Denver’s eight-story Ideal Building (821 Seventeenth Street) claims to be the first major building west of the Mississippi River constructed entirely of reinforced concrete. Built in 1907, it originally housed Charles Boettcher’s Ideal Cement Company before being sold to the Denver National Bank, which hired William E. and Arthur A. Fisher to completely redesign the building in 1927. Now owned by the Bank of Oklahoma, this cornerstone of Denver’s Seventeenth Street financial district, known as the Wall Street of the Rockies, is in the National Register of Historic Places and part of Denver’s Downtown Historic District.
The Ideal Building was completed in 1907 for Charles Boettcher, the state’s leading entrepreneur, and his Dome Investment Company partner Frederick G. Bonfils, cofounder of The Denver Post. Designed by Denver architects Montana Fallis and John J. Stein in the Commercial (or Chicago) Style as a flat-roofed high-rise, the $250,000 building served as headquarters for Boettcher’s Portland Cement Company—later called Ideal, then Ideal Basic Industries. To promote his cement, Boettcher had its concrete floor subjected to an 1,800-degree Fahrenheit flame. In repeated demonstrations, the press and spectators gathered to watch the all-concrete structure survive undamaged. Subsequently, reinforced concrete replaced old-fashioned steel frame, wood, and brick as the way to build large buildings across the country.
In 1924 the Dome Investment Company sold the building for $500,000 to Denver National Bank (DNB), which soon embarked on a spectacular remodeling. In this major 1927 makeover, the original design was expanded and largely transformed by William E. and Arthur A. Fisher, then Colorado’s largest and most notable architectural firm. To enlarge the building, the Fishers added a penthouse atop the eight-story building as well as an eight-story rear addition nearly identical to the original fifty-foot-deep 1907 structure. The Fishers faced the two street-level floors with large blocks of dressed travertine marble from quarries near Cotopaxi. The upper six floors, originally red brick, were stuccoed over by the Fishers. The monumental, two-story arched entrance has an eagle keystone carved by Denver artist Clara S. Dieran. The massive cast-bronze doors, each weighing one ton, contain sculptured bas-relief panels of southwestern Indigenous dancers by another local artist, Nena de Brennecke.
Inside lay a palatial two-story lobby illuminated by two stained-glass skylights. Denver artist John Thompson decorated the ceiling beams with reds, blues, browns, and gold to complement the skylights. The ceiling is further adorned with decorative panels by Dieran. The ceiling is supported by steel columns simulating marble. Their Byzantine capitals feature Western motifs such as cactus and buffalo. Arnold Rönnebeck, a leading local artist, sculpted the panels for the frieze, The History of Money, ringing the lobby at the mezzanine level. Its panels illustrate the role of money in history, from ancient China to the modern age. DNB’s redesign of the lobby also did away with barred teller cages and installed new decorative tables to lend an atmosphere of friendly openness.
DNB occupied the first floor of the building. The Fishers had their own office on the top floor, and in between other tenants included real estate offices, the Portland Cement Association, and investigating and insurance firms. The penthouse featured a barbershop remembered as a popular morning meeting place where movers and shakers had their hair trimmed and shaved while networking.
DNB owned and operated out of the Ideal Building until 1959, when it sold to Ambrose and Company, a real estate firm that officed in the building. The bank’s huge basement was converted to the Broker Restaurant with a spectacular private dining room inside the massive inner vault with its 3,500-pound round door. In 1976 Ambrose sold the building to the Colorado Federal Savings and Loan Association for $1.1 million. Colorado Federal spent an estimated $2 million restoring the bank to its 1927 pinnacle. In 1977 the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
From 1988 to 1994, the Ideal Building housed the Women’s Bank, a Denver pioneer and one of the first women’s banks nationally as well as one of the most successful, selling in 1994 for nearly $17.5 million to the Colorado Business Bank. CoBiz, as it is popularly called, did a meticulous million-dollar restoration of the building’s grandiose lobby. In 2000 the building became part of Denver’s Downtown Historic District. In 2020 the Bank of Oklahoma bought CoBiz and the Ideal Building.