Centered on East Fourth Street, the Downtown Loveland Historic District comprises nine square blocks of the town’s original commercial district. Most of the district lies within the original town plat, and at least fourteen of its fifty-eight buildings date to the late nineteenth century. On account of its importance to the early and continued development of Loveland, the district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
The town of Loveland was established in 1877 and named for William A.H. Loveland, president of the Colorado Central Railroad. The town quickly developed from a railroad stop into an agricultural hub for local farmers, then into a commercial and political center in southeastern Larimer County. Today the town supports a population of about 71,000.
Loveland traces its beginnings back to the family of Mariano Medina, a Hispano trapper from Taos, New Mexico, who established a homestead along the Big Thompson River in 1858. The homestead soon grew into a small settlement thanks to its location along the Cherokee and Overland trails, which both saw increased traffic during the Colorado Gold Rush. Other families followed the Medinas, forming a community of homesteads in the Big Thompson valley. Traffic along the stagecoach trails declined as railroads expanded in the 1870s, and in 1877 William Loveland established the town of Loveland as he built his Colorado Central Railroad (CCR) north from Golden to link up with the transcontinental route in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Development of Loveland’s “Main Street”—East Fourth Street—began with John L. Herzinger and Samuel B. Harter’s two-story brick mercantile building, finished in 1878. Within the next year or two came the CCR depot and the Loveland Hotel. By 1886 East Fourth Street had a number of businesses, including banks, grocers, churches, tailors, drugstores, and furniture stores, as well as the Bartholf Opera House, which opened in 1884. Lumberyards and liveries, such as the Orvis and Corbin lumberyard and the Foote and Stoddard Livery, lie on the east end of downtown, while the Loveland Farmers Milling & Elevator Company moved to the west side.
Already a bustling district by the turn of the century, downtown Loveland further benefited from the Great Western Sugar Company’s sugar beet processing factory, completed northeast of downtown in 1901. The first such facility in northeastern Colorado, the factory led to an agricultural boom in the region and within the city limits. Loveland’s population more than tripled between 1900 and 1910, and twenty-four of the downtown historic district’s buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1909. The first three-story brick buildings went up during this period, including the Majestic Theatre in 1903 and the Union Block—today’s Lincoln Hotel—in 1905.
Like many other towns in the early twentieth century, the complexion of Loveland’s downtown district changed with the increasing popularity of the automobile. In Loveland, however, this change was brought about by the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), to the west, in 1915. Downtown businesses developed to serve the needs of motorists traveling to and from the park. B. L. Bonnell’s garage at 104 East Fourth Street helped repair and service automobiles and later became a series of car dealerships. Other downtown businesses equipped to serve RMNP tourists included the Loveland Steam Laundry, built in 1912, and the Lovelander Hotel, built in 1912–13.
One of the most notable architects who worked on buildings in Loveland’s historic district was Robert Fuller, a disciple of the famous Robert S. Roeschlaub and coheir to the Roeschlaub architecture firm. Fuller developed an addition to the Lovelander Hotel in 1919, designed the Rialto Theater on East Fourth Street in 1920, and redesigned the Herzinger & Harter/El Centro Building in 1930. Aside from Fuller’s work, other buildings remodeled between 1920 and 1940 include the Larimer County Bank and Trust Building in 1927 and the Bartholf Opera House in 1925 and 1938.
By the 1940s, downtown Loveland featured few undeveloped lots, and aside from a few building facelifts, relatively little new construction occurred thereafter. Beginning in the early 1970s, the town’s economy diversified to include computer manufacturing and bronze statuary. After the closure of the Great Western factory in 1985, Loveland’s downtown district tilted even more toward commercial art, especially sculpture. The city’s Art in Public Places program provided markets for local artists, and with the establishment of several casting foundries, the historic downtown district became a haven for galleries and studios. Today the city of Loveland is home to 200 unique sculpture pieces and ranks among the top artistic cities in the nation.
On account of the downtown district’s role in Loveland’s early development and the city’s transition from a purely agricultural economy to a more diverse, creative center, city officials began efforts to list the district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. In 2009 the city received a grant from the State Historical Fund to survey buildings and place the district in the register, but the grant was ultimately returned over the objections of business owners, who worried that the designation might incur excessive restrictions.
After spending a few years lobbying city council members and easing the concerns of business owners, city officials were ready for another attempt at placement in the National Register. In 2013, with another grant from the State Historical Fund, the city hired consultant Carl McWilliams of Cultural Resource Historians in Fort Collins to draft a National Register nomination form for the district. Two years later, the Downtown Loveland Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Three plaques at the corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Avenue now commemorate the designation, and city officials are working to incorporate the district into a revamped heritage tourism circuit in Loveland.