William Ellsworth Fisher (1871–1937) headed one of the largest and most influential architectural firms in the Rocky Mountain region. Working most notably with his younger brother, Arthur Addison Fisher, he designed many elaborate houses for the wealthy, especially in Denver’s Polo Club, Cheesman Park, and Country Club neighborhoods. The Fishers also became known for office buildings and hospitals, with a national reputation for the latter. William employed and mentored many young architects, such as Merrill Hoyt and Thielman Wieger, and was in demand for his financial acumen as well as his design talent.
The almost universally high quality of the Fishers’ work continues to be recognized today when some two-thirds of their surviving buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places or in a National Historic District.
William Fisher was born in Canada in 1871. His father, Alan S. Fisher, brought the family to Denver from Clinton, Ontario, in 1885. Alan began with and later became president of the Western Mercantile Association, a credit and collection agency.
William started out in 1890 as a draftsman for the Denver architectural firm of Robert G. Balcomb and Eugene R. Rice, who worked primarily on residential and commercial buildings. After briefly studying with the New York architect C. Powell Karr, William opened a solo Denver office in 1892. His early practice centered on remodeling office buildings and designing Dutch Colonial Revival houses that appealed to newlyweds, sometimes referred to as “brides’ delights.” William married Clara Louis Berney in 1899. Their son, Alan Berney Fisher, was born in 1905.
In 1901 William partnered with another former Balcomb and Rice draftsman, Daniel Riggs Huntington. Together they designed residences, duplexes, club buildings, and apartments using variations of the Mediterranean style, such as Mission Revival, Beaux Arts, Spanish Colonial, Foursquare, and French Revival. One of Colorado’s best examples of the French Revival is Smith Mansion (1902), a masterpiece, located across from City Park at 1801 York Street. The partners’ highly successful business built grand residences for many prominent Denverites.
Fisher and Fisher
After Huntington left their thriving partnership for Seattle in 1905, William took on his younger brother, Arthur Addison Fisher, who had already been working for the firm. Arthur became a full partner in 1910, and, after that, the firm was known as William E. Fisher and Arthur A. Fisher Architects, popularly called Fisher and Fisher. The brothers designed many of the most notable buildings in early twentieth-century Denver, just as Frank Edbrooke had in the late nineteenth century. William also designed the Country Club Place subdivision, with its wide, landscaped medians; large house lots; and monumental Spanish-style gates along East Fourth Avenue at Franklin, Gilpin, and High Streets.
Fisher and Fisher designs typically drew inspiration from neoclassical and Mediterranean styles. Their significant surviving buildings include some of Denver’s most striking designs:
- A. C. Foster Building / University Building (1911), 912 Sixteenth Street, classically inspired with a clearly defined base, shaft, and capital
- Burke-Donaldson-Taylor Building (1919), 1639 Eighteenth Street, with imposing arches set off by small circular windows
- Colorado National Bank, Colorado Yule marble (now the Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel)
- Denver Country Club (1925), First Avenue between University Boulevard and Downing Street
- Tramway Building (1911), 1100 Fourteenth Street, a Renaissance Revival–inspired tower with an attached car barn (now Hotel Teatro)
- Morey Middle School (1921), 840 East Fourteenth Avenue, a beautifully proportioned Renaissance Revival school
- US National Bank / Guaranty Bank (1921), 817 Seventeenth Street, a Chicago-style commercial tower (now the Bank Lofts)
- Voorhies Memorial (1922) in Civic Center Park
- Neusteter Building (1924), 1520 Stout Street, one of Denver’s finest Commercial Style buildings and one of the first downtown stores to be repurposed as residences
- Tower of Memories (1926) at Lakewood’s Crown Hill Cemetery, a communal mausoleum of severe neoclassical eclecticism
- Weicker Depository (1926), 2100 East Colfax Avenue, a crenelated, eight-story tower with a Renaissance travertine base
The Fishers’ knack for incorporating sculpture and art in their buildings won them high praise from Denver Art Museum director George William Eggers. In their Midland Savings Bank (1925) at Seventeenth Street and Glenarm Place, the Fishers incorporated a large frieze by Denver’s premier sculptor, Robert Garrison. The sculpture, “The Story of a Pike’s Peaker” (popularly called “The Wagon Train”), now serves as a wall at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
At South High School (1926), the Fishers and Garrison showed their sense of humor by placing a frieze satirizing a faculty meeting over the main doorway. In front of the main entry loggia, two bizarre animals symbolizing final examinations perch atop three-story columns. At the same time, the north entrance is surmounted by a bas-relief symbolizing the tree of knowledge and young scholars who set out eagerly on horseback but arrive weary and late. On top of the building, a large griffin looks for truants.
Fisher and Fisher also continued to design residences. They completed one of their grandest designs for US senator Lawrence Phipps in 1932. Also known as Belcaro (3400 Belcaro Drive), Phipps’s Georgian Revival mansion of fifty-four rooms on eight acres was done in collaboration with the famed Charles Adam Platt of New York City.
Another spacious Fisher and Fisher estate was Lorraine Lodge / Boettcher Mansion (1917), designed as a summer retreat atop Lookout Mountain for the state’s premier industrialist, Charles Boettcher. Yet the Fishers did not only work for the wealthy. As the founder and director of the Mountain Division of the Architect’s Small House Service Bureau, William oversaw that effort to provide low-cost, well-designed house plans for the middle class.
Nationally, Fisher and Fisher were best known for their hospitals. They were adept at providing a stylish exterior while also making interior space functional. In the Denver area, William designed National Jewish Hospital (1899) and the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society (1904); later, both Fishers worked on B’nai B’rith Hospital (1925), across Colorado Boulevard from National Jewish, as well as the University of Colorado Hospital and School of Medicine (1925, in collaboration with Maurice Biscoe).
They were also responsible for Presbyterian Hospital (1926) and St. Luke’s Hospital (1926), now combined as Presbyterian / St. Luke’s Medical Center. Outside Denver, the Fishers designed hospitals in Pueblo, Greeley, Colorado Springs, Wyoming, and Idaho, and they won national awards for modern hospital design. Except for B’Nai B’rith, most of the Fishers’ original buildings have now been replaced by much larger complexes.
After William’s death in 1937, the Fisher and Fisher firm continued for two decades under his brother Arthur and his son, Alan. The firm moved away from the Mediterranean and Neoclassical, which William fancied, to a more modern design.
Led by William, the Fishers did more than any other family of architects to affect the look of Denver. Fifty of the sixty-seven surviving Fisher buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places or in a National Historic District.