Five Historical and Architectural Landmarks in Boulder, Colorado
From its prehistoric origins to its thriving University setting, Boulder, Colorado is an absolute gem. Only a 30-minute drive from the metropolitan city of Denver, and within close proximity of several major ski resorts, if you stay in Boulder, you’ll always be near something to do, especially if you’re the outdoorsy type. But you won’t have to travel very far if you’re looking for unique architecture within your own backyard. Founded in 1871, architects in Boulder, Colorado worked tirelessly to grow and maintain this beautiful little town in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
University of Colorado, Boulder’s Campus
Boulder is well-known by most as a bustling college town, attracting 33,246 students annually to Colorado’s flagship campus each year. The University of Colorado, Boulder is known as one of the prettiest college campuses in America, and for good reason.
Founded in 1876, much of the original architectural design principles from architect Charles Klauder have remained intact, the first few being Old Main, Buckingham, Guggenheim, Macky, and Hale. Around 1920, former University President George Norlin hired a new architectural firm to help keep the University’s facilities up to speed with the growing student population. The firm integrated the use of CU’s famous red sandstone blocks, terra-cotta style roofing, and limestone to create the picturesque campus that we see today against the backdrop of the flatirons.
However, there have been qualms about some of the University’s newer buildings that have gone against the grain of its original architectural style. The “Will Vill,” or Williams Village towers on CU Boulder’s East Campus, were built in August 2017 as dormitory buildings to accommodate the influx of new freshman students on the fast-growing campus.
Will Vill is not built with the same endearing red sandstone as the dorms on the main campus, and despite having structural positives, it breaks up the overall “flow” of the campus due to its departure from the original architectural aesthetic.
Similarly, CU’s engineering quad is made of grey concrete and stands tall on the main campus, detracting from the rest of CU’s beautiful campus.
But the surrounding city has no shortage of architectural wonders, as well.
Chautauqua Historic District
If you’ve heard of Boulder, Colorado, you’ve heard of the Flatirons in Chautauqua Park. But, have you ever visited the buildings nestled in the back of the stunning park? Near the back parking lots are 100 small frame cottages (both privately owned or owned by the Colorado Chautauqua Association), an auditorium, a restaurant, a community house and garden, and a ranger’s cottage, which are all open to the public.
The small frame cottages were built in 1909 with an original construction cost of $50-$300. Sizes range from one to six bedrooms and serve as the perfect accommodation for wedding parties. The cottages are easily spotted throughout Chautauqua Park and are especially notable for their little front porches and light-colored framework. While these cottages are founded on historic frameworks, they were refurbished in 2023.
Mapleton Hill Historic District
The Mapleton Hill Historic District in Boulder, Boulder’s largest historic district, boasts some of the city’s most elaborate architecture in terms of houses. There are 500 homes located in Mapleton Hill, and nearly 60% of them were constructed before 1910; one of the most famous houses being dubbed “The Wedding Cake House”. The home got its name because its exterior looks like a three-tiered wedding cake decorated with icing, due to its three-dozen white columns outside.
Constructed in 1865 in the Mapleton Hill District, The Squires-Tourtellot House still stands as the oldest building in Boulder. Almost all of the historic homes in Mapleton Hill have carriage houses, barns, chicken coops, and sheds, which collectively highlight the district’s historical gravity.
Boulder is home to the iconic Pearl Street Mall, which once was a trading post for gold miners in the 1800s. In 1977, dedication day for the Pearl Street Mall took place, and it has been the bustling four-block sprawl of shops, restaurants, bookstores, museums, homes, and businesses that it is today ever since. Interestingly enough, as much as people complain about bikers and pedestrians on the street in Boulder, Pearl Street Mall is the only street in Boulder that is completely closed to cars.
Richard Foy, one of the designers who helped design Pearl Street Mall, claimed that although many other municipalities who have built pedestrian malls have made them six to eight blocks long, they didn’t last very long; which is why Boulder’s architects and designers carefully chose to keep the Pearl Street Mall to four blocks long.
Keeping Pearl Street small is part of what adds to its charm, and there is still plenty of room for the businesses and restaurants that Boulderites have come to know and love, as well as the many dazzling street performers.
Boulder Public Library
Constructed in 1961 by architect James Hunter, Boulder’s beautiful public library deserves a category all to itself. Inside, there’s a coffee shop, a museum exhibit, and a door that slips out to Boulder Creek. The library is nestled at the foot of the Flatirons, with natural light pouring into the giant windows on either side of its walls, so it’s a great place to work, study, read, and enjoy a cup of coffee.
James Hunter also designed several other notable buildings around Boulder, such as the Boulder Municipal Building and the Boulder Medical Center. And this is all not to mention the library’s extensive book collection; boasting some of the biggest book collections in the state.
Boulder’s architecture is robust and the town has a lot to offer no matter who you are or what you like to do. So whether you’re a history buff, an outdoors enthusiast, a college student, a bookworm, or a shopaholic, there is truly something for everyone, young and old. The natural surrounding beauty of the flatirons and the rich Colorado history makes Boulder as a city even more worthwhile to pay a visit to, regardless of your interest in architecture. Plus, Boulder is known for having 300 days of sunshine a year, so you can count on Boulder to have great weather irrespective of what activity you choose to participate in.