Lowry’s Bruce Heitler Sought ‘Old Ideals, New Ideas’ in Creating Denver’s Newest Historic Neighborhood
Denver, CO (2001) - When Denver real estate executive Bruce Heitler imagines a community, he doesn’t think of it as a group of structures, more like a “fine tapestry woven from the experiences of the people who live and work there.”
This philosophy has guided Heitler as a general partner, project manager and consultant who has put his thumbprint on major real estate projects throughout Denver. He has developed the experience and vision that led the cities of Denver and Aurora to tap him as the chairman of the Lowry Redevelopment Authority Board of Directors in 1994.
Three years earlier, he had received the news that Lowry Air Force Base – a former World War II training facility and the original location of the Air Force Academy – would be closing its doors for good. Mobilizing quickly, a coalition of Lowry neighbors, legislators and other stakeholders came together to create the Lowry Community Reuse Plan.
The plan to be implemented by the LRA called for Lowry to be reborn as a mixed-use community with a flavor of the past and conveniences of the future.
“As a quasi-governmental entity, the role of the LRA was focused not on making a profit, but rather on building a community that would be an asset to the cities of Denver and Aurora,” Heitler said. “Therefore, what we wanted to do at Lowry is to create a community where a feeling of pride comes not only from being inside a house but also from enjoying the public spaces – knowing the neighbors and saying hello on the way to the mailbox.” To put this concept in action, Heitler and the LRA looked for inspiration in Denver’s older and most popular neighborhoods such as Park Hill, Washington Park and Bonnie Brae. They liked some of the old-fashioned qualities of those neighborhoods, including front porches that bring residents out of their homes and closer to their neighbors, alley-access garages that encourage people to use their front doors, and green spaces that everyone can actually use, not just view from the picture window.
And then they looked at building materials. Because the homes themselves had endured as long as the neighborhoods, LRA sought that kind of permanence at Lowry. A Design Review Committee was formed to establish guidelines for residential construction.
Specifically, these guidelines require that 60 percent of single-family homes or duplexes be built of 60 percent brick on all sides, with the remaining 40 percent of the façade using glass, stucco or other materials.
“We wanted a certain ambiance, and collectively, the board determined that brick needed to play a major role,” Heitler said. Their reasons for this requirement included:
“In recent years, many people have become absorbed with ‘marketable’ housing qualities such as how many bedrooms or bathrooms there are,” Heitler said. “Our hope was that people would be willing to spend a bit more for a wonderful interior, coupled with a wonderful exterior that would lead to the intangible of a greater community experience.”
Heitler and the LRA were right. That concept has proved popular among Coloradoans.
Lowry resident Susie Austin explained that she enjoys a closeness with her neighbors because of the porches and the fact that most people on her street have to pass by to get their mail.
Yet, according to Heitler, short-term success was not the only goal. “In our often disposable society, we have lots of showy projects that are an immediate hit, but after 20 years, those projects have used up their life, he said. “We built Lowry to last, but it is more important that it is a place for healthy people, healthy communities and healthy societies. It is a place for people’s children and their children’s children to grow up and enjoy.”
Heitler credits the use of masonry for a big part of that community health since masonry has a remarkable ability to adapt, bringing people from the distant past into the future.
“Using masonry is a gesture to the past. Not only 100 years ago, but as far back as the invention of brick for use on the Tower of Babel,” he said. “Our whole history is recounted in masonry. But with technology, masonry is a part of our future,” Heitler continued. “Elements of design, size and speed of construction will change over time, but masonry’s basic properties will endure.”
Although it is just one element in the master plan of Lowry’s success, masonry – as a link to the past and the building block of the future – was the right choice for the area that Heitler and the LRA have appropriately dubbed “Denver’s newest historic neighborhood.”