The Denver City Cable Railway Building (1201 Eighteenth Street) was built in 1889 as the company’s new headquarters and wheelhouse for its system of cable cars. As a central piece of Denver’s large cable-car network, which was one of the most extensive in the country, the building helped made the physical expansion of the city possible. Yet transit technology changed quickly, and the building served its original purpose for only a decade before the Denver City Cable Railway went bankrupt and its lines were replaced by electric streetcars.
The building later served as a warehouse and automobile garage before being saved from demolition in the early 1970s and turned into an Old Spaghetti Factory. Today the building is home to a miniature golf–themed restaurant called Urban Putt.
Early Public Transportation in Denver
The Denver City Cable Railway Company started in 1871 as the Denver Horse Railroad Company, the city’s first effort to provide public transportation. Taking advantage of Denver’s booming growth, the company built a track along Larimer and Champa Streets from West Denver (Auraria) to Curtis Park. Horses pulled cars along the tracks, enabling people to commute longer distances more easily and allowing Curtis Park to become Denver’s first streetcar suburb. As the city continued to grow over the next decade, the Denver Horse Railroad Company became Denver City Railway and expanded its network to more than fifteen miles of track served by forty-five horsecars, all operating out of a car barn near Union Station.
New Wheelhouse and Headquarters
Denver’s transit industry became fiercely competitive in the late 1880s and early 1890s, when new technologies such as the cable car and the electric streetcar overtook the horse. Rival companies fought to implement these technologies in their rapidly expanding networks, which shaped the physical growth of the city. Starting in 1888, Denver City Railway invested heavily in cable cars, which used an underground cable to pull cars along the street, and changed its name to Denver City Cable Railway.
To drive its cables at ten miles per hour, Denver City Cable needed a large wheelhouse. It built one at the corner of Eighteenth and Lawrence Streets, which also served as its new headquarters. The two-story brick building was a particularly fine example of the round-arched style often used for industrial architecture at the time. A great arch framed the building’s Eighteenth Street entrance, while a series of arched bays along the walls set off pairs of arched windows. Intricate brickwork between the bays, at the corners, and above each story helped break up the building’s huge size, which measured 125 feet by 150 feet. A 110-foot smokestack rose from the building’s rear. Inside, the building’s 54,000 square feet provided space for a wheelhouse, power plant, car barn, and corporate offices.
Denver City Cable’s network opened in the fall of 1889 with three lines—on Larimer, Welton, and Sixteenth Streets—using five cables. The Welton line stretched 36,850 feet (about 7 miles), the longest in the United States at the time; it was later surpassed only by the Lexington Avenue line in New York City. The wheelhouse was built with extra capacity—up to thirteen cables—to allow for expansions. The company eventually built a thirty-mile cable network on seven lines, the largest cable system ever driven by a single powerhouse. The company’s main rival, the Denver Tramway Company, also had about thirty miles of cable lines, giving the city one of the most extensive cable-car networks in the United States.
Yet that extensive cable-car network soon became outdated as new electric streetcars powered by overhead lines proved superior to cable cars in most situations. Denver City Cable built some electric streetcars, but it lagged significantly behind Denver Tramway, which had converted all its lines to electric by 1893. After the Panic of 1893, Denver Tramway began to gobble up smaller competitors and incorporate them into its efficient electric network; meanwhile, Denver City Cable declined. It went bankrupt in 1893, reorganized, and then went bankrupt again in 1898. It was soon acquired by Tramway, which converted all its cable lines to electric streetcars by 1900.
Parking and Preservation
After Denver City Cable’s lines were electrified, the company’s old wheelhouse was rendered obsolete. Its large interior spaces proved ideal for warehouse and industrial use. In the early 1900s, it housed Morse Brothers Machinery and the S.H. Supply Company. Later, as automobiles gained popularity, the building was converted to a garage and served for a time as a Hertz truck-rental location.
By the early 1970s, the building was slated for demolition by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA), which was clearing much of downtown for redevelopment. Before DURA could knock the building down, however, it caught the eye of the owner of the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant chain, who hoped to open a Denver location there. He got in touch with local contractor and preservationist James Judd, who quickly rallied the city council to save the building. Judd then bought the building from DURA for $150,000 and rehabilitated it for use as a restaurant and office space.
In 1973 Old Spaghetti Factory opened in the building, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The Old Spaghetti Factory became known for its railroad theme, which included an old cable car inside its expansive dining room.
Judd’s family owned the Denver City Cable building until 2007, when they sold it for $7 million to developers who planned to use it as a base for two hotel towers. The Great Recession derailed those plans.
The Old Spaghetti Factory remained the building’s main tenant until it closed in 2018. Its space was taken over by Urban Putt, a San Francisco–based company that builds extravagant indoor miniature-golf courses that include a restaurant and bar. Urban Putt spent $5 million renovating the interior and opened in September 2019 with two nine-hole courses.