Eichler Copycats Score a Win in Denver

Just as Eichlers in California are seeking protection from second-story neighbors, so are these homes in Denver. Note a second-story addition hidden directly in the rear. Photos courtesy of Historic Denver

In a victory that should be inspirational for Eichler owners in California, and for mid-century modern fans everywhere, a neighborhood of homes inspired by the work of Joe Eichler has won protection against two-story additions in Colorado.

To be granted a conservation overlay, the 176-home neighborhood of Krisana Park in Denver needed the support of an astronomical 90 percent of owners to succeed, they were told by their city councilman, whose approval was needed before sending the issue before the full council.

Well, the neighbors didn’t quit quite attain that number. They hit 89.6 percent. The councilman moved it forward, and approval was unanimous.

“I feel great about it,” says Becca Dierschow, preservation and research coordinator for the advocacy group Historic Denver, which worked with Krisana Park neighbors.

“It’s been a real community effort,” she says. “The neighbors have been working on it a long time. And it got such amazing buy-in, about 89 percent support. That’s basically unheard of in land use policy.”

Folks who live in Krisana Park are as proud of their neighborhood as residents of any Eichler tract. This stylish sign greets visitors.

Krisana Park was built between 1954 and 1957 by the father-son team of H.B. and Brad Wolff.  Brad Wolff, who spoke to Eichler Network in 2005, denied assertions by some that the Wolffs had stolen Eichler plans but said, “We flat copied them.”

“It was fun building them,” Wolff said. “We mixed it up,” he said. “There were a lot of variations in the windows, the turning of the houses. They didn’t all look alike at all. It was hard to tell it was only a few floor plans.”

Today, the homes, both in Krisana Park and another Wolff tract, Lynwood Park, have many admirers both among neighbors and the wider mid-century modern public.

The idea for the overlay zone started in 2014, says Kate Adams, a neighbors who fought for it, when “We had heard that there would be a ‘pop’ on our street.”

“We call them ‘pop tops,’” she says, of second-story additions.

The effort took off in 2015, Adams says, when “the guy next door called and asked if we could do something to kind of keep the pop tops out.”

“There are 176 houses, and we have nine pops," she says. "We’re pretty unaffected, I’d say.” But neighbors wanted to remain pretty unaffected so they took action.

In the fall of 2014, Adams recounts, Historic Denver gave neighbors a presentation in a library, talking about the benefits of local, state, or federal historic designation. But neighbors focused on a newly created (2010) citywide conservation overlay district procedure, Adams says.

This Krisana Park home on Edison Way shows the care owners take of their homes.

The overlay district protects Krisana Park in several ways: reducing maximum height to one-and-a-half stories, providing more room to build in the rear of the house to allow for expansion without going higher, shifting the “bulk plane” to the rear of the lot to preserve the view from the street, and requiring more of a horizontal roof shape to keep the general look of the existing homes.

The rules do not prevent changes in materials, windows, or other details that are important to maintaining the character of the homes. Those details could have been regulated by creating a historic preservation district. But a historic district would not have won sufficient neighborhood support.

At the first neighborhood meeting in March 2015, Adams says, “It was very clear then that people wanted no design review, no limitations on materials. Basically they wanted to keep the lines, the low level, flatter roofs.”

“And there are no restrictions on scraping,” she adds. “You can scrape.”

At first neighbors thought of protecting only one street, Edison Way. City officials preferred a neighborhood-wide plan. That meant much more work for advocates to win approval.

“So we were going from 35 houses to 176,” Adams says, noting that they also had to contact absentee owners and brand new owners of houses that were changing hands.

 “I figured we could get 80 percent,” she says. How to explain their 89 percent approval?

Here we see one difference between Krisana Park and most Eichler neighborhoods -- a generous lawn.

Adams, who has lived in Krisana Park since 1975, attributes much to Dana Miller, a longtime neighbor, who for many years has been building relations among residents.

“She’s our mayor, our unofficial mayor,” Adams says. “She brought this neighborhood together. She had an email list, she kept people informed. She had me host a croquet party for the whole Krisana Park. She had people do brunches and all kinds of things.”

“I think she started the core community of people here, and people know each other.”

“We got people on each block, sometimes two or three on a block. They worked their connections. They just jumped in, and it was just amazing how hard they worked to get people to sign on.”

“People love these houses,” Adams says. “That’s all I can say.”

Also bringing attention to the homes was a walking tour Historic Denver led through Krisana Park last summer, successful [even] though it was “on maybe the hottest day of the year,” Adams says.

One off-shoot of the effort was the creation of a useful Krisana Park Pattern Book to guide people on proper ways to remodel and preserve their homes.

Becca Dierschow says the success at Krisana Park has inspired people in Lynwood Park and in another modern neighborhood, Harvey Park, which includes a section of homes designed by Cliff May, to consider either a conservation overlay or a historic district.

She says interest in Denver’s mid-century neighborhoods is on the rise.

“It is a very in thing right now, and it is something that is often overlooked. Newbies often don’t see what’s special [about mid-century modern homes]. You have to see it. I have to confess that I was there too. But now that I’ve been working with Krisana Park I can see it and appreciate the architecture.”

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