The Ross-Broadway Branch of the Denver Public Library was built in 1950–51 using funds from the organization’s Frederick R. Ross Library Trust. Designed by Victor Hornbein, the building at the corner of East Bayaud Avenue and South Lincoln Street features Usonian design elements reminiscent of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Today the popular library continues to serve the Speer and Baker neighborhoods with a collection of about 20,000 volumes.
Expanding Denver Public Library’s Reach
In 1910 funding from Andrew Carnegie allowed the Denver Public Library (DPL) to open its first permanent home at what is now the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park. Over the next decade, more money from the Carnegie Foundation helped DPL establish eight smaller branch libraries scattered throughout the city. Real estate investor Frederick R. Ross played a large role in DPL’s growth during these years. Appointed to the Denver Library Commission by Mayor Robert Speer in 1906, Ross headed the committee responsible for the library’s 1910 building and then supervised construction of the library’s Carnegie-funded neighborhood branches. In 1920 he became president of the Denver Library Board, a post he held until his death in 1938.
Upon Ross’s death, part of his estate went into a trust designed to help DPL establish four new branch libraries and purchase books for existing libraries. Administered by Ross’s business partner Cyrus Hackstaff, the Frederick R. Ross Library Trust Fund grew through shrewd real estate investments until it was used in 1951 to establish the first Ross branch library, known as Ross-Broadway. Over the next decade, Ross money also funded the Ross-Barnum (1954), Ross-University Hills (1962), and Ross–Cherry Creek (1962) branches.
Building the Ross-Broadway Branch
The Ross-Broadway Branch was located on East Bayaud Avenue between South Broadway and South Lincoln Street. DPL had a long presence in the area, but only in rented buildings—first on West Irvington Place starting in the 1920s, then in a storefront at Ellsworth Avenue and South Broadway after the mid-1930s. As early as 1936, DPL had plans to eventually construct a new building as a permanent home for the Broadway Branch. After the Great Depression and World War II had passed, the Ross Trust made it possible to achieve that goal.
Planning for the Ross-Broadway Branch started in 1950, with the commission for the building’s design going to Denver architect Victor Hornbein. Best known for his later work on the Denver Botanic Gardens Conservatory (1964), Hornbein often worked in the Usonian style based on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. For the Ross-Broadway Branch, Hornbein employed several distinctive Usonian design elements, including a low building profile, projecting overhangs, and bands of windows above eye level.
Ground was broken for the library in July 1950. Partly inspired by Detroit’s new Benjamin Franklin Library, the irregularly shaped one-story building had a raised concrete foundation, steel frame, brick walls, and staggered flat rooflines. Inside, the nearly 3,600-square-foot library had exposed brick walls and oak shelves. The open interior’s staggered ceiling heights helped define different spaces, with the children’s area in the shorter bay at the building’s east end, the main collection and circulation desk in the higher-ceilinged central section, and a lecture hall at the building’s west end.
When the $73,500 building opened in November 1951, it became the first new DPL building in more than thirty years. Library users greeted it with excitement, not least because it was the first branch in the DPL system to have radiant heat. The building received glowing praise in the pages of Progressive Architecture in October 1953, and Hornbein later named it his favorite project.
Building the four Ross branch libraries did not deplete the Ross Trust, which received a new infusion after Ross’s son John died in 1975 and a trust in his name reverted to DPL. That year, DPL bought several brick buildings that stood north of the Ross-Broadway Branch and demolished them to make way for a library parking lot. By the early 1990s, the Ross Trust had enough money to help pay for renovations and updates at all four Ross branches. While some of the other Ross branches saw major alterations, the Ross-Broadway Branch remained largely unchanged. The lecture hall on the west side of the building is now a reading room.
Still an active library, the Ross-Broadway Branch now has a collection of about 20,000 volumes, including notable sections devoted to children’s books and LGBTQ literature. A relatively rare example of a well-preserved Usonian building in Denver, the library was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.