730 17th Street
Sat and Sun 10AM–4PM
Architects: Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul
Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance Revival
Year Built: 1892
Designation: National Register of Historic Places, Denver Landmark, Downtown Denver Historic District
Photo Restrictions: No
The building is designed like two “E’s” laid back to back, and thus features lightwells that provide natural light to most offices. The exterior has a darker pinkish-gray Colorado granite base on the first two floors and pressed brick above. The building does not have a steel frame skeleton. The huge granite blocks of the first two stories support seven additional stories. The architects employed as much Classical embellishment as possible, including dentils, egg and dart molding, and a bound acanthus. The fifth floor Palladian window and balcony are adorned with nude cherubs or amorini (Italian for little loved ones). Terra-cotta from the Denver Terra Cotta Company is used for courses between floors and on the elaborate cornice. The banding helps separate the upper floors into successive horizontal wedding cake layers.
The interior is one of the most beautiful in the city: it seems Equitable wanted nothing but the best. Marble from France, Italy, Vermont, and Tennessee enhance the interior. The lobby is illuminated by a tripartite Tiffany window and elegant chandeliers, and is lined with buttery yellow marble, deep-red marble floors, marble pillars, and a glass mosaic lined groin vault ceiling. The grand bronze staircase leads to a landing with a spectacular Tiffany stained glass window, “The Genius of Insurance”, in which the Equitable Company, represented by Minerva, the Greek goddess of protection, comforts a bereft widow and orphan.
The builders incorporated every fire-safety precaution and state-of-the-art plumbing and electrical convenience. The building included eight hydraulic elevators, fireplaces with gas logs, and most rooms boast “wash closets supplied with hot and cold water.” The fireproof qualities of the building were disputed, and in 1910, Magistrate and future Denver mayor, Benjamin F. Stapleton, fined the owners $50 for not having the required fire escapes for buildings over two stories high. The Equitable attorney argued the building was fireproof and the iron stairway on the interior was ample.
The completed Equitable Building, alongside the Brown Palace Hotel, which was also completed in 1892 and nine stories tall, crowned the Denver skyline until the 1911 construction of the Daniels and Fisher Tower. The building was so tall that in 1894, researchers performed a “remarkable feat of heliographic signaling” from the Equitable roof by using mirrors to send messages to and from the top of Pikes Peak.
Owners and Occupants
The Equitable Assurance Society of New York built the Equitable Building at the end of the pre-Silver Crash boom. The building served as the company’s western office and attracted other financial concerns to 17th Street. By 1893 it was home for Colorado’s executive offices during construction of the State Capitol. The city’s leading law firms, the First National Bank of Denver, and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad all moved in shortly after the 1893 grand opening. By 1920, the leading stockbrokers were here. People often visited to watch the Equitable Building’s ticker tape.
Henry Wolcott, a successful associate of Nathaniel Hill’s Boston and Colorado Smelter, served on the board of directors for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of New York. Wolcott often advised the Equitable president, Henry Hyde, on mining investments in Colorado, Arizona, and Nicaragua. Wolcott influenced Hyde to establish a Denver office for the Equitable. Wolcott’s brother, U. S. Senator Edward Wolcott, also had an office in the building.
Although the building opened to great acclaim, property values declined after the 1893 crash. Equitable rents did not reach pre-crash prices until 1902. In 1908, William Barth, president of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, purchased the building for $1.3 million. Ownership changed two more times prior to the effects of the Great Depression, and in 1934 the owners defaulted on a $50,000 loan and the structure went into foreclosure. Charlotte Barth Howell, granddaughter of the previous owner William Barth, purchased the building for $950,000. The building changed owners in 1956, 1962, and 1968, each time selling for about $2.5 million.
Restoration and Reuse
A Canadian based company purchased the building in 1977 and restored it to its 1893 grandeur. This included a $2 million renovation in 1980 that installed central air conditioning, restored the exterior, and replaced the original revolving doors. In the 1980s there were several owners before MONY became the sole owner and invested another $2 million to upgrade safety systems, replace the roof, and update the lighting.
Denver’s St. Charles Town Company purchased the building October of 2000 and began converting the structure to office condominiums. In the first year the company spent about $5.5 million to “polish” the building. Company founder and CEO Charles Woolley II, a former director of Four Mile House Museum, took a special interest in making the Equitable shine as a first class restoration.
Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul was an architectural firm founded in Boston in 1885 by Robert Day Andrews, Herbert Jaques, and Augustus Day Rantoul. Along with The Equitable, the firm’s works on the National Historic Register include The Hartford Club in Hartford, Connecticut, Governor Rollins House in Concord, New Hampshire, and The Hooper Mansion in Boston. Andrews was a draftsman under Henry Hobson Richardson and his subsequent firm designed the white marble wings of the Massachusetts State House.
The Downtown Denver Historic District was created in 2000 by the City of Denver as a non-contiguous district within the core downtown area consisting of 43 buildings identified as architecturally or historically significant and worthy of preservation. Many of the buildings were built in the first few decades of the 20th Century and feature elaborate designs reflective of their original uses as banks, hotels, and office buildings. These buildings create a stunning contrast to the glassy modern towers that surround them, provide the framework for the urban fabric of downtown, and greatly enrich the pedestrian and visual experience of the central business district. The buildings are located on 18 different blocks between Tremont and Lawrence and between 14th and 18th.
Guide to Denver Architecture by Mary Voelz Chandler; The Equitable: Denver’s Grand Old Office Building by Kathleen Barlow; DenverInfill.com by Ken Schroeppel.