A Session With Dead Architects

Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

—William Shakespeare, Macbeth

The Ivy Chapel at Fairmount Cemetery.
Like Notre Dame in Paris, Fairmount Cemetery’s Ivy Chapel features flying buttresses.

With Halloween just around the corner, I jumped on the chance to take a tour of Fairmount Cemetery. Even though the burial ground is close enough to home that I drive past it often, I had never explored it. Organized by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, the tour was sure to have a creative angle.

Founded in 1890, Fairmount was designed by Reinhard Schuetze near the end of a century that began with the introduction of garden-like necropolises often with significant arboretums. And instead of burial grounds, they were coalled cemeteries, from a French word that traces its roots to the ancient Greek term for “sleeping chamber.”

The first of the new designs was Père Lachaise in Paris, which was followed by Mount Auburn near Boston, which inspired Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Denver’s Fairmount, among others. After he finished Fairmount, Schuetze went on–not to work on more cemeteries–but to design Washington Park and to redesign City Park in Denver.  

The main creative angle on my tour was an emphasis on the graves of architectural luminaries like Frank E. Edbrooke (1840-1921). 

Frank E. Edbrooke

Edbrooke was born in a log cabin near Deerfield, Illinois, the third of nine children. According to a brief autobiography, his father Robert was a farmer, mechanic and builder, while young Edbrooke and his brothers “worked hard both on the farm and at mechanical work on buildings and other constructional work.”

At age 19, Edbrooke set out “to get a wider field of experience in various branches of the building business from those I could get at home.” 

His architectural pursuits were interrupted by about four years of service in the Union Army during the Civil War. But after his discharge at age 25 he resumed his efforts to get the training and experience he needed to become a professional architect. Venturing out West, he worked on depots and station houses for the Union Pacific Railroad, as well as hotels. 

Edbrooke returned to Illinois in 1871 to help with reconstruction after the Great Chicago Fire and, on Christmas Day 1871, he married Camilla S. Gilman. They had no biological children, but they reared Frank’s nephews Frank and Roy Cross after their mother died. Both boys would become architects.

Edbrooke’s younger brother Willoughby was also an architect and in 1879 Frank and Camilla came to Denver so Frank could help Willoughby by overseeing the construction of an opera house and large office building.  

“It all looked good to me,” Edbrooke wrote in his autobiography, “and I liked the people, and the country with its mild winters, pure healthy air and sunshine, and I concluded to make my future home in Denver.” Indeed he did, working in Denver until he retired in 1915, joined for a time by Willoughby’s son Harry, also an architect.

One of Edbrooke’s earliest Denver projects began its life innocently enough in 1880 as a school known as the Brinker Collegiate Institute in the 1700 block of Tremont Street. After Joseph Brinker died in 1889, the Victorian brick building sold and, according to local lore, it was reopened not so innocently as a “sporting club,” where men could play cards, dine, and enjoy the company of “ladies of the night.” The building was named the Navarre after one owner won it from another in a card game. It now houses the American Museum of Western Art, where The Anschutz Collection is displayed, as well as the offices of three private foundations. 

Across Tremont Street (and reportedly connected by a tunnel,) the Brown Palace Hotel opened in 1892. Bounded by 17th, Broadway and Tremont, this triangular building is likely Edbrooke’s most famous Denver landmark, in part because American presidents and celebrities from around the world have been pampered there since the hotel opened. It’s first-class both inside and out with an exterior mostly hewn from sandstone and an interior with copious polished wood and grand architectural flourishes. Now a part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the Brown Palace regularly attracts groups of young princesses—all decked out in their Disney finery—as they celebrate birthdays at afternoon tea in the hotel’s nine-story central lobby.

The Brown Palace and Navarre are among many Edbrooke buildings on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Others include the Denver Dry Goods Company Building on 16th Street Mall, now used as lofts, and Loretto Heights Academy on Federal Boulevard, now the administration building of Colorado Heights University, a part of Teikyo University Group. The Oxford Hotel, near Union Station, continues to accommodate travelers whatever mode of transportation they use. Edbrooke also designed Riverside Cemetery, Denver’s oldest operating burial ground, which opened in 1876, 14 years before Fairmount.

Temple Hoyne Buell

Born to a prominent Chicago family, Temple Hoyne Buell (1895-1990), like Edbrooke, came to Colorado from Illinois in a roundabout way. He studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and pursued graduate studies at Columbia University before entering military service. While in France during World War I, he was exposed to toxic phosgene gas, which led to a diagnosis of tuberculosis. He came to Denver in 1921 for treatment and, after recovering, went on to become a prolific architect and developer.

Among the 300 buildings attributed to him is the 1930 Paramount Theatre at 1621 Glenarm Place, the last remaining movie palace in downtown Denver and now a venue for live acts. While some of the decorative adornments have been lost over the years, the theatre retains its strong Art Deco character.

Another of his creations was the 1832 Art Deco Mullen Building, built to house the nurses of Saint Joseph Hospital, which was nearby at the time and for many years afterward. The building features Buell’s signature fancy brickwork 

In 1946, Buell presented to the Urban Land Institute his idea for a shopping center. His notion, which was novel at the time, was to arrange shops facing inward around a central area with parking on the perimeter. Even though the area connecting the shops was outdoors in his design, the original Cherry Creek Shopping Center was a forerunner of the enclosed malls that would become ubiquitous in the U.S. in the late 20th century. 

According to tour guide Tom Morton, Buell designed his private mausoleum at Fairmount Cemetery with vaults for eighteen bodies. Yet only four are now occupied. Some relatives share the mausoleum with him, but none of his wives is there because all three of his marriages ended in acrimonious divorces.

The burial structure has three doors, which Buell favored over single or double doors. At the time of his interring, it appeared that he might need to spend eternity elsewhere because he had acquired substantial girth over his lifetime and his coffin wouldn’t fit through the any of the somewhat narrow doors. The pallbearers were able to solve the problem by turning the coffin sideways and, of course, the contents were checked to make sure the deceased was in a comfortable position before he was laid to rest. 

While Buell had some contentious relationships during his lifetime, he was generous in death, leaving much of his large fortune to philanthropic causes. Because of this, his name is on many buildings and institutions that were started after his death. The Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts often provides a venue for traveling Broadway productions and the founding director of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University was acclaimed architect Robert A. M. Stern, known largely for his postmodern and classical designs. 

All Sorts of Columns and a Mini-Notre Dame

Fairmount Cemetery is replete with fanciful monuments, many adorned with Doric, Ionic Corinthian and Egyptian columns. (The first three of are distinguished by their capitals or tops, which are respectively plain; ornamented with large scrolls; or decorated with leaves and small scrolls. Egyptian columns are visibly tapered and may have their capitals may feature lotus blossoms.) 

The 1929-30 Fairmount Mausoleum, designed by Frederick Mountjoy and Francis Frewin, is among four structures at Fairmount listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is punctuated by a fabulous collection of stained glass windows. Also on the register, the 1890 Ivy Chapel, designed by Harry T.E. Wendell, features flying buttresses on three sides and fleur de lis ornamentation, making it seem a bit like a miniature Notre Dame de Paris

The scariest tale that came up during our tour was about Cheesman Park, which began as a cemetery in 1858. According to Morton, the undertaker moving the bodies from Cheesman to other cemeteries decided he wasn’t paid enough and the job wasn’t completed. Some who jog or walk in Cheesman Park have reported paranormal encounters. For example, one runner said he heard someone panting behind him—but no one was there when he turned around.

Volunteers with Fairmount Heritage Foundation (http://fairmountheritagefoundation.org/fhf-guided-tours/) lead tours of both Fairmount and Riverside cemeteries, which are offered year-round, weather permitting. Among the areas of emphasis are famous women, symbolism, history mysteries and, of course, architecture.

If you have a writing project in mind, I’d love to hear about it. Please contact me at buffygilfoil@gmail.comArchitecture is among my special interests. 

San Diego-based journalist and best-selling travel writer Joe Yogerst, https://joeyogerst.com/about-joe/, was my guest editor for “A Session With Dead Architects.”