Best Bets: Doors Open Denver

More than 60 of Denver's most fascinating buildings and sites are yours to explore.

April 10 2014, 10:00 AM

Doors Open Denver brings the pioneer spirit of exploration back to the Mile High City—with an urban twist. As you navigate your way through some of Denver's most architecturally and historically interesting buildings and sites, all open to the public for free this weekend (Saturday, April 12, and Sunday, April 13), you'll be simultaneously breaking new ground while tracing the steps of everyone from bar owners to presidents, socialites to governors, barons to tuberculosis patients, and garden owners to first-time moviegoers.

From Denver’s first bar, the Buckhorn Exchange, to a building made entirely of reclaimed shipping containers (the Topo Designs Building), it’s a weekend of more than 60 choose-your-own adventures. But don't worry if you're the stop-and-ask-for-directions type: The 10th annual event, presented by the Denver Architectural Foundation, also features a variety of walking tours, lectures, and site-specific attractions. First-come tickets for guided tours can be claimed at the event’s headquarters (1801 California); also check out the walking photography workshops, offered by Mike’s Camera. Or you can take our advice and start with these top 10 doors to explore:

Buckhorn Exchange: A first-year tour participant, Buckhorn Exchange claims to be Denver's oldest bar and touts a history of presidential visits dating back to Teddy Roosevelt. Although the bar itself was created in Germany back in 1857, Buckhorn Exchange still feels like the Old West.

Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Building: Despite its proximity to the state Capitol, this may be the most powerful building in Denver—because it is largely self-sufficient. A three-year renovation complete with solar panels and other energy-saving strategies make this green building LEED Gold Certified. Take a moment to watch your step upon entering; the floor is comprised of recycled beer bottles from local breweries.

Dry Ice Factory: It took two years and 45 tons of recycled steel to renovate this space from the Liquid Carbonic Dry Ice Factory to a multiuse art studio space. The walls are still lined with advertisements from the factory, and its smokestacks are hallmarks of the RiNo arts district.

The Molkery (Montclair Civic Building): Built by Baron Walter von Richthofen, this building has served as Montclair town hall, a tuberculosis treatment center (complete with dairy cows), and an insane asylum. A tunnel once connected this venue to the Richthofen castle up the hill to the east. The historic building is now an administrative office for the parks department, but it's worth a visit for its bizarre past.

MSU Denver’s Springhill Suites: This hotel is run through several Metro State University programs, making it an unique stop for those interested in the hospitality biz or new architecture (or for those looking for creative lodging options for out-of-town friends and family). Decorated with art by Metro State students and faculty, the fully operational hotel is a unique look at the partnership between MSU and Sage Hospitality. 

Governor’s Residence at the Boettcher Mansion: The Boettcher Mansion’s history is full of big names. Designed by Walter Cheesman and one-time home of the Boettcher family, it was turned over to the state of Colorado. Governor Stephen McNichols took up residence in 1960. Fast-forward 54 years: Current Governor John Hickenlooper recently installed beer taps to the house.

Topo Designs Building: Built in 2013 by Gravitas Development Group, this unique building is made of recycled shipping containers and serves multiple tenants, making it a hit with the architecture community.

The Historic Elitch Theatre: Built by John and Mary Elitch, this was the site of Denver’s first screen-projected motion picture. The venue will host an array of performers—from musicians to ghost story–tellers—this weekend before major renovations take place.

Lectures College of Architecture and Planning, University of Colorado Denver: Professors from UCD will present lectures on architecture and landscaping meant to be accessible to those without previous knowledge on the subjects. The hourlong sessions include a tour of the building.

DIA Art Tour and Construction Tour: The controversial mustang horse that greets travelers heading to Denver International Airport is just one of 30 art installations on this tour. Also, those curious about the new hotel and transit center can take a first look at the construction—hardhats and all.

Find the full list of sites here. Happy trails!

—Photo Courtesy of Doors Open Denver