The Clayton / Granite Building 1460 Larimer & 1228 15th Street
Denver’s downtown came of age 1880 when Horace Tabor built the Tabor Block. It began to move the center of Denver’s downtown away from Larimer street and 15th street. It became the measuring stick of buildings in downtown Denver. In 1882 the building at 15th and Larimer Street, built to house the McNamara Dry Goods store, took up the challenge to rival Tabor’s building. Although smaller than the Tabor Block, it is just as impressive.
Brothers George Washington Clayton and William N. Clayton built the building. They leased it M.J. McNamara to house his department store. The 1885 city directory lists 36 employees of the M.J. McNamara and L.H. Flanders Dry Goods, Wholesale and Retail store. The list includes numerous clerks, floorwalkers, engineers, dress markers, drivers, porters, collectors and the owner himself, M.J. McNamara. The city directories of the time record the residences of those listed. Most of the employees lived close to the store. Numerous addresses were Glenarm, Curtis, Champa, Welton, Tremont and Arapahoe streets. Some ventured farther out of downtown but only as far as Lincoln, Humboldt, or Santé Fe. Many of the women clerks are listed as “Miss”, indicating they had the job before being married. Dressmakers are more likely to be a “Mrs.” showing their higher skill level and experience. M.J. McNamara’s residence was listed as 323 11th. His floor walker, William E Bates, was listed living at 322 11th. I suppose Bates was his security at home and work. In the book, DENVER DRY GOODS, Where Denver Shopped with Confidence, author Mark Barnhouse has a picture of the McNamara’s residence. It is not an extravagant home as you would expect for a company owner. The number of employees jumped within a couple of years according to Barnhouse, reaching as many as 200 during the holiday season. I would think the building was a beehive of activity at 36 employees, it must have been down right crowed during Christmas shopping!
William N. and George W. Clayton were giving individuals. George arrived in Denver in July of 1859. William came almost a year later, in April of 1860. William was mayor of Denver in April of 1868. George left a fortune when he died in 1899 to build an orphanage. The orphanage’s building are still there as part of the Clayton Campus at Colorado Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The City of Denver has been care taker of the Clayton Trust. The Trust included properties in this part of Denver, including the land where Park Hill golf course is located. Originally it was a dairy farm. It was operating in the red when Robert O. Shearer leased the property from the Trust. He changed it to a golf course and was able to pay the Trust $5,000 a year in profits. There was controversy about the property back when Stapleton was mayor and denied it was being considered for an airport. Now, it is again under controversy as part of the I-70 expansion through Globeville.
McNamara’s Dry Goods eventually moved up town. His expanded store was located at 16th and California street. We now know it as the Denver Dry Goods building.
The Clayton Building/Granite Building then housed a collection of numerous businesses and offices. In 1900 the tenants included mining engineers, the shirt manufactures Allen & Kaull, the brokerage company of Campbell-DeArman, Guarantee Trust Company, Doctor Hamer’s medicine company, physicians, the printers Azel R. Logan and Robert Plunkett, real estate agents, Tittle Guarantee and Loan Company and another patient medicine company, run by Jean P. Robinson. The 1228 15th address was listed as furnished rooms run by Mrs. M.A. McElhany.
By 1960 the building looked like skid row. The 15th street address had a neon “Granite Hotel” sign over the entrance. The corner entrance on Larimer and 15th was at street level. The onetime large windows were painted over with discount signs for the Rosen Furniture Company and Stanton’s Downtown Carpet. The front of the building had an iron ladder fire escape. There were no steps up the entrance as there is now, nor are there stairs to the basement to the right of the main door. Next door, the original building, where the Noel building was built, housed Economy Furniture. The feel of the street made you want to run to the clean and sterile suburbs. You have to admire the iron will of Dana Crawford. She saw the beauty in the buildings, and the vision of something other than cheapness and despair.
After the birth of Larimer Square the Granite building became home to the Flick movie theater, then William Sonoma kitchenware company, later the Samba room, and in the basement, since 1981, the Comedy Works. A 2011 article in the Denver Post lists 15 tenants in the 24,000 square foot building. The large 15th street façade is broken up into different sections to give it the appearance of numerous buildings. Notice the large first floor windows, you can easily invision a Victorian era store front.
How would real estate tycoon George Washington Clayton feel about the construction outside of his back door?
Larimer Street view of the Granite Building.
Comments, additions are welcomed, JOE S
Sources: Mark Barnhouse’s Denver Dry Goods book