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ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN >AURARIA UBR''r"'
graduate architecture thesis seth I. nosenman university of Colorado at denver spr 78
The Elephant Corral, located at 1444 Wazee St., Denver, Colorado, is a Victorian-era structure steeped in history. Today it rests vacant, containing nothing more than that very rich past. Its owners, Mr. and Mrs. John R. Querard, would like very much to again see their building as one that is a pleasant and useful place.
This program will describe the requirements for the rejuvenation of the Elephant Corral. The data and information presented here is to be used in the preparation of an architectural design that will fulfill the desires of the Querards and the demands of the structure. Hopefully, in time the Elephant Corral will be the type of place worthy of its legacy.
The Elephant Corral, circa 1896 (photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Department)
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Approximately 120 years ago, the first settlers arrived in Colorado, most in search of gold. Along with the goldseekers, came the merchants and traders to meet their needs. The area gaar Cherry Creek, now called Lower Downtown Denver or St. Charles, was the first major settlement in the territory, one which was to become a boom-town in short order.
In 1858, two entrepreneurs from Iowa, Charles H. Blake and A. J. Williams brought four, ox-drawn wagons to the infant city. The pair formed the Blake and Williams Mercantile Company, and in 1859 built what was then the largest building in the settlement, on the east bank of Cherry Creek. The building consisted of a 32 by 100 foot timber structure, surrounded by an eight foot high groat wall which enclosed a 125 by 150 foot compound
(groat was a mixture similar to adobe made by combining river cobbles with mud). The location of the building was on the site of the block now bounded by Cherry Creek, 15th St., Blake and Wazee Sts.
As all merchandise was transported by teamsters, the merchants provided corrals for the animals during their stay. Within the confines of this largest of corrals, there were sheds and stalls for the care and sale of animals. Horses, mules and oxen, as well as merchandise, were auctioned off at the corral. The front portion of the mercantile establishment housed gambling tables and a bar (this location is reputed to have been for the benefit of those patrons who felt the need for a hasty exit). To the rear of the bar were rooms for rent. As the establishment grew, so did its reputation. The name "Denver House" was taken for the hostelry, and "Elephant
Corral" for the mercantile. Among many guests at the Denver House, the most notable was Horace Greeley, in 1859. During his brief stay, Mr. Greeley spoke before a group of patrons at the corral and made an impassioned plea for temperance and industrious ways. One can only guess as to the type of reception this lecture was met with, on the part of the "regulars".
Two stories are popular to describe the origin of the name "Elephant Corral". The first, and probably more accurate, is that Blake and Williams named their building after another in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The second, and preferred, explanation is based on the size of the corral: one large enough to confine elephants. Whatever the origin, the name has endured for more than a century.
The Elephant Corral was Denver City's, and the West's, most prominent of hotels and auction
stands. Gamblers and gunslingers alike were known to frequent the Corral as well as those wishing to purchase goods. It was the meeting place and social center of the town. The Blake St. frontage was known as a place where all manner of goods and services could be found.
In 1863, a fire ravaged most of the city, including the Elephant Corral. In 1865, the timber and canvas structure was replaced by a brick one which fronted on Wazee St. Through a succession of owners, this structure has remained. In 1888, John Thams purchased the Elephant Corral and continued with the livestock sales business.
A wagon and carriage company also occupied the building. In 1902, Thams demolished what was left of the original Corral walls and replaced them with an expansion to the existing structure. This expansion resulted in the now characteristic L-shape of the building, located at 1444 Wazee St.
John Thams' name can still be seen painted on the crescent of the parapet of his addition.
The Elephant Corral as it exists today bears little resemblance to the rustic enclosure that Blake and Williams first constructed. Nonetheless the building rests on what could reasonably be called Denver's most historically significant site The present structure is a legitimate descendent of the original one and therefore deserves to be, once more, a lively environment where commerce can occur, and people can meet in the spirit of simpler times.
The Elephant Corral, circa 1932 (photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Department)
The Elephant Corral is a two story clay masonry building which fronts on Wazee St. The building is L-shaped, with an adjacent building closing off the end, defining a courtyard. The adjacent buildings are of a vintage similar to the Corral and have similar structural systems and detailing.
The dimensions of the Elephant Corral (refer to Floorplans) overall are 124'6" from alley to sidewalk at the deepest part, and 45'9" from alley to courtyard. The width is 120'7" from adjacent building to adjacent building; the dimensions of the courtyard are 73'2" in width by 75'7" in depth. The floor-to-floor heights (refer to Section A-A) vary from one story to the next, and within each story. The reason for the elevation differences within any given floor lie in the fact that the
portion of the building at the rear of the courtyard was built after that which fronts on Wazee St. (see the section on "History"). Ceiling heights vary at each floor, where ceilings exist. The basement has no finished ceiling, similarly with the first and second stories of the newer portion. The newer part of the building has a finished ceiling on the first story at 14*1" above the finished floor, and 10'10" above the finished floor on the second story. The total building area is 27,750 square feet and the area of the courtyard is 5,530 square feet.
The structural system of the Elephant Corral is of clay masonry bearing wall and heavy timber post-and-beam. The masonry varies in thickness from approximately eighteen inches at the basement and first story to twelve inches at the second story. Interior columns in the older portion of the building are almost all at 10'0" center to
center (the first and last are at 11'8" and 11'4" c/c, respectively). The newer portion of the building at the back of the courtyard has columns with 14'6" center to center spacing between them and 8'4" spacing to the masonry, front to back. The spacing side to side of the columns in that area is approximately 24'0" center to center and center to masonry. At the first story, along the sidewalk and alley only, a glass and wood curtain wall takes the place of masonry, with iron columns and lintels for support. The interior columns are approximately twelve inches square with timber capitals. The primary horizontal members throughout are 12 inches wide by 14V deep.. They bear on the capitals atop the columns and on pilasters engaged with the masonry. Secondary horizontal members (joists) are generally 3 inches by 13 inches (actual dimensions) at 12 inches o.c., bearing directly on the beams and in joist pockets in the masonry.
The floor membrane throughout the Corral consists of three inch boards nailed to the joists. The amount of deflection in the floor varies from point to point with an impact load, but none is so great as to require extensive stiffening.
All window masonry openings in the building (except for those above the curtain wall are approximately 3'6" wide and vary in height from four feet to nine feet in height. All masonry openings are jack-arched, a characteristic which serves as one of the more prominent details. Other details (refer to Elevations) include horizontal stone bands in the pilasters, and brick relief primarily along the parapet. One of the significant details is the masonry crescent above John Thams addition to the building. This crescent served as a signboard for Thams' business and still bears the inscription, "BOUGHT AND SOLD,
JOHN THAMS." The large opening in the wall below
the crescent probably was used as access to a hay loft on the second floor (the hoisting boom remains intact).
The existing mechanical systems include sanitary waste lines on the first floor. Several suspended space heaters of relatively recent manufacture, provide the only heating in the building; there is no air conditioning system. A freight elevator manufactured by the now-defunct Nock and Garside Elevator Co. is located at the rear of the older section of the building. The elevator hoist machine is of the drum-type in operation with a timber platform and sling, and timber car and hoistway gates. The elevator serves all three stories. The electrical system in the building provides service throughout, but appears to be largely the product of many years of updating.
All disconnects are fused.
Areas Requiring Specific Rehabilitation
The roof, which leaks, will probably require complete replacing (both for water-tightness and insulation). Some sections of brick will require repointing where mortar has begun to fall out; the brick has several layers of paint which is cracking and peeling throughout. The floor and walls of the first and second story in the newer portion are covered quite heavily with Christmas tree flocking and adhesive (from the building's use by its previous owners). The sidewalk in front of the older section of the building is settling quickly, due to a void immediately below it (adjacent to, and accessible from the basement). The masonry walls, though double-wythed, contain practically no airspace and therefore represent an insulative problem.
In general, the Elephant Corral is in remarkably good repair for a building of its vintage. It is structurally sound (probably due to its design for warehousing, and structural overdesign, as was common many years ago). Virtually no significant changes have been made to the original building and therefore it has retained its character to a large degree. The L-shaped configuration, coupled with the courtyard lend a uniqueness to the structure. The detailing (as with the rest of the building) is for the most part, restrained, even understated. Finally, the Corral is by no means a representative example of Denver's Victorian Architecture, but it remains a significant older building in Denver, that exists today very much as it was originally constructed.
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The Elephant Corral today, from Wazee St.
The Elephant Corral is an important component in the overall development of the St. Charles District. The legacy of the building is significant in terms of both its age and the activity it once contained. It represents a cornerstone in the evolution of a major American city. In that the Elephant Corral was once the collecting point for the people of Denver City and the hub of day-to-day commerce, it is fitting that it should again be a meeting place, a scene of group activity and an arena for business.
The program for the Elephant Corral includes leasable office, leasable retail space, a restaurant, office space for the client, Mr. Querard, and a multi-use plaza.
Leasable Office Space
Space designed for speculative leasing with potential for expansion and compaction. The offices should be geared to small business concerns seeking proximity to the downtown area but desiring the atmosphere afforded by a vintage building. Access could be from within and without the building. Consideration should be given to providing ample amounts of natural light into the individual offices, and views out. The offices should be adaptable to either open or closed planning.
Leasable Retail Space
The provision of enjoyable retail space is essential to the development of the Elephant Corral and the St. Charles District. These spaces
draw people in and out, and through whatever environment encloses them. This type of "traffic" begins to suggest the type of activity that was once the hallmark of the area. It provides a source of small group interaction.
The retail space should be designed to maximize the enjoyment of movement throughout it.
The flow of activity should minimize the linearity inherent in the dimensions of the structure. Care should be taken to the development of a relationship between interior and exterior spaces.
The types of goods and services to be offered within the Corral include, but are not limited to, clothing and personal furnishings, and the like. Those types of enterprises specializing in gift-items, or catering primarily to the tourist, window-shopping market will not be especially encouraged. The goal here is to restore a vitality to the area by providing commerce that serves the everyday needs of the residents.
A full service dining room for 75-100 people; business-lunch and dinner in orientation with a full bar. The restaurant should be one that has an atmosphere of casualness and warmth, with a hint of elegance. One should feel comfortable there, whether eating dinner with friends, entertaining business associates or having a drink on a weekend evening. The capability for live musicians to entertain should exist. A relaxed, informal environment catering to quiet conversation is essential. Outdoor eating facilities should be closely associated with the indoor.
Access to the restaurant can occur from either the outside or from within the building, or both.
Office Space for Mr. Querard
Mr. Querard has stipulated that he would like
to have the second floor of the newer section of
the Corral reserved for his own use. The office is to have a central reception area for individual offices. A conference room should be provided.
The types of business to be designed for include Real Estate/Development, Accounting, and Business Management and Consulting. The office should be accessible from within the building through a large, "formal" entry. The general quality of space in the office should be one of openness and lightness. Mr. Querard has expressed the desire for a fireplace within the office. In general, the office should have a feeling of elegance without "stuffiness"; warmth, brightness and cheerfulness are essential.
The open space defined by the Elephant Corral and the adjacent building to the southwest will
serve as a focal point for the site. The space, at one time, was the auctioning area and a place for people to get together on an informal basis. So it shall be again: a place to relax, interact and meet with other people.
The design of the space should be flexible enough to provide for a variety of activity. At the same time, it should be a space that is enjoyable and promotes group activity. To be included in the design of the courtyard are eating areas, directly related to the restaurant noted previously. This area should be a part of the entire space, in relationship and character, but should also be defined specifically. Seating, lighting and planting should be included for the development of the area as a plaza. Areas for both small group and individual activity should be provided. Special attention should be given to sound and visual control of street traffic as
it relates to the plaza. Traffic on Wazee St. is moderate, however a good portion of it is comprised of trucking serving the warehousing in the district. As the structure of the Corral rises above the courtyard to the southeast, south, and southwest, care should be taken in dealing with natural lighting, both in minimizing additional shade, and in the location of specific features within the plaza.
Related to the plaza, there should be facilities for both formal and informal presentations: chamber orchestras, bluegrass bands, poetry readings and street-players, are but a few. This area can be a part of the plaza directly, or slightly isolated from it. In either case, light and accoustical control should be examined thoroughly.
In addition to the general development of the courtyard, there are some specific details that attention should be paid to. There is a severe lack
of plant materials in the district as a whole and along Wazee St. specifically. Trees and shrubs should help make up the character of the entire courtyard. Additionally, John Tham's signboard above the parapet facing the courtyard is barely legible. In an effort to bring a reminder of what the original Elephant Corral was, back to the fore, an effort should be made to refurbish the sign's motto.
The uses of this space, as previously described, are just some of those to be accommodated. Other possibilities could be "sidewalk sales", open-air markets, civic meetings or university classes. In general, the courtyard should be designed for lively activity and for purposes of providing relief to the hardness of the streetscape.
Existing parking along Wazee St. amounts to only 38 metered spaces, indeed not a large amount. Additional parking may be provided on the lot immediately adjacent to the northeast bank of Cherry Creek on Wazee St. This lot is owned by Mr.
Querard and, at present, there are no plans for the development of this site. The design proposal may include a scheme for a parking structure on the site, though no provisions are made for this in the initial development of the Elephant Corral.
The extent of this project at the present in-
cludes only the building at 1444 Wazee St. However, the possibility exists for the acquisition in the future of the buildings adjacent to the
Elephant Corral by Mr. Querard. With such a contingency in mind, the proposal for the renovation of the Elephant Corral should include an adaptability to expansion in either direction. The type of additional development would include an expansion of the facilities defined in this program, however not quantified. Additionally, consideration should be given to the relationship of Cherry Creek to the Block, and possible development of its northeast bank.
The Elephant Corral today; courtyard
The following information is offered as an approximation of the quantitative space requirements for each section as described under "BUILDING CONCEPTS". The actual numbers are subject to minor variation as dictated by the specific design scheme.
Leasable Office Space 6,000 square feet Leasable Retail Space
9,100 11,200 square feet Restaurant
1,700 2,400 square feet
Office Space for Mr. Querard
3,300 square feet
5,000 5,500 square feet
500 700 square feet (does not include
elevator and related equipment)
The desire!efficiency for the Elephant Corral, as specified by Mr. Querard, is a very comfortable 67%. That is, a minimum of 67% of the 27,750 square feet in the building must be leasable. This minimum is a total of 18,600 square feet. Despite this
minimum, a reasonable number to approach, for greater economic benefits, is 75 80%, or 20,800 -22,200 square feet. This leaves approximately 5,550 6,950 square feet for circulation, mechanical space, and common space.
Building: $18.00 per square foot or $499,500.00
Plaza: $12.00 per square foot or $66,000.00
Total Project Budget: $565,500.00 Building Code
Applicable code: Denver Building Code, 1976
Application to Existing Buildings:
"When additions, alterations or repairs within any twelve month period exceed 50 percent of the value of an existing building or structure, such building or structure shall be made to conform to the requirements for new buildings or structures."
- not applicable (under section 104J.1); The Elephant Corral has not been designated by a legislative body as having special historical or architectural significance.
Fire Zone: Three (3)
Occupancy Group: B, division two (2) [B-2]
Construction Types (permitted): IIIN, IV H.T. (heavy timber)
Allowable Floor Area per Story (re: table 5-C) :
Type IIIN H. T.
Basic Allowable: 9,000 sf 13,500 sf
Fire Zone 3 increase (33-1/3%): 3,000 sf 4,500 sf
Total Allowable: 12,000 sf 18,000 sf
Occupant Loading and Exiting:
sf/ no. of no. of
occupant occupants exits
Offices 100 93 2
Retail bsmt. 20 465 _
grd. fir. 30 310 2
2nd fir. 50 120 2
Aerial photo of the St. Charles District (photo date 1972)
The Elephant Corral is located in that part of Denver commonly known as Lower Downtown or St. Charles, with "boundaries" loosely defined as Cherry Creek to about 20th St., the railroad tracks to Larimer St. With the gradual move uptown of commerce and other activity from St. Charles over the years, the district has deteriorated in a familiar pattern of urban decay. Businesses and significant industry have gone elsewhere, leaving behind the remnants of a bygone era. The predominant activity today centers around warehousing and the associated trucking. There is a smattering of "flea-bag" hotels, quite a few saloons (with a clientele that ranges from truckers to "bums"), and the Union Station train depot. The buildings in the district
generally are old, many are in disrepair, but none is considered unsafe by the Denver Building Department.
The Elephant Corral is situated roughly in the middle of the northwest side of the block bounded by Cherry Creek (14th St.), 15th St., Blake and Wazee Sts. To the northeast and southwest are adjacent buildings, which are occupied, and house such businesses as antiques sales, upholstering and cabinet-making. Across the street is an interior design studio, a fabric business and the renowned "Wazee Lounge and Supperclub."
The alley behind the Corral runs longitudinally from 15th St. to Cherry Creek. Above 15th St. proper is the 15th St. Viaduct, a massive structure which carries a fair amount of traffic. Traffic in the area, as a whole, seldom is very dense.
Most of the rights-of-way are single directional and are controlled by stop-lights. Streets are
in mediocre condition, for the most part, and require frequent maintenance to keep them usable. Parking along the streets is of a suitable amount for present needs; however if redevelopment in the district continues at the existing pace or accelerates, a parking problem will arise. Due to the predominance of warehousing businesses, public transportation presently is not very extensive in the area.
The fabric of urban form in St. Charles is partially made up of brick bearing-wall structures dating from the latter fourth of the nineteenth century. Natural and painted brick, with details characteristic of the period, comprise the most significant binding elements of the district. During the day, the area is a place alive with the murmur of commerce; at night it is dark and still. The reason for this vast difference lies primarily in the fact that there is little there to attract
people at night. This situation is compounded by the lack of street lighting, which, it is probably felt, is not required by virtue of that very lack of night-time use. Similarly, there is a definite lack of plant materials throughout the district, with the exception of the sidewalk in front of the new Market Center development. This characteristic is another example of the pervasive feeling that the area is not for people, a general condition that must be alleviated if the district is ever to be an enjoyable part of Denver again.
The primary slope of the Elephant Corral Site is in a northeasterly direction, parallel to Wazee St., down from Cherry Creek. The courtyard is surfaced with asphalt and slopes from the rear to Wazee St. Storm sewers under Wazee St. collect the
drainage and conduct it away. This sloping condition creates a situation where the side entry to the Corral is lower than the main portion of the courtyard. The one exterior entry to the basement is accessible by a ramp down from the courtyard and is causing a drainage problem at that point.
Gas and electric service to the Corral is provided by Public Service Co. of Colorado via overhead electric power lines in the alley behind it, and gas lines underneath Wazee St. Public Service Co. will, for a fee, bury the weblike mass of wires in the alley, if desired. No main utility lines run under the Elephant Corral Site. Water and sanitary sewer service is provided by the City and County of Denver, with mains under Wazee St. Again, there are no utility lines of this type under the Elephant Corral.
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The following individuals or groups have furnished information or provided assistance in the preparation of this program, and whose help is most gratefully appreciated:
The Denver Public Library, Western History Department The Colorado State Historical Society The City and County of Denver, Departments of Planning and Public Works Public Service Co. of Colorado Professor DeVon M. Carlson, FAIA Richard F. Young John F. Tunison
The Denver Times: 16 J an. 1902
The Rocky Mountain News: 9 April 1861
20 April 1935
9 Dec. 1944
19 April 1959
15 J an. 1968
The Denver Post: 14 July 1958