Located at 828 Seventeenth Street in Denver, the Boston Building opened in 1890. Hailed by early historian Jerome Smiley as “the first of the strictly modern office buildings” in the city, the Boston Building signaled the emergence of Seventeenth Street as the “Wall Street of the Rockies” and later housed the Boettcher family businesses. As the Boston name suggests, the building also represented a major early commitment by eastern capitalists to Denver as the metropolis of the Rocky Mountain region. The historic eight-story office tower was converted to residential lofts in the late 1990s.
Construction and Architecture
The man behind the Boston Building was Denver businessman and booster Henry R. Wolcott, a mining and smelting magnate who also became a director of the Denver, Utah & Pacific Railroad, president of the Colorado Telephone Company, and major player in various other ventures. The son of a prominent Massachusetts family, he enlisted Boston capitalists to finance a $425,000 office building named for their city. In 1888 the group selected a location on Seventeenth Street, where commercial buildings were rapidly displacing a once-fashionable residential neighborhood during Denver’s silver boom of 1880–93. An Episcopal seminary and girls’ school called Wolfe Hall (1867–89) was demolished to clear the site at the corner of Champa Street.
To build the Boston, Wolcott and his eastern investors commissioned Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul, the same leading Boston firm that later designed the more refined Equitable Building in 1892. For the Boston Building, the firm designed an eight-story office tower with a ground-floor level a few steps below street grade. The tall building demonstrated that Denver was growing up as well as out, as technical advances such as water pumping, forced-air heating, and elevators paved the way for later Seventeenth Street towers such as the Equitable Building and the Brown Palace Hotel.
The Boston Building’s exterior is red sandstone quarried near Manitou Springs. Heavy cubes of red sandstone at its base and Romanesque arches on all eight floors give the building a Richardsonian Romanesque look. A consistent window pattern—round-arch windows atop square windows, all halved by central colonettes—gives the building a striking symmetry reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Although it now sports a modern lack of ornamentation, the building was designed with three majestic entry arches supporting a third-story balcony as well as an elaborate cornice with carved heads above an ornate frieze (a horizontal band of sculpted decorations). These flourishes were later removed when they began to deteriorate in Colorado’s rapidly changing weather and started to bombard the streets below. The interior featured finished oak with marble flooring and wainscoting, terrazzo floors, and three high-speed elevators.
Businesses and Boettchers
When it opened in 1890, the Boston Building attracted prosperous and progressive tenants such as the Colorado Midland Railroad, Denver Land and Water Storage Company, and Security Abstract and Rating Company. Numerous real estate offices operated in the building, including John M. Berkey and Company, the oldest real estate firm in the state. Berkey, with his good eye for real estate, was one of the building’s first investors and tenants. Other notable tenants included insurance companies such as Aetna and Mutual Life as well as several investment companies. The building also housed the Colorado Coal and Iron Company, predecessor of the giant Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The basement was home to one of Denver’s favorite restaurants and saloons.
In 1920 Claude Boettcher and associates bought the building for $490,000 and remodeled it. Claude and his father, Charles, Colorado’s leading industrialist and entrepreneur, made the Boston Building a home for their sprawling business empire, including the Boettcher Corporation, Boettcher Investments, Boettcher Realty, Big Horn Cattle, and Ideal Cement. In 1969 Boettcher and Company, then Colorado’s leading stock brokerage and the nation’s second-largest underwriter of municipal bonds outside New York City, bought the building. For decades, the Boettcher firms made the Boston Building the place to watch the ups and downs of the stock market.
Bank and Boston Lofts
By the late twentieth century, the elegant red monolith of the Boston Building stood in stark contrast to the concrete, glass, and steel newcomers on the Wall Street of the Rockies. In 1978 the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1998 a realty company acquired the Boston Building and renovated it along with the adjacent Kistler Building to create 158 one- and two-bedroom apartments, the Bank and Boston Lofts. Extensive interior remodeling included fifty low-to-moderate rents, while the ground floor was converted to house small retail outlets. This was one of the most significant Denver loft conversions of the 1990s, portending a major shift that brought many downtown sites full circle back to their much earlier use as single-family residences.