willis A. Marean and Albert J. Norton, and the great Denver planner and landscape architect Saco R. DeBoer.

The Civic Center they created used to be protected by its designation as a historic district by both Denver and the National Register of Historic Places. The Denver Landmark Preservation Commission, as in the case of the 37-story tower in the Lower Downtown District, is once again being bypassed in a development-bedeviled city.

If Libeskind is to be unleashed, let it be in one of the city's neglected parks suffering from the multimillion-dollar backlog in parks maintenance, not in redoing the crowning achievement of the City Beautiful era. Perhaps the most amazing part of the Libeskind proposal is the notion that it will scare the homeless, along with some of the rest of us, out of Civic Center.

Denver has many landmarks, more than 320 city-designated individual structures and 46 historic districts, set aside for preservation. Let each generation focus on constructing its own landmarks, such as Libeskind's new Denver Art Museum wing, not on costuming timeless treasures with the latest architectural fads.

301 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Mr. Noel you hit the nail right on the head. These architects paint this ugly picture, as if it's the 10th circle in Hades, of Civic Center to get investors on board. Civic Center is beautiful and original, period. It's one component that makes our city unique. It would be a travesty if it were changed at all. Thank you for articulating your thoughts so well.

Anonymous said...

Let's not mince words here. Daniel Libeskind is the biggest most pretentious jackass that ever sharpened a pencil. His ideas are preposterous and ignorant. AND HE IS A HYPOCRITE. Did you all know that Daniel Libeskind had to hire another architectural firm (Gorlin Architects) to design his home in New York? If that doesn't confirm Libeskind as the world's greatest idiot, I don't know what will.

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