Completed in 1911, the Tramway Building (1100 Fourteenth Street, Denver) consists of a striking red-and-white tower and adjacent car barn that originally served as the headquarters of the powerful Denver Tramway Company. In 1956 Tramway sold the building to the University of Colorado, which housed its Denver Center there after converting the car barn to classrooms. Students and faculty moved out after the Auraria Higher Education Center opened just across Cherry Creek in the late 1970s, and the University of Colorado later sold the building. In 1991 the Denver Center for the Performing Arts acquired the car barn, which now houses its education program, and in 1998 developers bought the tower and turned it into a boutique hotel called Hotel Teatro.
The Denver Tramway Company got its start in 1885, when former governor John Evans, his son William Gray Evans, William Byers, David Moffat, and other investors founded the Denver Electric & Cable Railway Company to operate streetcars for public transportation. Over the next fifteen years, Tramway blanketed Denver with a large network of lines as it competed with its main rival, the Denver City Cable Railway Company. Tramway’s conversion to electric lines in the 1890s gave it a decisive advantage, and by 1900 it had absorbed Denver City Cable Railway as well as most other competitors. As the main streetcar company in the city during the early 1900s, Tramway enjoyed unprecedented power—power that was ratified by the people in 1906, when voters narrowly approved the company’s franchise for another thirty years.
Its future secure, Tramway embarked on a period of expansion under William Gray Evans, who had become company president in 1902. Soon the company’s growth demanded a larger headquarters to house everyone under one roof. Planned and built from 1909 to 1911, the new Tramway Building was a full Evans family affair: William Gray Evans’s son John Evans II supervised construction in his role as Tramway’s chief engineer, and the building took shape on the site of the former Evans family residence. The location had the advantage of being just a block away from the Central Loop on Fifteenth Street where Tramway’s lines converged.
Designed by Denver architects William E. Fisher and Arthur A. Fisher, the Tramway Building consisted of two parts: an eight-story office tower rising up from Fourteenth Street and a two-story car barn stretching back along Arapahoe Street to Thirteenth. The office tower combined Renaissance Revival elements, such as the building’s rusticated terra-cotta base, contrasting facade of red brick and white terra-cotta, and prominent cornice, with the verticality and lack of corner ornamentation that characterized early Chicago School skyscrapers. Inside, the entrance lobby was awash in pink, white, and green marble. Above, the offices of the company’s general manager, treasurer, and auditor were connected by pneumatic tube for easy communication. Vaults and wall safes were built in throughout the tower, which also had its own plants for light, heat, and power. Behind the office tower lay Tramway’s car barn, where streetcars could be stored and serviced. A partial third story above the car barn contained facilities for Tramway’s streetcar operators, including an auditorium, reading room, barber shop, and gym.
The Tramway Building opened in May 1911. Denver Tramway initially occupied five floors in the office tower and rented the remaining three floors until it grew into the space.
CU in the City
Despite being the only streetcar company in Denver, Tramway faced a potent new rival starting in the 1910s—the automobile. Over the next few decades, automobile use soared while streetcar ridership declined. The company started to phase out streetcars before World War II, then completed the transition to trolley coaches (rubber-tired vehicles that connected to overhead wires for power) and diesel buses by 1950. Yet even these modernization efforts could not arrest its decline as Denver residents embraced postwar suburban car culture.
In 1955 Tramway moved its headquarters and garages to an industrial area a few miles south of downtown. A year later, the company sold its old headquarters building to the University of Colorado, which moved its Denver extension there. Some interior changes were necessary to turn the car barn into classrooms and the tower into offices, but the marble lobby and many other details remained. Outside, the building saw few changes aside from the addition of a full third floor over the car barn and the replacement of the car barn’s garage doors with human-scaled entrances in the early 1970s.
In 1977 the University of Colorado–Denver began to move classrooms and offices from the Tramway Building to the newly constructed Auraria Higher Education Center. In 1978 the Tramway Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and it was later made part of the Downtown Denver Historic District.
Hotel Teatro and the DCPA
The University of Colorado continued to own the Tramway Building even after its main Denver campus operations had moved. In 1991 the neighboring Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) bought the car barn portion of the building for additional office space, storage, and performance workshops. Today it is home to DCPA’s Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education.
The eight-story Tramway Building tower sat vacant for most of the 1990s. In 1998 developers Jeff Selby and Michael Brenneman acquired the tower and, with assistance from the State Historical Fund, hired David Owen Tryba Architects to adapt it into a boutique hotel. Much of the interior was gutted and rebuilt, and a set-back ninth-story penthouse was added on top. The marble lobby and striking red brick and white terra-cotta exterior were carefully restored. The building reopened in 1999 as Hotel Teatro, the name a nod to its location near the Denver Performing Arts Complex.