Mar 12, 2024 - News

Denver preservationists fight to save El Chapultepec building from demolition

A blocky building with a white wall with the words EL CHAPULTEPEC written, along with some musica notes, and red paint above it during golden hour in Denver. A large sign that says CANTINA CAFE with a cactus is hung on its right-hand side.

Outside of El Chapultepec on Dec. 7, 2020 in Denver. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Preservationists are racing to save the former El Chapultepec building in LoDo from a potential demolition sought by its owner.

Why it matters: The preservation effort is reigniting concerns felt by some locals who saw the legendary jazz club's closure as an unwelcoming consequence of Denver's rapidly changing cultural and structural landscape.

  • El Chapultepec closed in 2020 after 87 years in business, citing the pandemic and neighboring development.

Driving the news: Denver's planning department on Tuesday confirmed it received a formal landmark application for the site.

  • Historic Denver, a preservation nonprofit, musician Ron Bland and former Denver City Councilmember Elbra Wedgeworth jointly filed the application, according to a statement from the nonprofit.

What they're saying: "The history of our city is being lost as places that tell Denver's story, like El Chapultepec, are demolished," Historic Denver President and CEO John Deffenbaugh said in a statement.

A large building rendering including a corner lot with an outdoor patio, and a rooftop bar on top of it.
Renderings showing preliminary plans for replacing the former El Chapultepec building lot on Market Street in LoDo. Courtesy of Circle West Architects

Between the lines: The city has not received paperwork for a demolition or demolition eligibility permit for the site, city planning department spokesperson Amanda Weston tells us.

  • Plans for the potential teardown were first reported by BusinessDen.

The big picture: Local developer Monfort Companies purchased the building in 2022 with plans to "embrace" its history as it developed a new bar and restaurant.

  • The company developed Riot House and Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row Denver along the busy and often rowdy Market Street corridor in LoDo.

The other side: "It comes down to the fact that the building is simply an impossibility, just given the physical integrity of its current state," Kenneth Monfort, executive vice president at Monfort Companies, tells us about the company's decision to pursue a demolition.

  • Matt Runyon, development partner at Monfort Companies, says a previous owner made modifications without proper permitting, including removing load-bearing walls.

The intrigue: The company wants to turn the corner lot into an outdoor patio space with a rooftop area connected to a bar and restaurant next-door.

  • Deffenbaugh said the nonprofit tried unsuccessfully to work with the owners to find a way to reuse the building, which the nonprofit believes was built around 1890.

Reality check: The effort could be yet another test for the city's landmark designation laws, which allows the public to file applications even in cases where building owners are seeking demolition.

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