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Mid-century modern structures have stories to tell

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As Littleton changed from an agricultural town to a modern suburb in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Littleton Boulevard led the way into the city from South Broadway, and a number of significant commercial buildings replaced the older homes that had faced the busy street.

Noted architects who lived and worked in the area left a clear mark on the city.

Local residents may often drive past without really appreciating the story the structures tell, but preservation consultants Diane Wray Tomasso and Michael Paglia say this is the best mid-century modern collection in Colorado, aside from Boulder’s. From the 1950s into the 1970s, with the arrival of Martin Marietta, Marathon Oil, Honeywell and other companies, Littleton grew very fast and a number of notable commercial buildings appeared, some designed by important architects.

Tomasso and Paglia, who surveyed Boulder’s historic mid-century building stock several years ago, is now under contract to conduct a survey of “Mid-Century Resources of Littleton Boulevard” — a study that is nearing completion. It is supported by a grant from the state historical fund. The area of study is limited to a block on either side of Littleton Boulevard, continuing down onto Main Street — although the city contains numerous other notable modernist buildings.

At 7 p.m. on Jan. 24, at Littleton’s Bemis Library, Historic Littleton Inc. will sponsor an illustrated talk by the two historic architecture experts about what they have learned as they scrutinized each building and dug through records to learn about architects, builders and businesses — and how each one functioned in an increasingly complex community, as well as about building techniques in the postwar era.

Historic Littleton Inc., a membership group devoted to historic preservation, has a longstanding interest in buildings of this postwar period that have qualified as “historic” in recent years — 40 years is the cutoff.

In 2014, the buildings, as a group, were placed on Colorado Preservation Inc.’s annual Most Endangered list, due to concern that they might not receive the respect and care they deserved — and might be bulldozed to make room for apartments, which happened to the IREA Building recently.

Once the survey is completed there will be some consideration given to which buildings might be eligible for designation on local, state and national registers of historic places, as are a number of buildings in downtown Littleton’s Historic District, where inclusion is by consent of the owner and some tax advantages apply.

As you drive along West Littleton Boulevard, consider that the Apostolic Church at 379 was once Winchell’s Donut House and the building at 609, occupied by Doctors Care, was once Dawson and Co. Realty. A block south is Academy Appliance, 5787 S. Foresthill St., once occupied by Reg and Sally Besette’s Western Empire Realty. He was a city councilman and she was instrumental in the civil rights efforts of the Littleton Council on Human Relations to encourage people of color to live in Littleton.

Notable: At 5782 S. Gallup St. is the Gallup Building, designed by prominent architect Eugene Sternberg. Note window details and fancy masonry. At 1150 W. Littleton Blvd. is the Francam Building, designed by Rene Chouzenoux for his offices. He lived in a lovely home he designed in Aberdeen Village and was involved in developing Normandy Estates south of Coal Mine Road. Two especially fine buildings are Littleton Savings and Loan at 1449 W. Littleton Blvd., designed by Joe and Louise Marlow, with its decorative metal sunscreen by sculptor Robert Probst, and the Marlows’ Title Guarantee Co. at 2000 W. Littleton Blvd., with a colorful tile mural- now, appropriately, the office for an architectural firm. At 2609 W. Littleton Blvd. is Sternberg’s Courthouse Building with its accordion roof, now an office building, and at 5800-04 S. Datura St. is the Arapahoe County Bank, designed by Earl Chester Morris, who also designed many of Littleton’s early schools, including Littleton High School.

Tomasso and Paglia are hoping that readers who are longtime residents may have information, photos, newspaper clippings, ads or other memorabilia related to Littleton Boulevard’s history.


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