1626 Wazee Street
ROCKMOUNT BUILDING: PRAIRIE STYLE RETAIL HOME TO MANUFACTURER OF WESTERN WEAR.
What do Elvis, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Robert Plant have in common?
The Rockmount Building is considered to be “Prairie Style” and was designed by Fisher & Fisher, one of the finest architectural firms in Denver. The building was constructed as a warehouse with fully fired brick throughout, in addition to heavy timber that far exceeded structural requirements. The fully fired brick was a more expensive building material than was typical for the time, and it 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. The exterior has three bays set in a framework of side pilasters that extend into a plain stepped parapet, all ornamented with glazed headers. White terra-cotta pendants form the capitals of the side pilasters and the vertical mullion pilasters of the fenestration. The simple geometric shapes link this building to the early twentieth-century designs of Wright and Sullivan.
The original abstract for the building dates to 1859, and boasts the signatures of many of Denver’s founding fathers: Amos Steck, who was Denver’s first mayor, David Moffat, who was one of the group that brought the railroads to Denver by financing and building the spur from Cheyenne, as well as Frederick Elbert, who platted LoDo and the roads to the Central City mines. Elbert and his wife gave land for the first school. The site pre-dating the building had Chinese owners in the 1880s. LoDo was named a Historic District in 1988 by then Mayor Federico Pena.
Rockmount’s Building had many tenants, though Rockmount has been the longest, beginning in 1946. It was originally built for Wolff Manufacturing, a Chicago-based company, as a warehouse and showroom for a plumbing company that refitted housing with indoor plumbing. Wolff occupied the site until 1927. From 1928 to 1938 it was a warehouse for Colorado Wholesale Drug Company, which later became McKesson-Colorado Wholesale Drug Company, and then McKesson & Robbins Wholesale Drugs. From 1940 to 1946 the structure was a WPA warehouse for the U.S. Government Work Projects Administration, and from 1946 to 1980 it was shared by mining equipment firm Joy Manufacturing Company, mining machinery firm, Schloss & Shubart, and Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co.
Since 1946, the building has been occupied by Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co. Known as “Papa Jack,” founder Jack A. Weil was a true pioneer credited with introducing the first western shirts with snaps. His signature design of “diamond” snaps and “sawtooth” pockets is the longest running shirt design made in America, and resides in many museums including the Smithsonian. Jack A. and his son Jack B. ran the firm for over fifty years, now managed by his grandson, Steve. Jack was the oldest CEO in the United States, working until age 107. This block is named Jack A. Weil Boulevard in his honor. At one time this was a center of wholesale firms like Rockmount. Today, Rockmount is the lone survivor. The firm was predominantly wholesale until 2001 when they opened their flagship retail store in conjunction with the founder’s 100th birthday. Rockmount has a museum reflecting the history of the building and the company.
Rockmount manufacturers apparel, hats and accessories primarily sold to stores across the U.S. and most developed countries. An extremely long list of celebrities wear Rockmount, both in the movies to rock stars on stage, including Elvis, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant and many more.
Restoration and Reuse
One hundred years took its toll, so the Weil Family undertook a renovation in 2004. Several remodels were stripped from the interior store front, which returned the space to its original by exposing brick walls, heavy timbering, fir floors, and tin ceiling. The facade was restored, safety was improved, and a basement garage was added.
The careers of three Fisher architects have spanned nearly six decades, and the cumulative designs represent some of the most prominent and acclaimed work in Colorado. In 1890, William began as a draftsman for the Denver firm of Balcolm & Rice. He studied in New York with the firm of C. Powell Karr and returned to Denver to open the firm of William Fisher, Architect. His firm evolved in name and partnership over 57 years, eventually involving three generations of the family. The firm constructed several prominent homes, churches, hospitals, and schools as well as commercial designs such as the Denver City Tramway Building at 1100 14th Street, now the Hotel Teatro and South High School. Of the 67 existing buildings in Denver that can be credited to the Fisher firm, 50 of them are either designated or have been determined eligible, for the National Register of Historic Places.
LoDo is a warehouse neighborhood that was developed around the railroads to house outgoing cargo including mining and agriculture products as well as incoming cargo for the region from allover the world. Many of the buildings are brick “boxes,” though each with distinctive features. The warehouses are primarily brick construction, some have heavy timber interior construction, later buildings have steel or concrete construction. The heavy construction materials came only after the advent of the railroads in 1870.
Steve Weil, Rockmount Ranch Wear Mfg. Co., buckfifty.org, 4.16.09.
Denver: the Modern City by Michael Paglia, Rodd L. Wheaton & Diane Wray, Historic Denver, Inc. 1999.
Historic Denver Docent Training Information: Colorado Architects – Biographical Sketch.