Temple Hoyne Buell (1895–1990) was a leading Colorado architect, developer, socialite, and philanthropist from 1923 to 1990. By 1940, he headed the largest architectural firm in the Rocky Mountain region. A tall, handsome bon vivant noted for his wit, charm, and steady stock of anecdotes, Buell excelled at recruiting clients. He designed more than 300 buildings in a wide variety of styles before his firm closed in 1989; his most notable designs and developments include the Paramount Theatre (1929), Norlin Library (1939), Denargo Market (1939), Cherry Creek Shopping Center (1955), and Cherry Hills Village, which incorporated in 1945. Buell lived to be ninety-four despite his fondness for alcohol, women, partying, and fat Cuban cigars (which he only mouthed). A wealthy man, Buell gave away millions of dollars to various educational and cultural institutions during his lifetime. Today, his philanthropic foundation gives some $12 million per year to early childhood and teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Born on September 9, 1895, Temple Hoyne Buell was the oldest of three children in a prominent Chicago family. His great-great-grandfather, Dr. John Temple, was one of thirteen early residents who helped incorporate the city in 1833. His grandfather, Thomas Hoyne, was a mayor, his father a prominent attorney. Showing a precocious interest in his future career at fifteen, Buell invented a draftsman pen that would hold ink, eliminating the need for constant dipping. His design is still used today. In 1912 he completed architectural training at the University of Illinois, followed by a graduate degree in architecture at Columbia University.
In 1917 Buell enlisted in the Army for World War I. Serving in the Allied Expeditionary Force in France, Second Lieutenant Buell was in a trench mortar battery at the Battle of Château-Thierry, where he inhaled phosgene (mustard) gas and had to return to Chicago.
In his hometown, Buell started his architectural career in 1919 with the firm of Marshall and Fox, designers of some of the city’s best-known hotels. From 1920 to 1921, he worked for C. L. Rapp and George L. Rapp, who specialized in movie palaces. In 1921 he married Margery Callae McIntosh, a wealthy socialite whose family had founded one of the world’s largest finance companies, Household Finance Corporation of Chicago. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1958 and was followed by two brief marriages and numerous alleged affairs.
Coming to Colorado
The same year as his marriage, Buell was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis exacerbated by his wartime gassing. In pursuit of the dry, sunny Colorado climate, he moved to Denver to spend two months convalescing in the Oaks Home Sanatorium. While still recovering, he joined the Denver firm of Montjoy and Frewen, which was noted for designing schools. In 1923 he branched out on his own as T. H. Buell and Company, which also specialized in school design. His first completed building in Denver was the College Hall addition to the University Club (1673 Sherman Street).
In the following decades, Buell expanded his architecture to federal and state government buildings, federal public housing, telephone company buildings, numerous schools, and other work. He designed more than forty-five residences, including an experimental prefabricated house.
In 1929 Buell created one of his most famous buildings and Denver’s greatest Art Deco movie palace, the Paramount Theatre. The most ornate of all Colorado movie theaters, it was a gem in the coast-to-coast chain of exuberant movie houses built by Paramount Publix. Distinguished by its elaborate white terra-cotta facade and a fanciful interior, the Paramount is now Denver’s sole surviving downtown movie palace. Buell and others regarded it as one of his finest designs. After a 1980s restoration, it continues to operate as a theater. Drawing on his training with the noted Rapp and Rapp theater designers, Buell also designed the American Theater (1927) in Colorado Springs and the Sterling Auditorium (1931).
Schools and Government Buildings
In 1939 Buell completed one of the most admired of his many schools, Horace Mann Junior High (4130 Navajo Street, Denver). This project featured Buell’s signature protruding brickwork, which he also used to great effect at Mullen Nurses Home (1933) at St. Joseph Hospital. He explained, “If you set brick out from a wall in a pattern, you achieve a constantly changing mosaic of light and shadow.” Buell dubbed this aesthetic “ornamental brick.”
Buell designed twenty-six Denver Public Schools and as many in other Colorado towns. Among the most notable survivors are Oak Creek Elementary (1924) in Oak Creek, Fruita High (1935) in Fruita, and Steven Knight Elementary (1951) in Denver. Buell also worked on college and university buildings, most notably the Geophysics Building (1939) at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Savage Library (1939) at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, and Norlin Library (1939) at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Buell’s work on schools and government buildings, often with New Deal funding, enabled him to do well even during the Great Depression. Likewise, his continuing work for the federal government and military construction carried him through World War II. After partnering with G. Meredith Musick to design an addition to the US Customs House (1941) in downtown Denver, Buell landed twelve other major federal projects between 1942 and 1958, many for military bases. He also undertook thirteen federal public-housing projects statewide between 1942 and 1952.
Of his five state buildings, Buell was proudest of his neoclassical State Services Building (1956), a formal, almost temple-like edifice across Colfax Avenue from the State Capitol.
Denver’s Busiest Architect
During the middle of the twentieth century, Buell’s architectural firm was the largest in the Rocky Mountain region, and his buildings were routinely lauded. For example, his Denargo Market (1939) was almost immediately named one of Denver’s ten finest structures by Architectural Record. His other work ranged widely, from the now-demolished Denver Post Building (1949) to United Airlines Hangar #5 (1945) and other buildings at Lowry Air Force Base and Stapleton International Airport. During the 1950s, he designed thirty-one buildings for the Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Company.
Buell operated out of the former Atlas Hotel at 730 Fourteenth Street, a mess of a building that he dressed up as the Buell Building. He worked there from 1935 to his death. In its main second-story window stood a life-size suit of armor. Professionally, Buell served as secretary of the Colorado chapter of the American Institute of Architects for ten years and as president of the Colorado Architects Small House Service Bureau, which promoted affordable, architect-designed houses for the middle class.
Socially, Buell was in high demand as a guest. He kept company with mayors, governors, and Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
Buell the Developer
Buell is perhaps best known as the developer of Cherry Creek Shopping Center (1955), the country’s second central-mall shopping center (after Kansas City’s J. C. Nichols Country Club Plaza). Buell built the mall on fifty acres he purchased for $25,000 from a sand and gravel company in 1925. At that time, the land lay at the city’s edge and lined Cherry Creek as a dump and landfill. But Buell believed the area had potential—especially after the Cherry Creek Dam was completed in 1950, reducing the risk of flooding—because it was close to downtown and in the city’s fastest-growing and wealthiest quadrant.
Today we take mall design for granted, but at the time Buell planned Cherry Creek, it was novel to have an open-air, pedestrian-only interior court enclosed by storefronts, with parking lots surrounding the shops. As Colorado’s first mall and competition for downtown shopping, this buyers’ haven has been growing since it opened. It both took advantage of and accelerated postwar suburbanization and car culture by making it easy to drive to the mall, park, and shop at a string of newly opened stores. Buell also planned the mall’s $185 million expansion in 1981, which anticipated the proliferation of high rises in the area.
Buell built his first Denver mansion at 106 South University Boulevard, on the south side of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. He later moved to another mansion he built for himself in Cherry Hills Village, for which he served as city planner. Denverites began moving to the area as early as the 1920s, but most development came after World War II. Buell’s idea of Cherry Hills as an affluent, spacious country area with horses, unpaved roads, no post office, restrictive zoning, and a rural feel shapes Cherry Hills to this day. He designed the Cherry Hills Village Club, Buell Lake, and Buell Mansion, all reminders of his role in helping to create Denver’s toniest suburb. Through his Buell Development Company, he helped plan Cherry Hills Country Club, the state’s finest golf course.
Philanthropy and Legacy
Buell’s designs and developments made him a wealthy man, and during his later years, he began to give some of his money away. In 1962 he created the Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation. He donated $5 million to Columbia University to endow the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, $2.5 million for the Heart Center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (now Anschutz Medical Center), $6 million to the University of Illinois for the Temple Hoyne Buell Hall at the School of Architecture, $500,000 to the University of Colorado at Denver for its College of Architecture and Planning, $3 million to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts for the Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre, $1 million to the Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center for the Buell Children’s Museum in Pueblo, and $500,000 to History Colorado for the History Colorado Center.
Buell’s largest giveaway, a $25 million trust, was to go posthumously to Colorado Women’s College with the proviso that it be renamed for him. But problems soon emerged. For one thing, Buell’s name sounded to many people like a synagogue, not a college. For another, other donors stopped contributing to the college, which was not to receive Buell’s money until he died. Strapped financially in the meantime, the college withdrew from the agreement in 1973 and kept its name.
Buell died on January 5, 1990, at age ninety-four. Work for him was play. He never tired of planning, developing, and drawing, which kept him going deep into old age. He designed his own ornate, polished-granite mausoleum at Fairmount Cemetery. It is guarded by two statues of exotic Egyptian female figures, titled Princess and Pauper. Buell spent his whole, long career with the Princess, never the Pauper. To the surprise of funeral-goers, he had designed the mausoleum too narrow for his frame. His casket had to be angled in before the door could be shut.
Many of Buell’s buildings had already been landmarked while he was still alive. His Paramount Theatre, Horace Mann Junior High School, and Mullen Nurses Home survive as some of the state’s best Art Deco. He also excelled at Spanish Colonial Revival, as seen at Savage Library in Gunnison. Many of his schools and government buildings survive, too, as tributes to the functionality of his designs. Perhaps no other major Colorado architect proved as flexible in experimenting with different styles. In addition to his architecture, his philanthropy keeps Buell in the public eye, a place he loved to be. Today the Buell Foundation continues to give away roughly $12 million per year.