The Rockmount Building: 100 Years Young

—by Steve Weil

The Rockmount Building celebrates its 100th birthday this year, but the history of the site goes to 1859. As my family has been working at this building for 3 generations it feels like part of the family. I began researching the building several years ago after I discovered it was designed by Fisher & Fisher who designed some of Denver’s finest buildings. I have a huge archive on the building as well as our business Rockmount which is notable for making the first western shirts with snaps and Papa Jack who was the oldest CEO. On display in our store is a triptych panel of photos of the building and the street over the years.

We have the original abstract of the building, which dates to 1859. It has signatures of many of Denver’s founding fathers: Amos Steck, David Moffat, Frederick Ebert and others who tie in to the city’s history prominently.

Amos Steck was the first mayor and for whom the Elemementary School is named. David Moffat and others brought the railroad spur from Cheyenne to Denver without which we would be Cheyenne and they would be Denver. Frederick Ebert platted LoDo and the roads to the Central City mines. He and his wife gave the land for the first school. Today Ebert Elementary is named for him.

Of note is that Wazee was part of China town, though most people think its border was Blake. The Rockmount abstract shows Chinese owners in the 1880s. Many of their businesses were off the alleys.

The Wolff Building, circa 1909. Designed by Fisher & Fisher. Photo Courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society.
The Wolff Building, circa 1909. Designed by Fisher & Fisher. Photo Courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society.

History of the Rockmount Building:

Built in 1909, this building has been Rockmount’s home for 3 generations since 1946. First our warehouse, we later moved our offices here in 1980. After nearly 50 years of wholesale only we opened the retail store and museum in 2002. We undertook a historic renovation to preserve the building in 2004, returning the first floor much to its original state.

This “Prairie” style building was designed by Fisher & Fisher, perhaps Denver’s Finest architects. Where as many earlier nearby buildings are soft brick this is a costly construction with fully fired brick throughout and heave timbering far exceeding structural requirements. Warehouses were once architectural gems reflecting the commercial lifebood of a growing community on the frontier. This was a time when warehouse architecture expressed the great pride of other citadels such as civic, chuch, and corporate edifices.

The Rockmount building reflects Louis Sullivan’s Modern Commercial design, the emerging Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Beaux Arts movement, which Arthur Fisher studied in New York. This building is a complete departure from the more derivative Victorian classical motif style, characterizing much of the neighborhood.

1909 – 1927 Wolff Mfg Co. (wholesale plumbing showroom & warehouse)
1928 – 1938 Colo Wholesale Drug Co., later Mckesson-Colo Wholesale Drug Co., Mckesson & Robbins Wholesale Drugs
1940 – 1946 U.S. Government Work Projects Administration Warehouse
1946 – 1980 Joy Mfg. Co. Mining Machinery, Schloss & Shubart Machinery & Engineering
1946 – Present Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co.
2002 – Rockmount opens Retail Store & Museum
2004 – Exterior, 1st floor historic renovation, basement garage added

McKesson Drug Co., September 1, 1938
McKesson Drug Co., September 1, 1938

Inside the Rockmount Showroom
Inside the Rockmount Showroom

B50 Note: Steve Weil is the president of Rockmount Ranch Wear. The company was founded by his grandfather, Jack A. “Papa Jack” Weil, who is considered the father of Western Wear. Steve’s father, Jack B. Weil, joined the company in 1956, and Steve joined in 1981. Today, Rockmount is sold widely around the world.

The Rockmount Building will be open on Saturday and Sunday, April 18th and 19th, as part of Doors Open Denver 2009, a program of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs. For more information, maps, and a list of participating sites (there are lots of them!) visit the Doors Open Denver website.

Remember City Spirit? I do.

— by Tracy Weil, weilworks.com

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In 1988 I graduated from Fort Lewis College in Durango and headed to Denver to try and find a job in the “big city.” Not really ready to start working a regular day job, I happened across an artful place called City Spirit Cafe. I dropped in and fell in love with the vibrant pink walls and playful tile mosaics covering the entire restaurant. I asked if they were hiring wait staff and sure enough they were. This is where I met owners Mickey and Susan.

The cafe was the brain child of local developer Mickey Zeppelin and artist Susan Wick. They opened the award winning cafe & bookstore in 1985 in the up and coming area called LoDo. They also enlisted Michael Fagen to help put together the fabulous Art & Architecture bookstore in the basement of this new venture. City Spirit Cafe served health conscious fare as well as sinful desserts. After 9pm the cafe was the place to be, regularly hosting live musicians like Johnny Long, Lionel Young, Eagle Park Slim & Sympathy F as well as live local djs like DJ Knee.

As an artist I fit right in. This is where I got my start with my first exhibition in the Art Annex next door to the cafe. I waited tables for about 3 years, then started bartending and managing the restaurant. I also booked bands and moved into handling special events and PR for the thriving cafe.

As a community meeting place, City Spirit always hosted interesting things to bring people together; from talks, to seminars, to poetry readings to fashion shows there was always something going on.

Fashionhomemade

One of the most memorable fashion events was “Fashionhomemade,” the 5th annual show and one of the more wilder fashion extravaganzas. The fashion shows were always interesting and this small cafe drew over 1000 people this particular evening.

We took over Blake Street and the back alley, setting up tables for service and a runway right down the middle of the cafe. Le Menu consisted of fresh salads, Brie and roasted garlic, artichokes & the signature salsa and blue corn chips. Other tasty fare included; seafood lasagna & mussels, along with the deluxe tamale plate, Paella and Asian Lo Mein.

Another signature item was the famous and potent City Spirit La La. This “pre-cosmo” was a must have while sitting at the bar, limit of 4. I’ve included the recipe below for those nostalgics that would like to recreate it.

The fashion show started around 9:30pm and included lots of local designer talent including handmade knits and redo clothing by Susan Wick, vintage clothes from Soul Flower & designs made of astro-turf by Alicia Nowicki, Carol Mier sculptural fashions, uncommon & eclectic work by Mona Lucero, and S&M Housewife & tupperwear kink by now NYC designers Uzi (Jose Duran & David Ball). Other designers included Claire Inwood, Heidi Peterson, Shelly Schoeneshoefer, Cleo Ortize Couture, Colorado Institute of Art Students, Cydney Griggs, Chitahka Nsombie, Nur D’afrique, Gayla Coleman, Saohm Hattier & Jerry Whitehead. After the show patrons were invited downstairs to browse and buy all the creative wears in the show and the event ended with dancing at 11pm with music by dj Afro-dytee.

The café was also a great place to meet famous musicians all looking for a heathly place to eat on the road. Over my 10 years at the café I met or crossed paths with Beck, Allison Morissette, Boy George, Lauryn Hill, Digable Planets,The Fugees, Tool, Lenny Kravitz and The Brand New Heavys. The Smashing Pumpkins even made a special unplugged appearance one night after their concert in town.

What a place! City Spirit will always have a special place in my heart; here I learned what community was all about. We’d love to hear your memories of the café please post below.

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City Spirit Café La La: Sold for $4 (limit 4)
1 ½ oz. Absolut Vodka
3 oz. Knudsen’s Cranberry Juice
Splash of Cointreau
Splash of Rose’s Lime Juice or fresh lime juice
Serve chilled in a martini glass with a Twist of Lemon

City Spirit was located at 1434 Blake Street. All the tile-work was torn out but remnants of the space, including parts of the bar, can still be seen at Taxi in RiNo.