Earlier this summer, Larry and Mary Gilland had the chance to go on the annual field trip with the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs! This year took them to Denver to tour the best Sacred Spaces of the city. Architect and Architectural Historian Chuck Benson led this lively and informative tour, highlighting architectural treasures in our own backyard. We put together a quick summary of this excellent trip and encourage you to check out some of the other offerings and tours the HPA offers throughout the year—it’s a great group dedicated to architectural advocacy and education right here in Colorado Springs!
For centuries, sacred spaces have defined cities and nations worldwide, and it’s no different here in our local region. Before Colorado was even a territory, settlers passed through the Rocky Mountains searching for gold, and as soon as camps and settlements began to form, priests and ministers quickly followed to establish churches in the region. These early missions were founded in cabins and shops at the start, eventually gaining congregations and expanding into the larger, grander mosques, churches and cathedrals the HPA was able to tour.
Colorado Muslim Society
We were not able to take a full tour of the Colorado Muslim Society, because the space was being used for Ramadan at the time, but we enjoyed seeing the beautiful brick-clad building, which features a minaret and a central dome.
The Colorado Muslim Society was incorporated in 1964, purchasing a building in a residential neighborhood in 1974 to establish the first mosque in Colorado. The current building was constructed over time, expanding to include the mosque which encompasses the main prayer hall for men and women, several classrooms for the Islamic school, a kitchen, offices, and separate ablution areas for men and women. The building offers many services for the local community, and is the only Islamic center in Denver with the appearance of a traditional mosque.
TRINITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Trinity United Methodist Church was founded as the Aurora and Denver City Methodist Episcopal Mission in 1859, and by 1887, the congregation had grown many times over, enough to require a new permanent home. Robert S. Roeschlaub was hired as the architect, assisted by Frederick Albert Hale, and the resulting church is one of the finest examples of “Modern Arts & Crafts Gothic” architecture in the United States.
Trinity was designed as an auditorium clothed in a Gothic shell, marrying the detailing and aesthetic of Rococo and Gothic styles with the latest technology being used in theaters of the late 19th century. Roeschlaub channeled the principles of the popular Arts & Crafts movement by looking to nature for inspiration and using local materials—most notably the sandstone trim and rhyolite facing that was quarried in Castle Rock—to show off the church’s Colorado roots. Beautiful woodwork and carpentry really take center stage here, in contrast to the use of marble or stone in many other churches.
Designing Trinity’s steeple was the pinnacle of Roeschlaub’s career as a church architect. Standing at nearly 184 feet, it was once one of the tallest stone towers in the United States. Because of it’s height, the usual cranes and scaffolding of the day could not be used, so Roeschlaub invented a cage-like mechanism that surrounded the spire, allowing workers and materials to be raised and lowered. Trinity was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Saint John's Episcopal cathedral
Saint John’s Episcopal Cathedral is the seat of the bishop and is the Cathedral in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. Founded by Denver City settlers as Saint John’s Church in the Wilderness in 1860, the original name truly does evoke the Wild West roots of many of the original sacred spaces in the Rocky Mountain region.
A fire in 1903 necessitated a new building at the current cathedral block location of 14th and Washington. The church conducted a national competition in 1908 to find the best design for the building, ultimately selecting Tracy & Swartwout, a prominent architectural firm out of New York. Saint John’s is a Gothic Cathedral, featuring tremendous arches and vaults and large expanses of stained glass. Gothic architecture blossomed from Romanesque roots, developing throughout Europe between 1150 and 1400. The style soars to the heavens, evoking a sense of lightness and majesty.
The original plan for Saint John’s was deemed too expensive, with elaborate ornamentation and flying buttresses, though the Cathedral still impresses with pointed arches and height. The current building is limited to the nave and a temporary brick chancel, with plans to expand the building in the future into the traditional Cathedral shape of a cross.
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate conception
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Denver in the Roman Catholic Church. Located in the North Capitol Hill neighborhood of central Denver, the cathedral was designed in the French Gothic style and forms the shape of a Latin cross. The character of the cathedral was influenced by the 13th century Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church of Munster in Moselle, France, which was the birthplace of Bishop Nicholas Chrysostom Matz, who supervised the cathedral construction.
The French Gothic building was designed by Leon Coquard of Detroit and completed by Denver architects Aaron Gove and Thomas Walsh in 1911. The foundation is made of granite from Gunnison, Colorado with Indiana limestone making up the exterior walls. The interior is filled with marble from Marble, Colorado, with the finest Carrara marble from Italy used for the altars, pedestals, statues, pulpit, bishop’s throne, and communion rail.
The cathedral measures 195 feet in length by 116 feet in width, and a vaulted ceiling rises 68 feet above the slightly sloping nave. Two grand spires soar to 210 feet high to frame the main facade and house the church bells. When opened, the cathedral could accommodate 1,000 worshippers, however, following significant alterations in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, the church now accommodates 800.
The HPA group also toured the lovely Holy Theophany Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs, located at 2770 N. Chestnut Street.
Sacred spaces of all religions are always worthwhile to explore, as you can learn so much about architecture and humanity throughout history. These buildings at once represent beautiful expressions of ancient traditions and symbology while at the same time showcase innovations in construction methods and experimentation with architectural styles, allowing the designers and builders who construct them an opportunity to soar into the heavens.
Many of us make a point to tour the great cathedrals and mosques when we travel internationally, but we may not always think to do the same in our own backyard. The summer months are often when we take trips to see beautiful architecture in cities beyond Colorado, but we were happy we had the opportunity to spend time touring the sites right here in the Rocky Mountains this year. It’s always fun to explore your city through architecture, and the HPA provides excellent opportunities to do just that!
You can learn more about the Historic Preservation Alliance through their website: http://hpasprings.org/.