Berkeley—The Tennyson St. Business District is changing faster than you can say “Have another latte.” The old businesses are going away and new establishments are moving in, often choosing to re-use the existing historic buildings.
One such location is the landmark 1940 commercial building at 4275 Tennyson, most recently the home of the Ward-Carter Dance Studio, now embarking on a new life as restaurant and retail space.
“It’s a great building that still has lots of structural integrity,” said Travis Smith, structural engineer with The Smith Group, part of the project team. “This was built to be a 100-year building, unlike some that are meant to last only 20 or 30 years. I love the concept of keeping it and making it functional.”
The 7,186-square-foot building has been opened up on the north side to accommodate four glass storefronts for businesses. A restaurant is a likely tenant for the corner-facing main entrance, according to Scott Higa of G3 Architecture, charged with converting the building for new usage.
“We are speaking with a few local operators for restaurant concepts,” said George Balafas of the Kentro Group, developers of the project. He said plans are not yet finalized for occupancy of the spaces.
Higa said the building’s shell will be completed in July and then the spaces will be turned over to tenants. “They’ll have their own design and construction timeframes, probably between six and nine months,” he said. “Restaurants generally take longer.”
The brick masonry, mid-century commercial building started life as Miller’s Market, the first in Denver and one of several in the area. “Mo Miller later sold out to Albertson’s; then it was a Piggly-Wiggly, a pool hall and an upholsterer,” said Steve Ward, whose father bought the building in 1989 for the Ward-Carter Dance Studio.
When the Ward-Carter opened in 1992, it was the fifth location for the dance studio.
Larry Ward and Carter Lovinsone, both 83, have been friends since junior high school. Larry Ward was in the electrical equipment and repair business, where he attended an annual dinner dance. “Dad got tired of stepping on the boss’s wife’s feet, so he took dance lessons. What started as a hobby became his new business,” said Steve.
Steve Ward took up dancing in 1976, at Carter Lovinsone’s studio on Zuni and Speer. “I was on the high school gymnastics team and they told me to take a dance class. I took a date and she loved it. I realized, ‘Whoa, girls like to dance.’ So I gave up gymnastics.”
Steve taught everything—from the waltz and foxtrot, to salsa and swing—at the family studio, which welcomed 600 to 800 students per year. He also competed in amateur dance competitions. “Ballroom never goes out of style,” he said. “It’s just what style of dancing is popular now, whether it’s swing, country or Latin.”
Tom Held, another Ward-Carter instructor, said it was hard to move out of the building on Tennyson: “It’s where I started dancing and it was my community. It was like losing my home.”
Held said the Ward-Carter ballroom was special because it comfortably held 200 people for weekend dances. “At 5,000 square feet, it was the largest dance floor in the city. People of all ages came there to dance and socialize.”
Held opened a new dance studio in Westminster called Joyful Ballroom. Three instructors from Ward-Carter also teach there.
Converting the Tennyson St. building for new uses has its challenges.
“The developer wanted the large storefront windows cut out of the masonry, which takes some structure out of the wall,” said Higa. He said steel frames were installed around the windows to prevent movement and withstand wind force.
Another challenge is installing the mechanical equipment needed for new businesses. “Each space needs its own mechanical unit for air flow, and a restaurant needs more equipment, like vent hoods,” said Smith. “We’re putting all this on the roof so it doesn’t take up parking space, but it’s a lot of weight. So we’re adding a platform on the roof that is its own independent structure—it doesn’t rest on the building. Four columns, buried in the walls, come down through the building to support the platform.”
Higa cited the changes needed to accommodate multiple tenants and more people in the building: “When we go from a single use to multi-use, including food service, we need to increase water service. Also we’ll install fire sprinklers and add four exit doors in the back.”
Many character-defining features of the historic building are desirable. “You don’t get a vaulted roof in new buildings because it’s too expensive,” said Higa. “Retail tenants like having that space above.”
Higa pointed to the decorative brickwork that is characteristic of mid-century commercial buildings. “The four thick bands of dark brick above the entryway continue around the sides in a single row. The pilasters on the north side have a sloped masonry cap. It’s lovely.”
Higa said the outside of the converted building will be “quiet and simple, allowing the nature of the tenants to shine through. No new roof forms or colors will be added.”
It’s likely that a patio will be installed on the corner for outside dining.
“I hope that whatever is there next brings people together,” said Held. “The satisfaction of doing something together brings joy. Going to a bar isn’t the same thing.”
Originally posted The North Denver Tribune, May 16, 2014