Frank E. Edbrooke (1841–1921), Colorado’s best-known and most-celebrated architect, designed more than seventy buildings, including many now-landmarked structures that helped define Denver’s built environment. He gave the city its first fine commercial buildings while also designing institutional and domestic architecture. His projects ranged from barns to Denver County Hospital. Edbrooke introduced new styles and techniques to the city, from the steel-frame, Richardsonian Romanesque–style Brown Palace Hotel (1892) to his own Queen Anne–inspired residence at 931 East 17th Avenue (1889).
Born on November 17, 1840, in a log cabin in Deerfield, Illinois, Frank was one of nine Edbrooke children. He attended Chicago public schools and later served in the Civil War with the Twelfth Illinois Cavalry. He trained in Chicago under his English-born father, contractor Robert J. Edbrooke, who with his sons rebuilt many structures after the infamous 1871 Chicago Fire. Also in 1871, Frank married Camilla S. Gilman; they had no children.
Move to Colorado
After helping his father in Chicago, Edbrooke worked on depots and hotels for the Union Pacific Railroad. He then came to Denver in 1879 to work for his architect brother, Willoughby. He supervised construction of the Tabor Block, at Sixteenth and Larimer Streets and the Tabor Grand Opera House at Sixteenth and Curtis Streets. The Tabor Grand, demolished in 1964, has been called the finest building ever constructed in Denver. Edbrooke soon started his own architecture practice in an office there.
Edbrooke became Colorado’s premier architect of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. He was a founding member of the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and his architectural firm, F. E. Edbrooke & Co., was the largest in the state. Many younger architects, including Edbrooke’s nephew Harry, got started there. No doubt these employees did some of the work attributed to him. A handsome, convivial, well-built man, Edbrooke sometimes joined in the physical construction work and was active in the city’s social and club scenes. He prided himself on a career free of accidents to his buildings or workers.
Style and Projects
Edbrooke used local red sandstone, granite, and brick to create massive yet graceful Richardsonian Romanesque structures. His masterpiece, the Brown Palace Hotel, is an engineering and stylistic landmark: a three-dimensional triangle wrapping an expansive nine-story atrium. It was featured on the cover of Scientific American magazine in May 1892 as a model of fireproof, steel-frame construction. Of Edbrooke’s surviving works, some of the best known are Central Presbyterian Church (1892), Denver Dry Goods (1889), Loretto Heights Academy (1891), the Denver Masonic Temple (1889), and the Oxford Hotel (1890), all in Denver; as well as the Toltec Hotel (1911) in Trinidad and the Ouray County Courthouse (1888).
Edbrooke’s last project, the Colorado State Museum (1915), at East Fourteenth Avenue and Sherman Street, is a neoclassical temple of history that has since been repurposed as a services building for the state legislature. Its snowy white Colorado Yule marble and Gunnison granite match the State Capitol across the street, for which Edbrooke served as the final architect. Like many state capitols of that era, it is modeled after the US Capitol. Its four-story cruciform body culminates in a three-tiered dome under a cap of gold reigning over Denver’s Civic Center.
Edbrooke retired in 1915 and died on May 21, 1921, in Glendale, California. He is buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery in a neoclassical mausoleum he designed.