Jacques Benedict (1879–1948), one of Colorado’s best-known and most-flamboyant architects, designed some of Colorado’s grandest Beaux Arts city homes and rustic mountain residences, as well as notable churches, libraries, schools, a town hall, shelters in Denver’s Mountain Parks, and a few commercial buildings. Practicing in Denver from 1909 to 1942, he is credited with at least eighty known buildings, mostly in metro Denver. He eschewed modern styles, preferring to work in various European revival modes. A perfectionist, he insisted on the finest materials and craftsmanship and paid particular attention to graceful interiors. Handsome and immaculately dressed, Benedict was a sought-after dinner guest, the state’s “society architect.”
Jules Jacques Benois Benedict was born on April 22, 1879, in Chicago. He grew up in the city before studying at Chicago’s Art Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1899 he joined the prominent architectural firm of Frost and Granger in Chicago, then moved to Paris three years later to attend the École des Beaux-Arts, the world’s premier school of architecture. In Paris the well-heeled Benedict enjoyed the life of a boulevardier with a fine wardrobe and a valet. European touches learned at the École des Beaux-Arts characterized Benedict buildings, which borrowed from French provincial, Italianate, Spanish, and Mediterranean styles. Many Benedict plans feature intricate terra cotta or stone doorways, gracefully arched doors and windows, fireplaces, and decorative plastered or painted ceilings. He fancied locally quarried rhyolite, travertine, other marbles, native stone, stucco, terra cotta, and clay tile roofing. Leaving Paris after completing his studies in 1906, Benedict joined the top New York firm of Carrere & Hastings, whose projects included the main New York City Public Library, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Flagler Estate in Florida.
In 1909 Benedict moved to Denver and established his own firm, which prospered due to his credentials, unique artistic design, and social connections. He married June Brown, the daughter of John Sidney Brown, a wealthy merchant. They lived on a farm in Littleton, where Benedict raised cattle, fine hogs, and bull terriers. In Littleton Benedict designed a notable Beaux Arts Town Hall (1920, now the Town Hall Arts Center) and the Littleton Carnegie Public Library (1917, now a restaurant). His farm has become Ketring Lake Park and his elaborate home a Carmelite monastery.
Strongly opinionated, Benedict sometimes overruled his clients’ wishes, a rare practice among architects. When commissioned to do the Denver Public Library’s Woodbury Branch and given a budget of no more than $14,000, he personally raised the additional $4,000 to make the building an exquisite example of the style he called “Florentine Renaissance.” He developed a reputation as a difficult, demanding architect, a perfectionist with maniacal attention to detail. An eccentric who refused to join the American Institute of Architects, he also condemned the coalition of Denver architects commissioned to design Denver’s City and County Building (1932), for which he created his own, rejected counterproposal.
Benedict’s first completed residence was McDonough House (1909), on West Forty-Sixth Avenue. His largest was Belmar (1937, now demolished), a Lakewood mansion inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles for The Denver Post heiress May Bonfils. His surviving Weckbaugh Mansion (1933), just south of the Denver Country Club at 1701 East Cedar Avenue, is Colorado’s finest specimen of the Norman French Chateau style. Other large Benedict residences dot Denver’s East Seventh Avenue and Morgan’s Subdivision Historic Districts, including the Richard Campbell House (1926), now the Denver Botanic Gardens House. Benedict made major additions and remodeling for Richthofen Castle (1924) in the Montclair neighborhood and Highlands Ranch Mansion (1932) in Douglas County. He also designed several large homes in the Broadmoor neighborhood in Colorado Springs.
Rocky Mountain Rustic
Although best known for his exquisite Beaux Arts residential designs, Benedict also championed a “Colorado Alpine” style, a variation on the eastern Adirondack style, for mountain residences and mountain park shelters. For his rustic designs, Benedict typically used native stone, local logs, branch trim, and bark roofs to make buildings that looked like an extension of their natural environment. One of the first Alpine residences, the Paul T. Mayo Residence (1920) at 32743 Upper Bear Creek Road in Evergreen, included a cloister. Atop Mt. Morrison, Benedict built a stone mansion for John Brisben Walker. On nearby Mt. Falcon, he designed a never-completed castle intended to serve as the Summer White House for US presidents. His largest Alpine lodge was the $1.5 million, twenty-seven-room Baehr Lodge (1927), now part of Pine Valley Ranch Park.
In addition to mountain residences, Benedict also shaped the rustic look of the Denver Mountain Parks system. Of his most elaborate mountain parks lodge, Chief Hosa Lodge (1923) at Genesee Park, Benedict wrote, “Chief Hosa Lodge was always there. We simply piled up rock layers, leaving some openings for light . . . [then] laid the felled trunks across the top and called it a lodge.” Using this mix of large boulders and local logs, he also constructed the Echo Lake Lodge (1926) at the base of the Mt. Evans Highway as well as rustic shelters for Bergen Park (1915), Daniels Park (1920s), Filius Park (1918), and Summit Lake (c. 1935). Benedict designed a somewhat different look for the Dedisse Park Clubhouse, also known as the Keys on the Green (1925), an octagonal, peeled-log restaurant in Evergreen.
For the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, Benedict designed churches and schools. Some regard his St. Thomas Seminary (1926–31, now renamed for St. John Vianney) at the Archdiocese, with its chapel a stained-glass marvel reminiscent of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, as his finest work. St. Catherine Chapel (1934) at Camp St. Malo is a stone-and-glass wonder perched on a rocky outcropping near Allenspark. In 1926 Benedict added a stylish arcade and rectory to St. Joseph Catholic Church. A decade later, he designed the cloisters, memorial prayer garden, and monastery for St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Auraria. For other denominations, he designed Beaux Arts structures, including the First Church of Divine Science (1922), at 1400 Williams Street in Denver, and First Presbyterian Church (1930), at 1609 West Littleton Boulevard in Littleton.
After Benedict’s death, his longtime protégé and chief assistant, John K. Monroe, finished many of his projects, including Catholic churches of Holy Ghost, Christ the King, Good Shepherd, and St. Vincent De Paul. Benedict, who converted to Catholicism late in his life, is buried in Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Wheat Ridge.
Benedict’s few commercial buildings include only one that still stands, the Cullen-Thompson Motor Company (1926), at 1000 Broadway, more recently known as the Sports Castle. The finest of all Colorado’s automobile showrooms, this four-story French Gothic design showcases stained-glass windows featuring the winged wheels of the Chrysler Company. The nine-story Central Savings Bank (1911) at Fifteenth and Arapahoe Streets was a highly praised Renaissance Revival building where Benedict once had an office. It was demolished in 1990 despite protests from preservationists. Other downtown demolitions include Benedict’s Flat Iron Building (1913) and his remodel and expansion of the Albany Hotel (1930s). His remodel of the Colorado Building (1935), at 1609 California Street, survives, its Art Deco twist showing one of Benedict’s only concessions to modern styles.
Benedict also designed some civic and school architecture around Denver. He donated the Benedict Fountain (1922, rebuilt in 1977) in a wading pool in what is now Benedict Park and a duplicate fountain (c. 1937) in Hungarian Freedom Park. His Washington Park Boating Pavilion (1913) survives, but his exquisite Sunken Gardens Pavilion (1914) and wading pool are gone, as is the Dennison Memorial Building (1914) at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Benedict’s two Denver elementary schools are Park Hill (1901) and Rosedale (1924). His last work was the Steinhauer Fieldhouse (1942?) at Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
Benedict retired in 1942 and died on January 16, 1948. His work is generally so uniquely attractive and so well done that most of it survives to this day. His style did not change much over the years, as he stuck to Beaux Arts European for his residences and rustic for his mountain buildings. Many of his designs were covered in the Architectural Record and Western Architect and are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. With his notoriously temperamental character, he burned many of his drawings, but some Benedict materials survive in Norlin Library at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the Library of Congress.