Located on the eastern edge of Denver, Lowry is one of the city’s newest neighborhoods but has old roots. The area was first developed in the early 1900s, when it became home to the Agnes C. Phipps Memorial Sanatorium, one of the largest of Colorado’s many tuberculosis sanitoria. With the advent of antibiotic treatments, the sanatorium site was closed in 1932 and converted five years later to an army airbase, which became a major military operation during World War II and the Cold War.
After the base closed in 1994, the site—roughly Quebec to Dayton Streets between East Alameda and East Eleventh Avenues—was converted to civilian use. It has become one of the country’s most successful reincarnations of a military site as a New Urbanist community.
In the 1800s, the Cheyenne and Arapaho camped along Westerly Creek, an intermittent stream bisecting what is now Lowry. Whites showed up with the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858–59 and began taking the land for their own uses, expelling the Cheyenne and Arapaho by 1870. An Episcopal school, Jarvis Hall, started in 1888 at today’s East Eleventh Avenue and Syracuse Street. After that school burned down, the next dreamer for what is now Lowry was Baron Walter von Richthofen, developer of nearby Montclair, who planned a grand resort and health spa that never materialized.
Agnes C. Phipps Memorial Sanatorium
In 1902 Lawrence Cowle Phipps paid $50,000 for 160 acres of what is now the Lowry neighborhood. Phipps had come to Colorado a year earlier for his wife’s health. He was a wealthy man, having just retired as treasurer and vice president of the Carnegie Steel Company, which he and Andrew Carnegie had sold at a large profit to US Steel. In Colorado, Phipps became even wealthier by investing in health care, utilities, railroads, and other ventures.
On his east Denver property, Phipps built the Agnes C. Phipps Memorial Sanatorium, named in honor of his mother, a tuberculosis victim. Phipps lavished an estimated $1 million to build one of the largest and most posh of Colorado sanatoria. The 150-bed health haven opened in 1904. Large, screened porches captured Colorado’s dry air and sunshine. Patients could sleep outside or in tent cottages even on winter days. All eighteen main structures of the sprawling sanatorium were designed by noted Denver architects Aaron Gove and Thomas Walsh. Their other works included Denver’s Union Station and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Phipps had other interests while serving as a US senator from 1919 to 1931. Newer treatment methods, including antibiotics such as streptomycin, reduced the number of chronic consumptives seeking treatment in sanatoria, leading Phipps to close what had once been a state-of-the-art tuberculosis center in 1932.
Lowry Air Force Base
The city of Denver soon eyed the sanatorium site as a spot for the national Army Air Corps Technical School, which was looking for a new home and promised to bring jobs and investment along with it. In 1935 Denver voters approved a bond issue to pay Phipps for the site, which Denver offered to the army along with a 64,000-acre bombing range site twenty miles to the southeast. When the congressional selection committee came to town, Denver leaders wined and dined them. Denver boosters treated them to a tour of Denver Mountain Parks and a boozy farewell dance. The committee was impressed, or at least entertained, and Denver got the base.
The new base was named for Lieutenant Francis Brown Lowry, a Denver native and one of the first aerial observers shot down over enemy lines during World War I. An earlier National Guard field between East Thirty-Sixth and Thirty-Eighth Avenues on Dahlia Street—which had also been named for Lowry—was absorbed into the new Lowry, which opened in 1937.
Lowry operated for fifty-seven years. It trained military personnel from all branches of the US and allied forces, focusing on technical training, including aerial photography. During World War II, the base population reached 20,000. They operated round the clock in three shifts, seven days a week. After the Army Air Corps became the US Air Force in 1947, Lowry remained a major installation, employing more than 10,000 military and civilians. Base highlights included serving as President Dwight Eisenhower’s summer White House in 1953–55. Lowry became the first site of the US Air Force Academy, housing students from 1955 to 1958 while the current campus in Colorado Springs was under construction. Lowry also provided training for Titan and “Peacekeeper” intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) during the Cold War years. With the end of the Cold War, Lowry closed in 1994 after training more than 1.1 million military personnel.
Closing the base imperiled jobs and the economy in Denver and Aurora (which borders Lowry on the east and included one-tenth of the base’s land). To soften the blow, Denver and Aurora officials, representatives from nearby neighborhoods, and other interested parties began planning a new community for the site with mixed residential, commercial, and office uses. The neighborhood plan reflected New Urbanist ideals and established tight guidelines calling for green space and parks, schools, and affordable housing. New Urbanist design downplays automobiles, which are hidden in rear garages, and promotes pedestrian and bicycle activity through a dense mix of work, play, and retail uses.
Numerous regulated developers were involved in building out the neighborhood, whose housing was designed in various reincarnated styles characteristic of Denver’s earlier development, including Queen Anne, Tudor, Colonial Revival, bungalow, Foursquare, and Mediterranean. The neighborhood includes a public library, the Jackie Robinson Baseball Field, public art, and the pedestrian-friendly Lowry Town Center with restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. Various public and private schools, from kindergarten to the Community College of Aurora, offer educational opportunities. With ongoing residential and commercial development, the neighborhood kept growing during the 2000s.
Even as the new neighborhood took shape, Lowry preserved many of the finest buildings from its past. Oldest among them—dating from the sanatorium era—is the Spanish Colonial Revival–style Commander’s House (1904) at 7400 East Sixth Avenue, now a private residence. Creative rehabilitations include converting the fire station to the Denver Free University and the steam plant to lofts. Other military-era buildings have been repurposed for a wide variety of new uses. Bachelor officers’ quarters became a senior living center, while the wooden chapel built in 1941 is now the Eisenhower Chapel, a community center.
Many of Lowry’s most significant historic buildings are celebrated and preserved in two designated local historic districts. The Officers’ Row Historic District, along Rampart Way and East Fourth and East Sixth Avenues, contains sixteen houses and fifteen duplexes (some now part of the Stanley British Primary School campus) and the Commander’s House. The Lowry Technical Training Center Historic District embraces the Lowry Field Brick Barracks (1940), which is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Parade Grounds, classrooms and laboratory buildings, and the huge Hangars No. 1 and No. 2 (1939). Hangar No. 1 was reborn in 1994 as the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, which features a history of Lowry and aviation in general. A giant B-52 bomber out front makes it easy to find. Hangar No. 2 now houses a storage facility and shops, restaurants, and the Lowry Beer Garden.
Today, Lowry boasts more than 800 acres of parks and open space and features playgrounds, amphitheaters, a golf course and an ice arena, a recreation center and a pool, a dog park, a sports complex and fields, and hiking and biking trails. A mix of single-family houses, duplexes, condos, and apartments promote economic diversity.
Lowry has received national awards for the fastest and best conversion of a military base to civilian purposes. It has attracted many younger families, drawn by newer houses and schools and green space. As of 2020, the neighborhood had 10,463 residents, of whom 76.8 percent were white, 9.7 percent Latino, and 5.9 percent Black. Careful planning and zoning, including landmarked homages to past uses, have made Lowry a popular model community.