Focus on 556 Circle Drive: East Coast Colonial Architecture

In November 1928, on the day after Herbert Hoover was elected President, the Fontius family (of Denver’s Fontius Shoe Co.) moved into their new home at 556 Circle Drive. The house was designed by notable local architect Lester Varian. In hopes of creating a “real” colonial home in Denver, Varian and the family consulted with esteemed Boston firm Cram and Ferguson who designed many prominent residential, university and church buildings on the east coast. The colonial style is evident in the tall chimneys, brick laid in Flemish bond, window frames set flush with the brick and a mantel copied from a house in Salem, Massachusetts. One of the most distinct elements of this home is the semicircular portico over the front door.
Harry and Helen Fontius lived in the house for many decades and raised their two children, Jean and Harry Jr., in the home. As business and community leaders, the Fontius’s entertained frequently and hosted many other familiar names in Denver such as the Jonas Fur family. They also held annual events for Colorado College. Additionally, they hosted their daughter Jean’s wedding in the side yard.
John and Mona Ferrugia are just the fifth owners of this neighborhood gem and have called it home since moving to Denver from Washington, DC in 1989. Though they have remodeled the house over the years to adapt to today’s family life, the Ferrrugias embrace and enjoy the history of their home and have kept many of the architectural elements in tact. They also carry on Mrs. Fontius’s decades-long tradition of hanging the U.S. flag over that beautiful portico.

A Little Cherry Creek History

Did you know that a large portion of Cherry Creek was once a town called Harman? In the late 1800s, Edwin P. Harman purchased 320 acres and gave the ‘town’ his name. According to Erin Blakemore, “the town was apparently formed ‘because irrigation for crops and trees was needed for protection against tramps, bums, bummers, and the liquor traffic.'” The town did not last very long, as it was annexed by Denver in March of 1894. The old town hall still stands on the northeast corner of 4th Avenue and St. Paul. Over the last 10 years, the building has been restored and developed into an interesting mix of the old and new of Cherry Creek. In 1906, the local school called Harman Community School was renamed Bromwell.

by Kathleen Woodberry

Highlighted History of the Country Club Historic District

by Anne Quallick, AIA, Principal at HQ Architects, CCHN Resident and Board Member

When researching the history of the Country Club Historic District, I stumbled across “Country Club Heritage, A History and Guide to a Denver Neighborhood” and was excited to share some passages from this wonderful book combined with historical information from the “Design Guidelines for Country Club Historic District” from the Denver Landmark Preservation information about our storied neighborhood!

Country Club Historic Neighborhood, as the name suggests, was developed in conjunction with the Denver Country Club. Generally, the layout of the streets and lots in the district is far more generous than the typical grid. It is the combination of different streetscape configurations combined with a range of early 20th century architectural styles that create the unique character of our neighborhood.

Before Country Club was established, there was a Gentleman’s Driving Association that hosted harness horse racing from 1880-1888 with a 1/2 mile track at 4th and Corona. In the first years of the last century, a group of wealthy men who had organized the Overland Park Club changed the name to the Denver Country Club and began looking for a new site. In 1902, sale of 120 acres (mostly wheat farms) along Cherry Creek was made to the club, and the same day this group incorporated the Fourth Avenue Realty Company and purchased the land to the north which was to be developed for housing.
The Fourth Avenue Realty Company chose William E. Fisher as its principal designer. Fisher designed landscaped parkways as the defining elements of the area, basing the design on concepts espoused by Frederick Law Olmstead, father of American landscape design. Fisher also designed the Mediterranean gateways along Fourth Avenue, setting the tone for the other subdivisions included in the district.
Dates of the various additions that make up the Country Club Historic Neighborhood are indicative of the pace of development. Park Club Place was filed in two portions, the first in 1905 and the second in 1907 (East of Downing to Humboldt and North from Speer to Fourth Ave). Because Park Club Place was the first subdivision to be developed, the architecture reflects Victorian characteristics such as wide front or wrap porches, converted carriage houses with second floor haylofts, and abandoned ashpits still visible on many alleys. Even hitching posts for horses can still be found.
Country Club Place (East of Humboldt to High and North from Speer to Fourth Ave) was filed in 1906. Although the same size as its predecessor, Park Club Place, architect William Ellsworth Fisher planned wide parkways with landscaped medians and tree lawns, resulting in one less street than the earlier subdivision. Most of the first houses were located on corners of First Avenue (which was a quiet two-lane graveled street) with sweeping views of Denver Country Club. Examples of original building requirements for Franklin Street include: no residence costing less than $4,500 shall be built, no industrial enterprise, no liquor sold, no fence over three feet, and the grantee agrees to begin construction within two months.

Country Club Annex, the area east of Country Club Place, was amended between 1924 and 1927 (East of High to Gaylord and North from Speer to Fourth Ave). The eastern subdivisions were developed more than twenty years after the western ones. The architecture is similar to its neighbor, Country Club Place, with wide lots, large rectilinear houses raised from the streets, sidewalks and tree lawns. However, it has no parkways. Rather than a preponderance of Mediterranean style there are more Tudor-inspired houses in this area. Although many houses are custom-designed by architects, some were built from speculation by developers.

Park Lane Square, the area to the north of Fourth Avenue (from East of High to University and North to Sixth Ave.), was filed in 1926. Landscape architect Saco DeBoer redesigned this original rectilinear plat into a circular pattern. Intended as a large country estate – a piece of suburbia in the city – the curved narrow streets, lack of sidewalks, and 58 large lots without alleys form its own private community. Stately English gates mark the entrances. Anchoring the neighborhood on 21/4 acres is a castle completed in 1931 at 475 Circle Drive by Mary Dean Reed, president of Dean Realty.

Recognition of the Country Club neighborhood’s significance first occurred in 1979 when the western half of the district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Country Club Historic District was designated as a Landmark District in 1990. The L-shaped district includes 380 residences and was found to qualify as a Landmark district because of its historical, architectural, and geographical significance.

Historical significance relates to its association with Denver’s social, political, and economic elite, including figures such as Mayor Robert Speer, founders of most of Denver’s major banks, and heads of some of Denver’s major mining, oil, sugar, and real estate companies. It’s also representative of exclusive residential development of the time.

The district incorporates some of Denver’s finest examples of the Denver Square style and Gothic, Colonial, Mediterranean, and other early 20th century eclectic revival styles. Furthermore, many of these houses were designed by Denver’s most prominent architects including Fisher and Fisher, Benedict, Biscoe, Gove and Walsh, and Varian and Sterner.


Credit: “Country Club Heritage, A History and Guide to a Denver Neighborhood” by Alice Millett and “Design Guidelines for Country Club Historic District” by Denver Landmark Preservation Commission.